Deep breath in…and out. Arming teachers is a bad idea.
Yet, it's the idea some in our world are putting forth in hopes of preventing another school shooting. That includes our president. I won't deny it seems like a solution on the surface, but it's fueled by the idea that the best defense is a good offense. Offensive victory is not something our educational system is prepared to prioritize, nor should it be. More over, I've yet to hear a feasible plan for implementing such an idea in our schools.
As I've stated before, my father and grandfather were educators, and I've had a pretty good handle on how things outside the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. window go for most of my life. If there are to be weapons in the school, they will need to be secured. And that sounds great at first. I'll admit most schools could easily find some central location to install a gun safe, but that's not exactly practical in an emergency situation. A shooter would know where you'll be headed. Some are advocating for the weapons to be stored in secret locations. The thing is, that only works as a solution in the 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. window. There are people hired by the school who show up in the early morning hours or into the evening and clean nearly every surface in the building from time to time. Weapons won't stay secret for long. And let me tell you, it won't just be janitors. Students have a way of finding things once in awhile because there aren't too many places to hide things in the modern-day classroom. In my own father's classroom, including his chemistry lab, hiding places were limited to the following: under a desk (a terrible idea), in a cupboard, in his closet, in his highly visible storage area he shared with the physics department and in the drop ceiling. In all cases, a firearm's location would either obvious or too difficult to get to in an emergency. Both of which defeat the purpose.
So let's talk training. A recent Chicago Tribune article cited an estimate from the Department of Education, saying there are about 3.5 million teachers in the country. The article puts that in perspective, saying the country's active military numbered 1.3 million in 2016, so even arming 20 percent of the nation's educators would be equivalent to arming right around half the military. I don't think we as a country are willing to just send our teachers out to fire off a few rounds in public schools without some training, so we would not only be arming a force half the size of our military, we would be asking a group of underpaid, overworked public employees (who are often already pursuing educational training in their "spare" time) to get another certificate to legally deter attacks. I've known teachers who quit within their first year just because of the pressure. I don't think adding gun certification to the resume is going to be a great option.
But, there's a difference between training for battle as a solider and somehow changing from Professor Plumb to John McClane (and frankly, Professor Plumb's the one who will try and get his students to safety instead of immediately looking for who to kill). As many a veteran will tell you, it's hard to forget the face of someone you've killed. As a teacher, imagine one of the students you've been trying to engage in homeroom over the last four years walks in the school with an AR-15 over his shoulder. Frankly, I don't see any teacher being so emotionally detached that they would take that life without some thought. It's not so simple as we would like to make it out to be.
Lastly, let's keep in mind arming teachers wouldn't have stopped Rep. Steve Scalise from being shot at baseball practice. It wouldn't have stopped veteran Esteban Santiago-Ruiz from opening fire in the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport. It wouldn't have stopped the Pulse nightclub shooting, the San Bernadino attacks or Stephen Paddock, who killed 58 people in Las Vegas from a hotel window. Clearly, the location of the violence is not the issue, so arming teachers will not solve the issue.
Now, I don't say all this because I think we should do nothing. There have been several discussions in our newsroom — and likely many newsrooms throughout the country — on the issue of gun control as of late. And frankly, I've got to agree with our own Matt Heinrichs (you know, the sports writer who has several guns and other projectile weapons with which he kills animals for food) who said multiple things need to be done if any are to be successful. If we address only gun control, the pattern will continue. If we address only public safety measures, the pattern will continue. If we address only mental health, the pattern will continue. We need to address all three. Otherwise a single neglected aspect will bring the other two down like a broken leg on a milking stool.
I hope the survivors of the Parkland shooting are successful in their march next month, and I hope their voices are heard, but I also hope our legislators are smart enough to see the larger pattern — a pattern in which a student struggling with mental health reached for the trigger of a rifle because it was closer than the care he needed.