Sunday 24 June 2018

Will arming teachers with guns stop US school shootings?

Several US states are wrestling with the idea of arming some teachers with concealed weapons.

Some schools already have armed teachers among their staff (Creede Newton/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)
Some schools already have armed teachers among their staff (Creede Newton/Amarillo Globe-News via AP)

By Matthew Gibson

President Donald Trump has said that if one of the victims of the latest school shooting in the US, a football coach, had been armed “he would have shot and that would have been the end of it”.

Revisiting an idea he raised in his presidential campaign, Mr Trump’s comments in favour of allowing teachers to be armed come as politicians in several states are wrestling with the idea, including in Florida, where the 17 most recent school shooting victims are being mourned.

Assistant football coach Aaron Feis, hailed for shielding students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, “was very brave”, Mr Trump said during a listening session with parents and survivors of school shootings. “If he had a firearm, he wouldn’t have had to run.”

Florida Republican senator Greg Steube said gun-free zones like schools are easy targets and has proposed allowing specially trained educators with military or law enforcement backgrounds to be armed.

Mr Steube told The Associated Press: “Our most valuable, most precious resources are our children. Why in the world are we going to put them in a circumstance where there is nobody that is armed and trained at any of our schools to be able to respond quickly to an active shooter situation?”

His comments came as students, including survivors of the Parkland shooting, rallied at the state’s capital in support of changes in gun laws.

Similar discussions have taken place in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in recent days and Wisconsin’s attorney general said he is open to the idea.

“Our students do not need to be sitting ducks. Our teachers do not need to be defending themselves with a No. 2 pencil,” Republican Alabama Republican Will Ainsworth said in proposing a bill days after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida.

The debate breaches statehouse walls, and teachers – and the public – are divided on the issue. A poll released this week by ABC News/Washington post says 42% of Americans believe teachers with guns could have prevented the Florida shooting.

Salt Lake City, Utah, teacher Kasey Hansen said the idea to arm herself in school began with the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults died.

“It just really hit home that these teachers, all they could do was pile those kids in a corner and stand in front of them and hope for the best,” said Ms Hansen, who carries a concealed handgun as she teaches special education students.

“I’m not here to tell all teachers that they have to carry a gun,” she said. “For me personally, I felt that it was more of a solution than just hiding in a corner and waiting.”

Utah is among at least eight states that allow, or do not specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Centre to Prevent Gun Violence.

In Austin, Texas, teacher Tara Bordeaux cannot easily see herself taking on that role, preferring to leave it to trained law enforcement officers.

“Would I get the same training and would I have the same type of instinct of when and how to use it?” asked Bordeaux, her state’s 2018 teacher of the year. “I don’t have any instincts in me to be an officer of the law. My instincts are to be a teacher.”

Claude, Texas, Superintendent Brock Cartwright will not reveal how many or who among his teachers is armed, but the district’s message to potential intruders blares in capital letters in three signs: “Please be aware that the staff at Claude ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”

Like other administrators, Mr Cartwright said armed teachers are just one part of safety plans that include drilling for emergencies and shoring up buildings. The small town east of Amarillo does not have a police department, raising concerns about the potential response time for law enforcement.

“Hopefully, we never have to use it,” Mr Cartwright said, “but if we do, our thought is we’re going to hold off until help arrives.”

The president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called arming teachers “one of the worst ideas I have heard in a series of really, really, really bad ideas.”

Nevertheless, a tweeted offer by Butler County, Ohio, Sheriff Richard Jones to train local teachers to carry a concealed handgun garnered so much interest that he quickly capped the number at 300.

When asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt about arming teachers, US education secretary, Betsy DeVos, said states “clearly have the opportunity and the option to do that”.

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich called for small groups of armed teachers in every school, and was quickly countered by Democratic senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who labelled it the new “gun industry business model – using the gun violence epidemic to sell more guns, make more profit”.

Magnolia, Texas, parent Robert Morphew would want strict guidelines, including for teachers to be trained and licensed, to support guns in his son’s high school.

“I do think it would be a deterrent, there’s no doubt,” he said.

In Buffalo, New York, parent Wendy Diina disagreed.

“Why am I trying to prevent someone from having a gun by giving a gun to someone else?” the mother-of-two asked.

The National Association of School Resource Officers favours hiring more trained law enforcement officers, in part to ensure a teacher’s gun will not mistakenly end up in a student’s hands.

AP

Press Association

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