Let’s Talk About Arming Teachers, and Why It’s the Dumbest of the Gun Reform IdeasPhoto by Duane Prokop/Getty Politics Features Gun Reform
In a listening session with students yesterday, Donald Trump suggested we give guns to teachers. This morning he tweeted that he didn’t suggest giving guns to teachers, then used four tweets to outline his plan to, yes, give guns to teachers.
TRUMP BRAIN: BLAM-BLAM! BLAM! Good guys win! Portly gym teacher hero in MAGA hat kills his own student, scores kiss from the previously reluctant, disheveled-but-sexy elitist librarian.
It’s a waste of my time explaining why arming teachers is a frightening, immoral, un-American, and dangerous idea. But I’m going to do it, because look how quickly we lost the narrative of a focused, organized gun control debate. Let’s put this thing to bed in our minds as soon as possible so we can get back to what we were doing well: banning semi-automatics or high-capacity magazines.
Besides, it’s such a bad idea it’s kind of fun to rip it apart. So, in no particular order, here are about a dozen reasons we can’t arm our teachers.
Billions and billions and billions of dollars
Let’s start with the most callous and detached argument: The cost.
But you can’t put a price on our children’s safety! Well, you can. Then you can decide if this impossible solution is worth the literal price in dollars, or perhaps instead worth the price of making it a lot harder for Americans to get their hands on weapons of war.
Okay: Two guards per school at each of our ~100,000 schools, working for $35,000 a year, would cost $7 billion annually. That’s just salary. It doesn’t include recruiting, vetting, training, relocation, qualification, and renewal.
And New Gingrich just suggested 6 – 8 guards per school. That would cost more money than The Wall. Annually. Is that a price the GOP would be willing to pay? I imagine this is why the argument has shifted to arming teachers, non-professional shooters: To save a few bill.
Well, there are about three million public school teachers in the U.S., so Trump’s “20% force” would be about the size of the Army and Marines enlisted forces combined. We’d be doubling the size of that force, in the name of arming our schools.
Now, do we train these people or not? The Washington Post calculated it would cost hundreds of millions dollars to provide the most basic training. Maybe some teachers have the training. Well, how do we determine what kind of training qualifies? How do we train the rest of them?
Also, combat skills fade. We re-train our soldiers and police.
What about the cost of arming teachers? It’s possible that some schools already have a lot of teachers that pack. But not every school will. Say, elementary schools, for example. So you’d need to not only find enough teachers willing to carry a firearm, you’d have to find enough teachers willing to take that firearm into their classroom.
So, if a school doesn’t have enough teachers willing or able to pay for a weapon to bring to class, would the U.S. government subsidize firearms purchases and any requisite training?
The U.S. government allows teachers to deduct a whopping $250 for school supplies bought out-of-pocket. A Glock, one of the most popular handguns in the world, costs twice that amount: $500.
That actually raises another question.
Would we limit which weapons a teacher could have on campus? Only conceal-carry? Would we frown at the idea of our teachers bringing AR-15s to school? The irony would make me puke.
It’s not easy to shoot a child, let alone a child you know well, or one you happen to teach every day. We don’t train our police officers psychologically to kill kids. (Some of them seem to have a knack for it, though.)
If you think this should be a natural thing for a human to do, or that we need to adapt to a new reality of perhaps having to kill our own students, I hope you don’t own a gun already. (You probably do.) But I’d also invite you to look at the rest of the developed Western world, where they share our culture but for some reason don’t have to accept the responsibility of maybe having to kill kids they know as a cost of modernity.
Look at our military. They go through months and years of training to prepare them psychologically to kill people. And those targets are adult combatants in war zones. Not a 19-year-old in a hallway full of 19-year-olds, all panicked and screaming.
Which brings us to…
The “Order” of Law and Order
Would these teachers be trained to work as a team? Or would they be a bunch of John Waynes gunning it out alone?
Would they have to coordinate their training drills throughout the school year?
Wouldn’t they have to also coordinate with local law enforcement? So that would take another round of training, not just for teachers but for the police department, too. And how would teachers then communicate to responding law enforcement in the middle of an active shooter scenario? Would they all have walkie talkies?
Also, wouldn’t the students have to be trained how to respond to the response? “Okay, kiddos, Mrs. Gabblethwaite will hole up this end of the math hall. For god’s sakes keep clear of her 2 and 10. And you’ll want to be extra specially careful when she opens up, because at that point the firefight is really gonna heat up.”
We’d have to accept that with one out of five teachers in a school responding to an active shooter situation would be a little hectic. Would we expect them to be able to pinpoint the true shooter? Would we expect them to be psychologically able to engage that shooter? What about technically: If the shooter is armed with an AR-15, they’d be outgunned. Would we expect the exchange of fire to be neat and tidy? BAM BAM! Good guys win!
