Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Introducing Guns into Schools Will Not Make Students Any Safer

By Hannah RitterPublished December 5, 2019

Both of my parents are teachers. They chose the profession due to their passion for intellectual inquiry and their love for assisting students. They are not FBI agents, nor super-heros, but they are book-carrying, thick-glasses-wearing nerds. If they were thrill-seeking, courageous protectors, they would have signed up for a different occupation, and they would have spent years at, say, the police academy, instead of receiving their masters in education. Teachers’ jobs are to educate and motivate their students, not to engage in armed conflict. Adding guns to schools would place an undue burden on teachers who, if armed, would have to attend firearm training, and would further endanger students and faculty. In fact, the proposal to arm teachers is just a means of circumventing the true issues that foment with ongoing crisis of mass gun violence: gun control and mental health.

Mass shootings are on the rise, and in effort to circumvent common sense gun control legislation, such as background checks and placing bans on assault rifles, policymakers, including President Trump, have called for arming teachers as a solution to gun violence in schools. Since 2009, at least 177 schools throughout America have experienced a shooting. The annual number of school shootings has increased dramatically from 15 in 2009 to almost 30 in 2018. Since 1990, with the passage of the Gun-Free School Zones Act, legislation has prohibited guns from entering school grounds. This act established criminal penalties for the “possession of or discharge of a firearm in a school zone”. As a result of this legislation, gun violence was significantly reduced and between 1992 and 2006 50 times as many murders of young people occurred outside of school rather than inside. Exempted from this law are school programs, security officers, and individuals who are licensed by the state to possess or carry a handgun. Many school districts have utilized this exception to introduce guns into schools, including Sidney City Schools in Ohio, which has “dozens of safes within their schools containing guns in case of an emergency”. This is irresponsible. Guns should have no presence in school zones, even if they are locked in a safe. It poses an unnecessary hazard to students and faculty and directly violates prior legislation by exploiting statutory loopholes.

Arming teachers does nothing to make schools more safe, but it may in fact actually make schools more dangerous. Many schools, including those affected by school shootings, have armed security guards. However, adding guns into a school or public location rarely helps limit the violence. In fact,“90% of all high-fatality gun massacres have occured in locations where civilian guns were allowed or there was armed security or law enforcement present”. Moreover, evidence shows that adding guns to the situation will worsen the violence. If there is an active shooter and a teacher responds by firing their weapon, they may miss and accidentally harm a bystander. Even police officers, who are trained in accurately firing guns hit their intended target less than 20% of the time. This introduces undue danger to other students, because if a teacher or security guard engaged in a shootout with the shooter, a bystander could be gravely injured by a misaimed bullet. The President and Executive Director of the Major Cities Chiefs Association claimed that adding more guns into a violent situation just causes “more volatility and there is more of a risk of someone getting hurt”. Simply put, accidents happen. These are just some of the many potential ways arming teachers will add additional risks to schools.

Additionally, arming teachers would make them liable, and the majority of teachers oppose the policy. Survey results collected in 2018 indicate that “73% of teachers oppose proposals to arm school staff”. Teachers condemn these policies for many reasons including, but not limited to, the training it would require, the danger it could pose to other students, and the criminal liability it could represent for them. Surprisingly, many districts have arming policies that are not consistent with the state’s laws, and this would make teachers criminally liable. Also, many teachers argue that carrying a gun is not in their job description. Like many others, Abby Clements, a teacher who personally witnessed the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School criticizes the idea of arming teachers, and she claimed “we’re not trained sharp shooters; we’re not trained first responders”. Indeed, teachers should not be expected to put their lives on the line for students. Many teachers oppose being armed because it labels them as students’ sole protector; however, many teachers have kids of their own that they “want to get back home to”, as described by Plumitallo, an elementary school teacher and mother. Although most compassionate adults would spare their life to save a child’s life when faced with this tough decision, many teachers purposely did not sign up for a profession in which they would have to risk their lives. Many teachers are also parents, and pursued the seemingly safe profession of teaching based on the fact that they wanted to be there for the children they are raising. Personally, my parents, both teachers, decided to go into education based on the flexible summertime and holiday vacation schedules, so they can take an active role in raising me. For this same reason, they did not sign up for engaging in armed combat with an active shooter, and if they were interested in that, they would have gone into careers in law enforcement or the military. Moreover, the fact that teachers, those who will be most affected by this policy, oppose it suggests that the policy would be ineffective and would forcefully place a burden on educators.

Guns should be left in the hands of law enforcement officers and video game protagonists. Weapons capable of causing such destruction have no place in schools. There is an obvious reason why federal legislative precedent mandates schools as gun free zones. Adding weapons into crisis situations only circumvents the main problems and initiators of mass gun violence: mental health and loose gun control laws. To tackle this problem the correct way, we must first hear from those whose lives are at stake and ask lawmakers to not only make schools weapon-free safe spaces, but also to enact common sense gun reform that removes weapons of war from the equation rather than adding them.

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