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Armed and Dangerous…in the Classroom?

I am a gun owner. I was reared in the south and taught from a very young age how to use a firearm. I knew how to responsibly clean, load, carry, and shoot it. When I got older, I was never allowed to drive up in the mountain to see family unless I kept my pistol in the passenger seat. My dad would go over the normal checklist. Seat belt? Yes. Mirrors? Yes. Pistol? Yes.

I am also a teacher. I have taught in high schools where threats were common and where, once, a student was apprehended on campus with a loaded weapon, a student whose Facebook posts expressed intent to kill his girlfriend. Thankfully I have never been involved in a situation where anyone was harmed, but I write this post with a mind that it could happen. I walk into my school every day knowing that at any given moment I could die protecting my students.

But know this: I would quit my job today if teachers started packing guns to work.

Before I heard about the statement made by the NRA, I saw all these posts on Facebook saying teachers should be armed, that schools would be safer if their signs said “staff heavily armed and trained” rather than “weapons prohibited.” What’s troubling to me is that these posts and opinions come from reasonable people who are serious. And while the narrative sounds good in theory—a teacher stands up in the midst of chaos and takes out the shooter with a single shot—I feel like people need to be reminded that life isn’t a Western movie. Neither of the above signs is going to stop a killer. If people are willing to make these threats and commit these acts on and against military bases, which they are and they do, then the theory behind this argument is defeated ahead of its rhetoric. Or it should be.


There are a lot smarter of people out there making arguments, but I thought I’d share a gun-owning teacher’s perspective on this gravely stupid idea.

First, let’s consider the logistics. If there are 75 teachers in my school, that means there could be 75 guns around—that many guns in a building fraught with enough angst to provide electricity to a small town. Students say things about violence a lot, but it rarely ever escalates to mass harm. But think of what could happen if we provided them opportunity to mutiny? I may know how to handle a gun, but I can’t fight off a 200-pound boy who wants to take it from me. This kind of irresponsibility could yield the kind of nightmare we just saw in Connecticut. I’m not sticking around this field if teachers are providing the access to the next massacre. This is not the Middle East where the cultural context is militant. This is America, and we don’t do that here.

Second, let’s all abandon the romanticized idea that all teachers are role models and model citizens. Most of the teachers I know are great people and went into education for the right reasons; many of them are the rare, heroic kind who make a long-lasting, positive difference. But get real—this field is full of idiots, narcissists, power-trip junkies, tough guys, bubbas, and show-offs. I’m thinking specifically of the principal in Nicholas County, KY who beat my first cousin to a pulp four years ago for coming on campus while suspended. Do I want that guy armed? Negative.

Third, think about the ways this would alter our everyday lives in our buildings. A very real duty we have as teachers is to break up fights. How easy would it be for the safety to get hit and turned off in that situation, for the gun to go off on accident while I’m attempting to subdue a volatile student? How could I ever live with myself again if my weapon injured someone? What would I say to their parents? I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shoot your kid? And who would be liable for that? Because let me be petty and selfish and quasi-facetious for a minute: I don’t need another liability. I also don’t need my planning time to go toward weapon maintenance. I don’t need my summer to be spent in district-wide professional weapons development or Rigor and Relevance gunmanship classes. I mean, aside from the fact that I would probably get myself or others killed by carrying a weapon, statistically speaking, I can’t lose one more day of my planning or my summer, and I definitely don’t need one more liability.

Lastly, and most probable to affect our students, think about what a gun would say in a classroom where we are trying to make kids feel physically and emotionally safe. In most situations, the sight of a gun puts people on edge; it doesn’t make them feel protected. For instance, though I’m comfortable around guns, if I see one at McDonalds, I’m taking my kids to Burger King…and calling the police. That’s because we have iconic associations set into our psyches. So, using that same logic, if I’m kneeling at a desk to help a student and he or she knows there’s a gun under my jacket, that, friends, is what we call a barrierand it’s my job to remove those, not create them.

I know that people are just grasping at straws in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy. I don’t blame them; I want a solution, too. But we can’t start making generalizations from these random events. There isn’t a magic button to change what’s happening. We’ve seen that cops on campus don’t keep them from happening any more than metal detectors do, any more than the presence of the military does. For people sick enough to murder children, a sign won’t make a difference. (To a sick mind, the thought of a showdown with a bunch of teachers might just be enticing.)

Why can’t we just say the word “legislation”? Why can’t we cross party lines to start treating the problem and not just the symptom? Even that won’t be foolproof, but it’s a better start than the alternative.

I hate to tell the cold truth here, but arming teachers and thereby giving students access is the essence of the underlying problem: access.

Comments

  1. Thank you for this blog post. I hope more teacher bloggers voice their opinions on this subject. I could not imagine walking into a classroom everyday knowing I had to carry a weapon. I know I couldn’t use it if the attacker happened to be a student. Therefore, it would be useless to me and a potential threat to others. I really hope we don’t go the way of carrying guns as teachers ever. Like you, that would be the end of my teaching career.

  2. Glad to hear from you, Karen. Thanks for posting. Isn’t it surreal that this is even a real suggestion? I didn’t write this entry in response to the Facebook posts I saw initially because I didn’t want to validate ignorance, but when the NRA came out with their press conference, I was stunned. Like–who makes this a viable option in America in 2012? Where’s the progress? I’m glad to know I wouldn’t be alone in walking out that front door if this ever catches on.

    • I’m sure we would be far from alone. I think most of us go into teaching because we want to inspire children. Like you said, mandating teachers to carry weapons would be so very backwards. Teaching wouldn’t be the same anymore. No matter what anyone says, it would turn us into guards- the very image I fight against with my 6th graders daily. I can just picture a Kindergarten teacher trying to be upbeat and positive, knowing that he or she has a gun within arms reach to use as needed. NOT! I know I wouldn’t be able to do it, anyway. There are other ways to make our schools safer. Locking all the doors isn’t the answer, either. I went through that this week, and it just wasn’t the comforting, happy environment I feel in love with and brought me to teaching.

  3. It’s scary to think of how serious this issue has become, Karen. It’s staying quiet really, but it’s already come to a legislative decision in North Dakota. I *think* the bill was passed that left the decision up to each school district on whether to allow those with a C&C license to bring guns to school. I will not be teaching in North Dakota next year–I’ll be moving to Ohio in a month–so I do not know if this is analogous with other states (ND seems to be an anomaly in many cultural and political respects) but I hope not.

    Like you, I think there are better ways.

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