No way. We accept collateral damage as a necessary part of any violent conflict. We don’t expect such perfection even of our police or military, so how could we expect non-professional teachers to do any better?
All of this around our kids, mind you.
We’d have to acknowledge that other kids would likely get shot even under the “best” circumstances. It might be easy for a sociopath who isn’t a teacher to accept this sacrifice, but there aren’t many teachers in the United States who would be cool with spraying a hallway with bullets that had other students in it. Not to mention taking fire back.
This brings us to…
Mo’ gunny, mo’ problems
For the last time: Guns don’t stop violence. They correlate with an increased likelihood of violence. States that have more guns also have more accidental gun deaths. They also have more homicides and suicides.
Teachers, and schools, have a duty to protect students. There’s even a technical term for this: in loco parentis, or “in place of parents.” This isn’t a private citizen liability. This liability would be on the schools. After all, schools and their employees are held accountable for what happens on their watch. As they should be. For instance, they’re held liable for hazing.
So if something goes sideways, as it surely will, and a child is wrongly threatened, crippled, or killed by a teacher, who will be held accountable? What if, in an active shooter scenario, responding teachers also kill and injure a bunch of kids?
Who is responsible for their gunfire?
The schools will have to be insured here. And it will cost them big: Guns pose the biggest threat for injuries to kids. Harvard gun expert David Hemenway points out that “When 34 injury prevention experts were asked to prioritize home injury hazards for young children, based on frequency, severity, and preventability of the injury, the experts rated access to firearms in the home as the most significant hazard.”
But the liability isn’t just about the actual shots. Schools also have a moral liability here.
Remember that these are teachers, and students are conditioned to understand schools as places of learning. What do students learn when we arm one-fifth of the people teaching them? We all have a moral obligation to what we teach our kids, and teachers especially. Should one of the lessons your kid learns in elementary school be “you need people around you to carry weapons in order to feel safe”?
This quickly gets us into problematic moral and ethical grounds, especially when it comes to pedagogy. This also opens up more scapegoats… which takes us to
Who Do You Blame?
This seems inevitable. The idea to arm teachers just gives pro-gun rights jackals another point of blame to distract from gun control: The teachers failed.
Say a kid shoots up a school where teachers were packing. Say that in the moment, as is highly likely, teachers lose their nerve, or refuse to fire with other students around, or find it psychologically impossible to kill their own student under that unimaginable pressure. The student kills 17 people. Whose fault is it?
Here’s what we’ve learned from the wretched right-wing conspiracy theories about the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting: They’ll eventually blame teachers themselves for not protecting their students.
Wait, is this part of the plan? It would raise the cost and scope exponentially. And there have been several horrific shootings on state campuses. I mean, colleges and universities already have their own armed campus police forces, with cars and everything, and people still shoot the places up.
But to go back to the teacher thing, it’s more difficult here. Unlike public schools, teachers on college campuses don’t have consistent schedules from day to day. They also often go from building to building to teach. They’re not on campus every day, either.
So in this case, let’s arm the students, right? This brings us right back to questions about training, liability, and collateral damage. Do you want a bunch of 18-year-olds shooting at each other in a panicked campus building?
Who’s going to do this?
Ask any teacher. I taught college. My parents both taught high school. My sister-in-law teaches elementary school. Hell, everyone knows teachers, and everyone knows nine out of ten of them will reject this plan outright.
At the most cynical end of this argument, we already don’t pay teachers enough as it is. Just look at the school supply deduction: Half the cost of a Glock. But more obviously, teachers didn’t sign up to educate kids thinking, “Well, if I’ve got to shoot my own students, so be it.”
Not only that, but look at the right-wing’s stereotype of a teacher: A participation-trophy-bestowing liberal snowflake. That’s your latter-day John Wayne? And on the other end, I wouldn’t want my kids in a school with the kind of teacher who wants the chance to take out a shooter in a panicked school hallway.
Even if this were a viable solution, and even if we committed the necessary billions of dollars and millions of man-hours to enact it, it’s only for public schools. And it would entail turning our schools, including elementary schools, into armed conflict zones. This would fundamentally shift the moral paradigm of education in the United States of America. Nothing about our nation would be the same afterwards.
But even if it works, next up: churches, concerts, theaters, community centers, etc etc etc.
Hey, how about this: Ban semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines!
It’s much easier, much less expensive, and doesn’t increase the chances of a teacher accidentally murdering his own students. How do we know this? We’ve done it before. Here is why and how we should do it.
The Second Amendment doesn’t have a special protected status in the Constitution. We abolished slavery. We’ve placed major limits on free speech. We gave women the right to vote. Black people are 5/5 of people. Hell, the Constitution is such a flexible document that one time, during Prohibition, we changed it and then changed it back.
Because if we keep militarizing our country at this rate, the Third Amendment, so laughably irrelevant until now, is going to start getting some love.
No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.