After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, parents, teachers and administrators have started questioning whether schools remain safe anymore. The only way to ensure a massacre of this size won’t happen again is to arm teachers. Teachers should be allowed to carry guns at school in order to protect students.
Eighteen states across the country already allow adults to carry handguns on school property. Those who are armed remain anonymous and no accidents involving guns have been reported. Officials like Oren Shemtov, CEO of Israel’s Academy of Security and Investigation, say if the two administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary had concealed handguns the teachers could have delayed the shooter for 45 minutes each, potentially saving numerous lives if not stopping the shooter altogether. Governor Rick Perry has urged schools to review their emergency procedures, and the National Rifle Association (NRA) calls for armed guards in schools. Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the NRA, says students stay at risk of danger by having gun-free school zones.
Arming teachers would bring a stronger sense of safety for students. A teacher or administrator with a gun could easily protect the campus and its students. Currently, in case of an intruder, the only way school districts can react is by shelter-in-place drills – in which students and administrators lock their doors and stay out of sight from the hallways. If a trespasser has a gun, the only thing stopping them is a locked door, a door that can only withstand so much. The only thing to stop a gun is a gun.
Some parents and administrators argue that by allowing weapons in the schools, students could gain access to the weapons and use them for the students’ own desired purposes. As well as teachers and students having access to the weapons, an intruder could also gain access allowing them to use the weapon as they please. But the concealed handguns in the school would be kept in a secure area and teachers and administrators would have strict procedures in carrying the gun on school grounds. There would be more responsibility for the teachers and administrators, but in order to protect students teachers would welcome new regulations.
Numerous school districts remain opposed to arming teachers because of all the things possible to go wrong with having guns within a school. In any circumstance, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and in this case teachers should rather carry a concealed handgun and never use the gun than not have a gun but need one. Teachers and administrators should be allowed to carry guns on school grounds to help protect their students.
There are many things we ask of teachers and students. In New York, we are in the middle of a fight about teacher evaluations—the metrics used, their weight in promotion and firing. Since the shooting in Sandy Hook, there has been talk about not only what it means to stand in front of a class but what it’s like to keep six-year-olds silent in a closet with a gunman steps away, or, like Victoria Soto, a teacher laid to rest Wednesday, to die trying to protect them. Paul Simon sang “Sounds of Silence” at Vicki’s funeral—his sister-in-law knew the Soto family; Derek Jeter called her mother, because he’d heard she was a Yankees fan. Those are fitting tributes. What is confounding, though, is the idea, put forward by gun advocates, that this all would have been better if only Soto and her colleagues had been carrying guns, too—if they had served as field officers in some sort of counterattack.
In a press conference Friday, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, said that children had been put in danger by “laws for gun-free school zones” and by having “unarmed principals.” (“How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order?”) At what might have been a moment of humility for the organization, he said that people “driven by demons” were among us, along with a “much larger, more lethal criminal class,” and that the only way to stop them was with guns—with “armed security in every school” and a “National Model School Shield Program” to be developed by the N.R.A.
Is this where we are? If you want to be a teacher in, say, Virginia, do you have to nod as your governor, Robert McDonnell, says, as he did on Tuesday, referring to Sandy Hook’s principal, “If a person like that was armed and trained, could they have stopped the carnage in the classroom? Perhaps.” By the end of the week Virginia state legislators were introducing a bill to require at least some school officials to be armed. This was echoed on Fox News and beyond; there are already bills that could bring guns into schools in half a dozen states. On Thursday, the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers released a joint statement calling McDonnell’s comments and similar ones “astounding and disturbing…. Guns have no place in our schools. Period.” The statement added that a more reasonable preventive measure would involve mental health, and yet “we continue to cut funding for school counselors, school social workers, and school psychologists.” But then pro-gun Republicans also tend to object to teachers’ unions. Perhaps the preference is for faculty gun clubs.
Why stop at teachers? At the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle thought that “if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once,” suggesting that she knows little either about the range and speed of semi-automatic weapons or about young people. One image that comes to mind is the soldiers sent to die in outmoded frontal assaults against machine-gun embankments in the First World War. This theme was picked up at the National Review, where Charlotte Allen thought it was a pity there were no men around in the school (there were, actually), creating “a feminized setting” in which “helpless passivity is the norm” (and a female principal dies trying to stop the shooter, but never mind): “Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.”
As the mother of a twelve-year-old who might be described as husky, or at least big for his age, I do teach him that he has an extra responsibility to, for example, stand up for littler kids who are bullied—to never be a bystander. But I greatly resent the idea that he should throw himself in front of a bullet because a grown congressman isn’t brave enough to throw an N.R.A. lobbyist out of his office.
What is repellant here is the blithe way gun advocates have wrapped an argument that writes off children’s futures in sanctimonious talk about personal responsibility. In this way, it is very much of a piece with a broader philosophy that has its grip on the Republican Party. Why are we so passive? Why can’t we all just own guns and stop having funny ideas about making sure that the most vulnerable people in this country have as good a chance as anyone?
We all have fantasies of rescue when it comes to a story like Sandy Hook. We all would like to be the one who spotted Adam Lanza as he first lifted his gun at the glass near the school door and, quick-thinking, somehow tripped him up before a single first-grader had to see his face. We would like to be the person in the cartoon who sets up the bad guy’s pratfall. And by all means, if a shooter’s gun jams, if there is a moment, like the one in Tucson, when a woman can snatch the next clip out of his pocket, all of us should be ready to seize the chance. But serendipity and dreams of glory are not policy choices; reducing the number of guns is.
If more guns make people safe, how is it that in the past few weeks we have had high-profile cases in which at least two people living in a multi-gun household—Kasandra Perkins, murdered by her football-player boyfriend, who shot her at least ten times and then shot himself; Nancy Lanza, murdered by her son, who then shot himself and twenty-six other people, all of them multiple times—have died by gunfire? Guns in the home increase the likelihood that a domestic-violence victim ends up dead. Guns in a house in Newtown made it possible for a twenty-year-old to break into a school and lay waste to it in ten minutes. What do we expect guns in the classroom, or in every teacher’s home, to do?
Where else does all this lead? Will we evaluate teachers not only on their students’ test scores, but on target practice, with merit pay for mastery of semi-automatic weapons? Mourners at the funeral of the next Vicki Soto shouldn’t have to whisper about her aim. Or is the only good teacher the teacher who keeps a Glock in her purse, and knows how to use it; or the one who has a second gun on her so that when some troubled eighth-grader grabs the classroom weapon she can shoot down her own student? Perhaps we’d be told then that he wouldn’t have done it if he knew that everyone else at recess had a gun. Do we picture our students becoming regimented gunmen themselves, or rather gun-children, with weaponry a normalized part of the high-school, then middle- and elementary-school curriculum—child soldiers for the Second Amendment?
This is where gun advocacy ends: not with a right to bear arms, but with an insistence that the rest of us have an obligation to do so. In the name of a misreading of the Second Amendment, teachers and children are conscripted in a gunfight. A movement that frames its cause as liberty imposes fear, and service only to the gun.
Photograph by Jason DeCrow/AP.