Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Guns in Schools

Indiana is considering becoming the first state to require that every public school in the state have an armed … um … er … well, someone with a gun. I think that this is a terrible idea.

First, let me offer a quick anecdote. Shortly after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, when talk of placing more guns in schools began to become common, I asked my 13-year-old son (a 7th-grade public school student) what he thought of the idea of arming teachers. He thought for a moment and then answered:

“Well that’s a really stupid idea,” he said.


“Well what if a kid finds the gun,” he answered.

“Any other reasons?”

“Yeah. What if the teacher’s having a really bad day or what if the teacher’s crazy to begin with?”

“Would you feel safer if the teacher had a gun?”

“No. Teacher’s aren’t the police.”

And that’s where we left the conversation.

You’d think that if a 13-year-old could see those flaws with more guns in schools, perhaps legislators could too. But apparently not in Indiana.

But those aren’t the only reasons that I think the idea of mandating guns in schools is a bad idea.

However, before I go through my objections, let me note that I don’t oppose the idea of properly trained, armed police in schools. The key though, at least to me, is that the arms are born by properly trained police, not just school employees who have undergone a training seminar. The police undergo constant training and skills practice. That is crucial. They are taught a host of skills beyond just “point and shoot”. And, before someone becomes a police officer, there is a sort of screening (at least I presume there is) to be sure that the person is suited to the rigors and stress of being a police officer. The job, skills, and decision-making processes incumbent upon teachers (or school administrators) and trained police officers are dramatically different and we shouldn’t just presume that a few hours of training will equip a teacher with the skills or decision-making processes necessary to protect children in the event of a tragedy like Sandy Hook.

Furthermore, it seems to me that the decision of whether to have armed guards — and the number and sort of guards involved — is best left to local school administrators with input from parents … and students. Thankfully, it seems that at least some members of Indiana’s General Assembly share this view and the bill currently being considered may, apparently, be changed from a requirement to an option.

But let’s consider some other issues, too, just in case the requirement language isn’t removed.

It’s worth noting at the outset that Columbine High School had an armed security guard but that fact didn’t prevent the massacre that occurred there. Virginia Tech had an entire SWAT team. So we shouldn’t assume that the presence of some kind of security guard — or even properly trained police — will be sufficient to prevent or even lessen the severity of the next school shooting (and just how sick is that I have to write that as “next” with the almost certainty that it will happen again).

What will the cost be to the schools to have armed teachers or security guards (who aren’t police)? Include in these costs not just the weapon but also the training costs and likely increases in insurance. At a time when we’re making schools cut back on all sorts of programs and when we’re allowing class sizes to increase rather than hiring more teachers, how are schools supposed to absorb these additional costs? Maybe they can cut out music or art or just fire a few more teachers.

What do we do when the teacher assigned to be the school security officer is sick or on vacation? Does each school need to actually have two armed “guards”? Actually, schools probably will need more than one armed guard. After all, except for the smallest of schools, most probably have multiple entrances through which an armed assailant could enter. Won’t schools need a guard to protect each of those entrances? And if the guard is actually a teacher, how do we expect that teacher to respond to an event occurring elsewhere in the school, especially if it’s a large school? And do you want to the teacher with responsibility for your child to be the one teacher in the school expected to race out to confront the gunman? While other teachers are locking their doors, escorting children out of the building to safety, or hiding where they can, your child’s teacher will have to leave the kids behind to go in search of a lunatic with gun.

And what, do you suppose, will be the ratio of “bad guys stopped” to children (or other teachers) accidentally shot by school security guards? You might take a few minutes to search online for just how many people are killed accidentally by gunfire. How many accidental shootings will be too many? Do you think that your children will be safer … or at greater risk?

You might also ask yourself whether that armed guard will be present for all school-related activities. Will there be an armed guard at the football and basketball games? What about the cross country meet or the choir performance? Will the armed guard be outside at recess to protect the playground or inside protecting other students?

