Another Perspective on “Arming Teachers”

Jon Alexander has raised some serious challenges to the concept of “arming teachers” to strengthen security in our schools. Allow me to shift the debate somewhat by adjusting its fundamental assumptions.

Speculation isn’t necessary

In the U.S. today, at least fourteen states have laws on the books which allow school boards to authorize concealed carry of firearms by school staff, under various conditions, while ten more states do not restrict concealed carry to school staff members only, although most of them still require specific, individual permission of the governing school board. The number is growing every year: last year, Wyoming joined; this year bills are pending in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Florida. Meantime, in Ohio alone, over 1,000 trained school staff members are carrying concealed handguns in more than one-quarter of the school districts in that state. In South Dakota, Texas, Colorado and other states, significant and growing numbers of school staff members are already legally carrying concealed firearms – while Utah has allowed anyone with a state concealed carry permit to carry a firearm on school property for going on 19 years.

So, this is not a new idea; quite the contrary. We have a considerable amount of experience with it, and because of the decentralized approach, wherein state laws and school board policies differ, we have quite a variety of experiments underway.

How is it working out? Famously. While mass shooters have not been particularly deterred by the presence of uniformed School Resource Officers (Columbine High School and Parkland, Florida being particular examples), there is no evidence of a single school shooting taking place in any district across the country where trained, non-law enforcement school staff members are carrying concealed weapons. Correlation is not causation, but that fact cannot be easily dismissed.

There are also zero examples of injuries resulting from the kind of mishaps commonly predicted by the skeptics: no accidental shootings, no rowdy students shot by frustrated teachers, no gun take-aways by students. They’re just not happening.

It’s not about teachers

In my local high school – a small one with about 600 students – there are 42 teachers, but 44 administrative and support staff, all of whom are equally eligible to apply for authority to carry a firearm. This really isn’t about teachers, per se – in fact, a school or a district could exclude teachers entirely and still have plenty of staff to select from.

Training IS required . . . and accessible, and affordable

In Ohio, Colorado, and Wyoming for example, there are strict training mandates either in state statute or as insurance provider requirements, because in fact, many insurance providers don’t raise an eyebrow or a premium when school staff are armed. They seem to understand that their risk of massive claim settlements actually declines when shootings are either deterred or defeated in the first few minutes, before casualties mount. Armed staff in these three states must complete a minimum of 24 hours of high-intensity training, encompassing live fire skills, individual tactics, and scenario-based training. Private training providers typically charge $1,000-2,000 per person for training of this nature and duration; but in the first two states, the costs are covered by 501(c)(3) foundations funded by private donations, costing neither school districts nor individuals a cent. The individuals provide their own firearms, and are required to already have a valid state concealed carry permit as a prerequisite when they first apply to carry in the schools.

Physical security is not the answer

“Hardening” schools with better locks, camera systems, metal detectors (each of which, by the way, has to be monitored by an armed guard) and such is, as Jon points out, very expensive and at best imposes some delay, and some tighter planning requirements, on the potential attacker. Shooters have got past all these things in the past, and if they’re not backed up by armed personnel, all you’ve purchased at enormous expense is an enormous inconvenience for everyone. As part of a comprehensive security strategy, OK, but physical security is no panacea.

Uniformed guards aren’t the answer

While thousands of law enforcement officers assigned to schools around the country may be well trained and highly dedicated, we’ve seen high profile failures from Columbine to Parkland, Florida. A single year’s burdened salary for one School Resource Officer, typically $80-90,000, would pay for the selection and training of 30-40 or more volunteer school staff carrying concealed – and any school with even 3-4 such present has a capability to save lives in the critical first 5-10 minutes of a shooting event, before police can arrive and intervene.

Arming school staff works, and it’s both affordable and sustainable. It’s already being done. Speculation and skepticism should yield to experience.

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