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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Teachers Packing Heat In the Classrooms of America

School shootings feed the deepest fears of parents, teachers and students themselves. It seems there is an ever-increasing threat of school violence and school shootings, so some schools have elected to arm classroom teachers. I feel this is a dangerous alternative to using better non-aggressive defensive measures to make our schools even safer places for our children.

Even though children probably spend more time at school than any place except home, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in 2013 that less than two percent of all youth homicides occur there — a percentage that has been stable for about a decade. Children are safer in school than at home or on the highway.

Mass shootings anywhere are horrific. We all feel shock and outrage at these senseless acts. I do not deny we must be driven to react to the reality of the potential of school killings. At the same time, we have the obligation to react with the safest measures to protect life, not overreact and inject even more danger on campuses. Many observers have charged that media hype about school shootings creates a "moral panic" -- that is, an overblown sense of alarm caused by a perceived threatening trend.

As we know, panic often creates unwise knee jerk reactions. We often consider solutions without thinking beyond next week, and in that process, we may have good intentions but still create a more dangerous society.

"I know on the heels of any school shooting, there's the perception that violence is on the rise. It's not," Dewey Cornell, a clinical psychologist and education professor at the University of Virginia, told National Public Radio. "In fact, there's been a very steady downward trend for the past 15 years."

(Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor. "School Shootings: What Does Science Say?" 
LiveScience. April 16, 2014)

According to a 2013 report from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), violent deaths among school students ages 5 to 18 and staff in 2010 were lower than at any time since 1992 (the first year NCES kept records).

James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northwestern University, has been tracking mass shootings with four or more fatalities since 1976.  It wasn't surprising to see that mass shootings aren't on the rise.   In fact, the rate of such incidents has pretty much remained flat since the 1970s.   There hasn't been a rise in the number of school shooting victims either, according to a new report conducted by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and the National Center for Education Statistics.

(Matt Vespa. "Mass Shootings Aren't On The Rise, Neither Are 
Victims Of School Shootings." June 12, 2014)

Of course, any death in a school shooting is one too many, yet guns in the hands of every classroom teacher will do little to deter a psychopathic or disturbed person -- outsider or student -- from sacrificing his or her life to kill innocent people.

I will offer some support for my position.

1. One fallacy of arming teachers is that  teachers will always have pupils’ best interests at heart. There’s little to stop children from becoming extremely vulnerable if they are under the supervision of someone who could turn on them. 

Consider the commission of sex crimes in public schools. In a five (5) year study by the Associated Press from 2001 through 2005, an average of five hundred (500) educators faced disciplinary or criminal action following allegations of sexual relations with students. Ten percent of these teacher-predators were women.

The fact is some teachers abuse the powers they have. Putting guns in such hands would simply increase the potential threat of assault and intimidation.

2. People love to quote the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms for personal safety. I have no qualms with this. There exists a need for armed self-protection. Still, in certain environments such as schools, guns have no place. 

Why shouldn’t students carry guns if teachers can? If schools are really that vulnerable to mass shootings, students can argue their Constitutional right to carry for their own self-protection and for the protection of their fellow classmates.  

3. Placing a third party, such as a teacher specifically trained in an intensive university program to teach, in a position of defending our young people deserves vigorous debate and contemplation.  The people who defend our children are adequately trained to do so.

Many assume that learning the skill of armed defense is simply a matter of taking a position on the firing line at the local range and shooting tight groups at a non-moving target. The range does not adequately prepare a teacher for real confrontation where unforgiving bullets fly.

The eight or even 40 hours of training that's typically the standard for entry-level personal defense courses is simply not enough to expect a teacher to be prepared for what an armed situation would require. Military personnel and police officers immerse themselves in training with firearms defense, and even they get it wrong at times.

(Shane F. Krauser. "Arming Untrained Teachers Puts Our Kids at Greater Risk." April 30, 2013)

How can teachers armed for the purpose of protecting students and staff be equated with private citizens carrying a weapon? When a private individual carries, he or she has no responsibility to protect others. That person can choose to flee and leave others to danger.

Teachers with a gun in the classroom need extensive training to insure proper performance and psychological testing to determine enforcement qualifications. Responsibility should be accompanied by competencies. The greater the responsibility, the more qualifications and competencies needed.

4. Allowing teachers to carry arms in school could mean that very young children could easily become acclimatised to the idea that carrying a gun and ultimately employing a firearm as a quick,  acceptable way to solve potential problems. This practice could create the impression on the part of  students that they are in an unsafe environment and that it is necessary for people to protect them with firearms in their schools.
Young brains are very impressionable. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the young mind does not develop the capacity to adequately problem solve and make critical decisions until much later than expected. 

The National Institute of Mental Health says, "It now appears the brain continues to change into the early 20's with the frontal lobes, responsible for reasoning and problem solving, developing last."

