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Should We Arm Our Schools?

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By Marcus A. Hennessy, CEA (ret.)Police Cars Outside of a School

Just days after the horrific school shooting in Newtown, Conn., the Michigan Legislature passed a bill that would have allowed teachers to openly carry firearms on school grounds–joining a vigorous debate over whether schools should arm teachers and staff. Here’s a quick look at the debate’s highlights:

For: Giving Teachers a ‘Fighting Chance’

The Michigan gun lobby passionately supported the bill allowing teachers to be armed.

“This kind of tragedy is hard to process,” said Rob Harris, media director for Michigan Open Carry Inc., in a recent HuffPost Detroit article, “but if one person–a faculty member or a parent–could legally carry, at least it could have limited some of the mayhem.” And, he added, “This legislation has to be passed to at least have a fighting chance against the evil in this world.”

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder ultimately vetoed the measure, stating in a letter to legislators, “… we also must ensure the right of designated public entities to exercise their best discretion in matters of safety and security. These public venues need clear legal authority to ban firearms on their premises if they see fit to do so.”

Reactions from the Sandy Hook massacre have moved legislators in many other states, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon, to consider laws that would permit teachers and administrators to carry guns in schools.

These tactics were endorsed by former Education Secretary William Bennett, who said on “Meet the Press” just days after the Newtown shooting that teachers need to consider arming themselves. “It has to be someone who’s trained, responsible,” Bennett said. “But my God, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to.”

Many pointed to the small town of Harrold, Texas, which approved arming teachers and staff in 2007. David Thweatt, Harrold Independent School District superintendent, says the school’s “Guardian Plan” protects rural students from “a lot of anger in society,” as he explained to Fox News in 2008. “When you make schools gun-free zones, it’s like inviting people to come in and take advantage,” he said in the interview. Beside training and certifying qualified teachers for the open carry of handguns, the Guardian Plan also uses security cameras and special locks to augment its safety strategy. Thweatt takes pride in the fact that to date, no one has attacked the school or its pupils.

Against: Allowing Guns ‘Enables a Dangerous Set of Circumstances’

Many Americans remain deeply dubious of weaponizing the classroom to thwart violent assaults like those at Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and Columbine.

This opposition was captured in a letter sent by the American Federation of Teachers to Governor Snyder, lobbying for his veto of the Michigan open-carry legislation in December. In the letter, AFT President Randi Weingarten and AFT/Michigan President David Hecker wrote on behalf of 1.5 million AFT members nationwide and 35,000 Michigan teachers:

“Permitting firearms in schools–visible or concealed–enables a dangerous set of circumstances that can result in similar tragic outcomes. We should be doing everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.”

Another outspoken opponent of arming America’s teachers is Kenneth S. Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, who outlined numerous arguments against arming teachers, staff and volunteers in a recent blog post.

“The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not guns,” Trump says, and he provides a laundry list of reasons for keeping schools and classrooms gun-free, including:

  • School districts with armed teachers and staff would assume significant liabilities that would exceed the scope of their expertise, experience and budgets.
  • School districts would have to create an array of policies and procedures that govern the use and carrying of firearms.
  • How would a school’s “use-of-force continuum” compare with such standards for police officers and others in a public safety capacity?
  • What type of training and/or certification would be required to ensure that armed teachers and staff could use their weapons safely and accurately?
  • How would a school district handle the multiple legal and financial ramifications of:
    • A lost or stolen gun?
    • An accidental shooting?
    • A lawsuit resulting from a gun-related mishap?
  • Most importantly, what other options aside from arming teachers have school leaders considered as a bulwark against random gun violence?

“There is a huge difference,” Trump concluded, “between having trained, certified and commissioned law enforcement officers who are full-time, career public safety professionals that are armed and assigned the duty of protecting students and staff, versus having teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other non-public safety professionals packing a gun in school with hundreds of children.”

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