Furthermore, why just public schools? I mean, hey, my kids go to a public school, so yeah, but if your kid goes to a private school then either your tuition just went up (to pay for an armed guard) or your kid’s school just moved a few slots up on the list of preferred targets. I mean, if my school is required to have a guard and your school isn’t required to have one…

Should colleges also be required to have armed guards? Is that one armed guard for the entire college or maybe one per building? Or maybe we should just require every college student to go to class packing heat. For that matter, why can’t 18-year-olds in high school take a gun with them? I mean, if we want to have guns in the schools to make them safer, then won’t armed students help? It’s my understanding that in Indiana an 18-year-old can get a concealed carry license (not to mention join the Army); so why can’t that kid take his gun to school as a sort of backup to the school’s armed guard. Maybe we should even think about arming elementary school hall monitors. You know, just in case. What? That idea doesn’t make you think your kids will be safer? Hmm.

Oh, and does anybody find it ironic that Republican dominated state legislatures like the Indiana General Assembly go after public schools, public school teachers, and teachers unions … but are willing to task those same public school teachers with the job of protecting students from armed assailants. They don’t trust the teachers to teach, just to shoot the bad guys?

What kind of weapon are we going to give to these school protection officers? Pistols? Remember that many (if not most) of the recent mass shootings have involved assault weapons with high capacity magazines. Query the effectiveness of a moderately trained person with a pistol up against a lunatic with an assault weapon and body armor. Of course, we could always provide the teacher with a machine gun and body armor, too. Maybe some grenades. Perhaps we should even have the children wear body armor to school. Just in case. Perhaps instead of giving kids iPads or books for school, we could provide them with bulletproof Disney princess or Avengers backpacks (apparently sales have been brisk since Sandy Hook):


And why just schools? I mean, once schools are locked down with armed guards, won’t places like playgrounds or athletic fields become prime targets for wannabe school shooters? We’ve also seen mass shootings in movie theaters. So I suppose that we should require every theater to have an armed guard too. Again, though, the question becomes whether that is one guard per theater building or one per screen in the giant cineplexes.

What about shopping malls? It would seem that we might want to think about armed guards there too, and I don’t mean Paul Blart and his Mall Cop buddies.

Post offices seem like prime places for mass shootings, too, so we probably need to expand the budget of the Postal Service to allow for armed guards.

The more that I think about the issue, it seems like the more places that we protect with armed guards, the more that we’re just shifting the best soft targets of opportunity to other places where people gather. Maybe we should just put an armed guard in all public places where people might gather. Like parks. Green spaces. Public speeches. Places to which we send firefighters. And street corners.

Yep. That’s what will keep us safe. Let’s put an armed guard on every street corner, in every park, in every post office, in every theater, at every door in a shopping mall, and at every door to every school in the country. And, just in case, maybe we should require that everyone be armed everywhere they go, all the time. You know, just in case the armed guard is on a bathroom break or crumbles under the stress of a live shooting incident. I think guns everywhere we look will make us all much safer, don’t you? Maybe we could even erect guard towers along our streets and at the perimeters of each park or public area; we could arm them with our most advanced anti-personnel weaponry. You know, just in case. Maybe even some drones patrolling our skies, just watching for the lunatic with the gun.

Or, perhaps, we could address how readily available guns are and aim to reduce the number of guns in our society. Perhaps if we increased the efficacy of our background check system, fewer people who shouldn’t have guns would have access to them and the killing potential they represent. Perhaps if we reduced the availability of the deadliest weapons and the capability of destruction and mayhem that they offer, the toll of mass shootings, when they occur, would be lessened.

I don’t think that the answer to school shootings is to put more guns in more schools. I think that answer is to find ways to have fewer guns on our streets.

You might also consider the following: The push to have an armed guard in every school comes from the National Rifle Association. What is the principal role of the NRA? To help gun manufacturers sell more guns.

And let me leave you with one final set of queries: If Indiana (or your state) adopts a law requiring guns in schools or, perhaps, authorizing teachers to carry concealed firearms, would you want to know if your child’s teacher is, in fact, armed? Should you have the right to know if your child’s teacher is armed? Should you have the right to demand that your child be assigned to a teacher who is not armed (or, I suppose, to the teacher who is armed)? And, should there be an unfortunate mistake and a child is accidentally wounded or killed by a school security officers, should the state’s tort claims limit apply to limit the amount that could be recovered to compensate for that child’s injuries or life?

If you don’t think that Indiana should require that every school have an armed guard, please call your legislator and let him or her know what you think. And if the decision is made to give schools the right to have armed teachers, please be sure to let your local school board know your thoughts on that as well.

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