Should teachers be armed?

By Dr. Michael S. Brown
web posted March 12, 2001

The latest wave of school attacks has focused new attention on the causes of school violence. Large impersonal schools, bullying, violent entertainment, the copy-cat effect from heavy news coverage, lack of parental involvement, misuse of psychiatric drugs and access to guns head the long list of suspects.

None of these problems have easy or immediate answers. Proposed solutions often involve giving up civil rights in return for a dubious promise of increased safety and some are obvious overreactions to the statistically small chances of a violent school attack.

One of the most controversial ideas is the arming of teachers. Proponents of this concept point to the successful Israeli effort to reduce terrorist attacks on schools by arming teachers and older students. There is also a positive example to be found in the success of concealed carry laws that now allow responsible adults to carry handguns for self defense in about thirty two states. The field of civilian firearms training is thriving and some citizens, including teachers, now receive more instruction than the average police officer.

One example largely ignored by the media occurred at a high school in Pearl, Mississippi. Assistant Principal Joel Myrick used his handgun to stop the murderous shooting rampage of a deranged student. Unfortunately, the law forced Myrick to keep his weapon locked in his car off school property. By the time he could retrieve it and return, two students were already dead.

The concept of giving school employees the responsibility of protecting themselves and the children seems like an obvious way to solve the problem of violent school attacks, but a closer look reveals many problems. Given the current culture in American schools, arming our teachers would be a very tough sell.

Teachers as a group tend to occupy the liberal end of the political spectrum, which means many have a severe gun phobia. For example, they typically oppose the idea of having armed guards stationed in schools, because they feel it sends the wrong message to the children.

Imagine a teacher who has spent his or her career telling students that they must never resort to violence, even in self-defense. They preach that we should always rely on others to protect us from harm. Using weapons to defend the school would be a tacit admission that this philosophy is wrong. Very few people are able to deal with such a paradigm shift, especially if they feel it is being imposed against their will.

Some teachers would understandably resign if forced to play a law enforcement role that they never expected. A voluntary system would seem to be better, but any teacher who openly volunteers for armed security training would receive little support, if not outright condemnation, from their colleagues.

If guns are to play a role in the defense of our schools, it should be through a simple extension of our current concealed carry laws. Schools are now designated as gun free zones, where concealed carry permits do not apply. If an exception were made for permit holders, a small number of teachers would choose to arm themselves voluntarily.

Teachers are a very responsible group of people. The few who choose to carry would probably seek out the best available training and conduct themselves in exemplary fashion. They would also discretely follow a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Nobody would know which teachers, if any, might be armed. This is an important concept learned from experience with permits in the general population. It is not necessary for a large percentage of people to be armed in order to provide a significant deterrent effect.

It is natural to worry that this uncertainty might negatively effect the way that a child feels about their teacher, but it's likely that a child will never believe their teacher is the one who is armed. They may speculate that the Assistant Principal or the football coach carries a gun to deal with violent attacks, but they will never know for sure. It might even be advantageous to promote rumors that the faculty is particularly enthusiastic about concealed carry.

Unbalanced teens who are planning an attack will be deterred for two simple reasons. First, they could get killed. But for those who are already planning to die, the prospect of having their carefully planned slaughter disrupted would be daunting. Since they already feel that their life has been a failure, the one thing that they fear most is to fail in their final attempt to achieve a sick form of immortality.

It is unlikely that many teachers would participate if the laws were changed to allow them to defend themselves and their students. Fortunately, this concept does not depend on a high participation rate for success. Simply changing the policy from "this school is a gun free zone" to "faculty may be armed" would immediately reduce the chances of a violent attack.

In theory, at least, this proposal is easy, cheap and safe. Individual participation is strictly voluntary, no money must be spent and no rights need be sacrificed. The primary obstacles are political. Police chiefs and school security officials will fight to protect their turf. Liberal teachers will fight to protect their pacifist ideology. There will also be resistance from the hard core anti-gun lobby which will never admit the deadly results of the gun-free zones they have created.

Dr. Michael S. Brown is an optometrist and member of Doctors for Sensible Gun Laws at: http://www.keepandbeararms.com/DSGL.

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