Friday, December 21, 2012

Arming Teachers: A Stupid Idea

I WROTE THIS STORY six years ago. Nothing has really changed since, except the names of the victims and the increasing frequency of the carnage in our schools. 

The names of the dead at Stoneman Douglass are fresh in the news, the pain of survivors raw and terrible to behold.

Arming teachers after Sandy Hook never seemed like a good idea. 

It doesn’t seem any better today. I’ll leave this post the way I wrote in in 2012, adding only a few thoughts, italicizing them as I proceed.

VICTORIA SOTO, 27, WAS BURIED THURSDAY under a cold winter sky. Soto, as you may know, was the teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary who stood in front of students in a vain attempt to save their lives.  

Jack Pinto, 6, another victim, was buried Monday.

Tragically, that promising young man will never know if his favorite football team made the playoffs. He was laid to rest in his New York Giants football jersey: Number 80, Victor Cruz. (For Jack’s sake, let’s hope God hates the Dallas Cowboys.) In stricken Newtown, Connecticut, Jack’s best friend penned this sorrowing letter:

And now, with twenty-six fresh graves filled or to fill (and seventeen more in Florida just days ago), what do the most strident gun-rights advocates want to discuss? What do Second Amendment absolutists, those who say the right to bear arms cannot be infringed, suggest we do to protect innocents like Jack Pinto? (Or: Jaime Guttenberg, 14, or Peter Wang, 15, both among the dead in the massacre this past Valentines’ Day.)

We arm people like Ms. Soto. We arm teachers. (We arm people like Scott Biegal, 35, killed on February 14 of this year.)

Why is this idea stupid?  

As a former teacher, allow me to explain. First and foremost, it won’t work. It won’t guarantee the safety our children deserve. And we, as a nation, can no longer afford the luxury of wishful thinking where these attacks are concerned. We owe the victims of this horrendous attack (and attacks in Orlando, Las Vegas and Southerland Springs) something more. We owe it to all our children, living and dead, to face reality and craft sensible national policies. Here are a few reasons why arming teachers is an absurd place to start:

1. If we place a gun in the office, ready to a principal’s hand (or to the hand of some other school defender), as some absolutists suggest, what happens if the heavily-armed intruder shoots his way in through a different doorway?

2. What if two maniacal killers are involved? Then one defender isn’t enough (See: Columbine, 1999).

3. If the psychopath has a semi-automatic weapon clearly the defender will require (at minimum) a semi-automatic weapon. How exactly does this gun vs. gun strategy play out if the attack occurs at the start of the school day, or during a class change, when halls are crowded with children? How many bullets do the absolutists want to see flying around the schools?

4. How do we protect kids on a playground during recess if a psycho shows up and starts spraying fire? (That’s already been done. See: Stockton, 1989.)

5. What if the psycho lurks by the roadside and waits in the morning till a bus filled with children passes? What if he opens fire on them? (Same concern: end of the day.)

6. What if the killer forces his way in through the kitchen and into the cafeteria at lunch? (Arm cooks with guns? At least they already have knives.)

7. How do we defend if the perpetrator calls in a fake bomb threat and children empty out onto the lawn; and then he arrives to start shooting?

8. What do we do if the shooter pulls up in a car in front of any school, which is exactly what happened at Sandy Hook, and jumps out and starts shooting as students enter some morning? (Same idea, exiting: afternoon.)

9. What if the perpetrator parks his car, walks up to just about any first floor classroom in America and starts firing through windows?

10. Suppose a killer approaches a high school soccer field after classes have ended, during the first period of a tie game, and starts blasting? (Same idea: track meet, tennis match, marching band or cheer leading practice.)

AND LET’S NOT FORGET PSYCHO PLAN B: What if the killer can’t get into the school? What if he heads for a college campus, a theater, a Sikh temple or mall (a music concert venue, a gay nightclub, a place of employment) in frustration? (We do know that’s been done, don’t we?) 

If the idea of arming teachers is dumb, what about doubling down on dumb? After all, the Second Amendment is sacred, according to absolutists, and all gun-control is wrong. What choice, then, do we have other than to arm everyone in schools—every teacher and even school nurses.

Drop that mop, Mr. Janitor.  

From now on you patrol the halls with an AR-15. 