Based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to:
  • act on impulse
  • misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
  • get into accidents of all kinds
  • get involved in fights
  • engage in dangerous or risky behavior
Adolescents are less likely to:
  • think before they act
  • pause to consider the potential consequences of their actions
  • modify their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors

5. Having guns in the classroom will more than likely increase the chances of gun related violence in schools. It would increase the chance of gun related accidents. It may well also increase the number of shootings: people who carry guns are 4.5 times more likely to be shot. Insurance companies already charge schools higher premiums in which teachers are permitted to carry guns.

(Ewen Callaway. "Carrying a Gun Increases Risk of Getting Shot and Killed."  
NewScientist, 6. October, 2009)

Arming teachers and other school personnel means more opportunities for guns to end up in children's hands or to be accidentally discharged.

And, can we ignore the possibility that those who are to carry guns for the school children’s protection may at some point turn the gun on their charges? Teaching can be a very frustrating, stressful job, and, at times, the teacher may get very angry with individual students.

Very often frustrated students react inappropriately to accusations of breaking rules and they defy and refuse discipline. Confrontations, fights, and serious threats do occur. Allowing teachers to carry guns would greatly increase the risk of an unpremeditated shooting against a schoolchild. And, one other consideration is a threat of violence from a disgruntled parent spilling into a situation where armed confrontation is just a draw away. 

6. Nearly every day teachers must deal with threats to young people by other young people. If teachers were granted the right of "shoot to kill" anyone they found threatening, the consequences to completely innocent people in a crossfire, or merely to troubled youngsters who could be rehabilitated if simply subdued, could be tragic and fatal.

 We must remember that teachers are not police officers and are not equipped to take out an armed criminal in the same way. As the legislative director of the Houston Association of Teachers put it, “We are trained to teach and educate – not to tame the Wild West.”

(James C. McKinley. "In Texas School, Teachers Carry Books and Guns."  
The New York Times. August 28, 2008)

7. If teachers can bear arms, then what’s to stop other people in the school environment who are in contact with children, such as janitors and bus drivers in the support staff, from demanding they must be allowed to carry too? In fact, some of them surely have private gun licenses of their own. Might not some other of these people even choose to arm themselves illicitly because they feel an unfair rule makes them inferior? 

There is no guarantee that the system of only allowing teaching staff to carry firearms could be fully regulated. The result is that children could be in environments where those not licensed to carry arms around them would have greater opportunities to do so, thereby increasing the threat to children.

It would be very difficult to monitor which staff are bringing guns into school without constant investments in searches and detectors, money spent defeating the purpose of protecting students.

8. Putting a gun in the hands of a teacher along with the tremendous responsibility to use it with the skills of a professional peace officer places tremendous additional stress on the teacher. Ohio State Senator Frank LaRose (R-Copley) is chairman of the Ohio Senate Public Safety Committee, which held hearings in 2013 on school safety. He’s also an Army veteran who served on a special forces team. He told the Ohio State Board of Education that arming teachers is not something he would support:

"I am someone that has the unique perspective of working in a profession where I carried a firearm for a number of years and I’ve seen what happens when the heat is on. When the stress level are high and even the best trained in the world have accuracy as well as target identification issues. This is a heavy responsibility to carry a deadly implement and it’s really something that should only be trusted to the most skilled and trained sworn law enforcement officers."

LaRose continued ...
"It’s not that I’m against it or crusading against teachers having the ability to defend themselves in the local school district if the teachers in question want to make that decision, but as far as a thoughtful conversation about how to make our schools safer in a macro sense, when we pass legislation that pertains to the whole state, there are a lot of other things we can look at that are a lot more effective than this notion."
LaRose said that based on the consensus of the experts they heard in the Senate hearings, things like building security, improving police response time, teacher training, anti-bullying programs, and mental health screenings would all be better ways to make schools safer.

A poll of the National Education Association in January 2013 found that only 22 percent of union members favored firearms training for teachers and other school employees and letting them carry firearms in schools; 61 percent strongly opposed the proposal. That is nearly two-thirds of teachers themselves against toting a gun into their classrooms.

9. In states where it is legal, parents may have no idea that their child's teacher carries a gun into the classroom every day. Isn't it the right of every parent to know who legally carries a gun during their employment when citizens pay for all public school operations? I know I would want to know who handles a gun around any of my loved ones who are forced by the state to attend their classes.

That type of responsibility placed in the hands of teachers means their duties fall into something of a law enforcement capacity. Placing teachers in such a capacity would also be a huge legal liability for any school district. Don't parents have the right to know who represents enforcement as they have daily contact with their children?

Let's be honest. The record of corruption including brutality in police forces across the nation is alarming. 72 percent of people in Pew Research Center's survey of 2013 said "teachers contribute a lot to society's well-being." Those contributions will be greatly diminished if schools feature themselves as protection agencies relying on force while teachers tote weapons.

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