Is that the sad state our nation is in? Are we too cowardly and too blind to face hard American-made facts? Can’t we at least be honest about where we stand? If we have 300 million guns in private hands and those aren’t enough, then guns for all educators is but a tiny first step. Next we need to issue every public school employee body armor. And there’s the whole idea of child-size bullet-proof vests for kids. 

If we can’t pass reasonable legislation, let’s just give up and up-armor all the yellow buses. Place guards on board, riding shotgun beside drivers, like stagecoaches of yore. Brick up first floor school windows—except for maybe loopholes. 

Cancel outdoor school activities, for sure.

Come on, we want kids to be safe. So let’s create schools that resemble bunkers. Let’s add 12-foot-high perimeter walls. Let’s require teachers (when they’re not preparing for standardized tests) to take turns guarding those walls instead of “wasting time” grading and creating lesson plans and talking to kids who need help.  

Maybe we should add moats. 

A conservative friend of mine suggested recently that I should stop “prattling on” about gun control. Maybe I am. Prattling on. I don’t think so. I think I’m just pissed because Jesse Lewis [at Sandy Hook], on the day he was murdered, told his father in an excited voice before heading to school, “Dad, this is going to be the best Christmas ever.” I’m pissed because that little boy believed what he said and we as a nation allowed a killer to prove him wrong. 

I’m pissed because Ms. Soto, possessed of “captivating blue eyes,” is dead. 

I’m pissed because Grace McDonnell is no longer with us and can never follow her dreams.  

I’m pissed to know that Anne Marie Murphy, another teacher at Sandy Hook, died cradling Dylan Hockley, 6, in her arms.  

I’m pissed because all of them died in a “firestorm of bullets.” 

In the wake of great tragedy, I’m pissed because gun-toting absolutists refuse to admit that it’s an indictment of a gun-loving culture when teachers and children are swept away in a “firestorm of bullets.”

Like mechanical men, they keep repeating a single refrain: “My Second Amendment rights cannot be infringed. My. Rights. Cannot. Be. Infringed.” So let’s follow their logic and end with a look at the amendment in question: 

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Clearly, the rights of gun owners are sacred. Clearly, they cannot be infringed. Clearly, to protect our freedoms the Founding Fathers understood that what was needed was a well-regulated militia. Got all that? We need armed citizens to repel foreign invasions. Check. And to shoot back at our potential government oppressors. (There’s a strong element of anti-Obama paranoia at play in the minds of a number of absolutists.) Sure. There are already 300 million guns; but that’s not enough, even though it’s more than one for every adult in America.  

In other words, we need to man up. A modern militia—even though the militia no longer exists—would logically require firepower. (You can argue, and should, that the National Guard is now the militia; but then you get stuck, because they already have their own guns.) Therefore: a private citizen, following absolutist logic, who thinks he’s part of an imaginary militia, and thinks he’s getting ready to repulse imaginary invaders (because, frankly, the U.S. Navy can’t do it) or boogie man oppressors (Muslim Obama), has a god given right to purchase any kind of weapon his heart might desire. And come to think of it that should include a .50 caliber machine gun, an M1A1 tank and an F-16 fighter jet if they want.  

SEE, THE SECOND AMENDMENT IS SACROSANCT. So we do the next best thing. We put ourselves in position to brag to foreign visitors (of the non-invading type), “Here in America we build schools that double as forts!”

We owe Grace McDonnell and the others better.


SIX YEARS AGO, the slaughter at Sandy Hook was carried out. Try to think of one step our lawmakers have taken to address the problem.

I can’t think of one.

And now I’m pissed all over again.

I can only say: the brave teen survivors from Stoneman Douglas, their families and friends, their courage in calling for change.


That gives me hope.

How many victims must there be before we realize, "We already have more than enough guns?"


  1. John you speak with passion, vision, and truth. The absolutist's position is untenable and unreasonable. Thank you again for putting into words what so many of us are thinking.

  2. How about we indulge the right in what it claims to be its utopian fantasy - give the states the right to regulate firearms.

    How about we say, "you want an assault rifle? You want high-capacity magazines? Be our guests, and welcome to the militia!" We could say that any firearms - outside of legitimate hunting rifles and shotguns, and the small variety of handguns that could actually be used for self defense against wild animals in rural areas - have to be registered as part of the state's armory, and require their owners to train for militia service.

    I'm not talking about some bs 12 hour lesson on firearm safety, I mean legitimate military training for militia service. It would give more power to the states, give the government more control over who can own what kinds of weapons, and would actually stay true to the second amendment which was designed to protect the nation from rebellious uprisings like Shay's Rebellion. As an added bonus for the right, it could allow us to decrease federal spending on our standing military.

    Of course this idea is crazy, but by discussing it we could show how full of bs these gun nuts are. There's no way that they would accept more government control over their guns, even if it did involve "Stayts' Rytes."

  3. Why not arm all the kids too? Issue each kindergartener a gun on the first day of school and make gun safety Lesson #1. Schools, children, and their parents won't feel truly safe until each child has the ability to defend him/herself.

    1. It's hard to laugh at a time like this; but, what if a kid flunks gun safety.

      Arming teachers...a horrible idea. We owe it to the victims to do better than that.

  4. I taught school for 34 years. The idea of armed guards in schools in appalling.
    Nine years ago my 14-year-old son was gunned down on the street by his father. As a result, I got state legislation passed that permits law enforcement to confiscate firearms when serving restraining orders, bypassing a 48 hour waiting period. (The murder occurred the day after the RO was served.) When I testified before a committee on this issue, I was dumbfounded by the opposition I faced. Despite the gun lobby, I prevailed. The NRA is not invincible. It's time to take them on!!!

  5. Since you have given a great deal of thought to why armed faculty will not work to prevent or end a repeat of the Connecticut tragedy; please provide as detailed a plan that will work to prevent such an event.
    Certainly one as educated as you has contemplated a solution to this problem; I for one am anxious to read about it.

    1. Armed police would help; but it's a huge expense (and some of the very right-wing thinkers who now call for this, because we can't ever ban any kinds of guns, are the first to cry about any tax increase by the evil government.)

      Also, as stated, this idea that we can have guns in the schools and keep our children safe is like chasing a unicorn. The Stockton shooting in 1989, for example, involved a crazed gunmen spraying a playground with heavy fire, killing 5, wounding 26.

      I believe the assault rifle ban, reinstated, would be a good least reducing the killing power of crazed individuals. Same for high capacity magazines.

      If I were a leader of the NRA or a right-wing talk show host or a voice of Fox News, I might also try to tamp down the hysteria, this ludicrous idea that some U. N. force is going to take away ALL our guns. More guns in the homes, so far, has meant more messed up kids can get their hands on guns and bring them to schools.

      I will bow to your superior wisdom to suggest other possibilities.

  6. I have a unique and cost effective idea for school security. Perhaps a school might consider introducing Dobermans to patrol the schoolyard. What a wonderful enrichment program; the Doberman breeding and training program. Dobermans are exceedingly intelligent and loyal and would fearlessly attack any would-be attacker(s). Some people are fearful that a dog might turn on a child. This is unlikely; for it is the human (not the canine) that crazily kills our own children.

  7. I've really enjoyed many of your posts up to this point and took a look back at some of your old posts, which is how I got here. As a teacher, I think that if there are individual teachers who happen to have their license, they should be able to have the option to carry their firearm, should they wish. I feel like our schools are meant to be safe places for our children, but by the sterilization of the adults who work there, we open our students up to the opportunity for something to happen. People are going to do horrible things and do bad things, and right now those people can go into a situation at a school without worrying about any opposition. If there is the possibility that someone may have a firearm or way to oppose or stop them, the giant target on our schools will be reduced. I certainly think that asking all our teachers to carry firearms is absurd - we have other things to attend to other than gun training, and that is not why we got into teaching. But, if someone knows how to use a weapon and is licensed, and they are someone that is trusted with our children already - why not let them be a protector for themselves and the children that they serve?

    1. I'm not sure I disagree with your logic. I do fear that one or two guns in a school won't be enough, however, to achieve full security (I did another post on that). I don't see, for example, how we stop deranged people from walking up to "locked down" schools and shooting into classrooms through windows. Or shooting up buses, etc.

      I also think armed teachers gives a false sense of security; I'm a liberal, so I support more background checks. I just saw another story yesterday in the Akron Beacon Journal about a 21-year-old kid arrested in Washington state, near a college campus, with a huge arsenal and hundreds of rounds. I feel like we're already the most heavily-armed civilian population in the world...and we still lead advanced nations in murder rate.

      If your approach would work, I'd favor it. I think keeping guns out of the wrong hands is a much better place to start.