Should Teachers Be Packing Heat?
It’s sort of an unspoken rule of mine to refrain as much as possible from directly writing on current news stories. The reason being that I personally feel there is something exploitative about using a specific tragedy or disaster as a springboard for sociopolitical talking points (even though I can understand how this is at times unavoidable, since people best relate to a message while they still have a fresh reference to relate it to). Moreover, I don’t want to fall into the trend of having to gain page views by piggybacking off of the sensationalism that inevitably accompanies these sort of happenings. [This is why I will not be linking to or naming the obvious incident that, if you have even a second's worth of familiarity with recent U.S. news events, you've probably already pegged as the inspiration behind this post by its title alone; if you have no idea what I'm talking about, don't worry about it, the content expressed here is broad enough as not to require the LIVE aid.]
This last week several students have privately brought up to me the topic of gun regulation as it pertains to teachers and campus security. Apparently there is a discussion in a few U.S. states, and amongst certain political players and commentators, about the need to arm teachers with guns as a safety precaution against would-be assailants. To be fair, I believe the exact message is that teachers who happen to be licensed to carry a gun should be allowed the option to bring it to class for protection. Now, to me all of this sounds more like the usual post-major news event tragedy talk, in which lawmakers throw out ideas to appease the public who are demanding some kind–any kind–of active response from them (think of it as somewhere, someone took an extreme action, thus an extreme reaction must take place to restore balance to the world).
My students disagree with me. They’re convinced of the seriousness of such talks, and unanimously oppose the idea of arming teachers on campus. They insist that it would not make them feel safer in school, and I can empathize with why this might be the case. Personally, I have an instinctive hostility with the idea of allowing any sort of bullets into my classroom, even if carried by me. The possible scenarios of what could go wrong with keeping a firearm within close proximity to my students is not something I can afford to take lightly. The prospect of having it misplaced or stolen, and subsequently used against me and the students I meant to protect with the weapon, would be an ever-present danger. Then there is the simple fact that just having a gun available by which to incapacitate an assailant doesn’t translate into actually having the nerves to go through with it, even if the opportunity does present itself. Shooting at a human being is not the same as shooting at a cardboard target in a firing range, and for most teachers it would take more than a few moments of reservations before we could, not just gather the resolve to aim the gun at someone, but actually pull the trigger. And such a moment of hesitation is more than enough time to find yourself at the receiving end of the shoot out; gun or no gun.
I understand that this is not a universally applicable hypothetical. I can certainly imagine situations in which a teacher’s possession of a gun could prove to be opportune in preventing (or lessening the scale of) a potential attack. However, now more than ever we must be careful not to let our fears rule the means of how we conduct our lives and behaviors. The fact needs to be acknowledged that that the majority of schools are not scenes for mass shootings. I’m going to repeat that just in case it was missed: the majority of schools, whether in the U.S. or elsewhere in the industrial world, are not and will most likely not be scenes for mass shootings. No, I’m not saying that most schools are safe havens whose safety precautions should not be constantly reexamined and refined in light of new incidences. I’m saying that I cannot justify judging the norm of society by its fringe elements. Perhaps that makes me sound naive to some readers, but I can’t possibly pretend to be remotely afraid of my students, or promote the notion that they ought to be looked upon as anticipatory dangers to society at large (at least no more than anybody else might be). I know there is an (in my opinion) undeserved impression of teenagers as ticking time bombs of hormonal rage, but this image runs counter to everything I’ve observed over the years of spending day after day with them. Furthermore, I can’t pretend to be fine with the idea that I should treat my students as criminals-in-waiting, against whom I need to preemptively arm myself for the greater good of society.
Before I’m accused of being lax on school security, let me affirm that I am exceptionally meticulous about the safety measures in my classroom, as I wrote on this blog months ago when addressing potential dangers that may come from inside and outside of campus (long before the discussion taking place on the national scene now):
Firstly, my classroom door remains locked at all times (at the beginning of class I’m at the door greeting the students as they enter, and at the end, I’m at the door again as they exit. While I’m lecturing, no one is getting in without me turning the doorknob for them). Secondly, my desk is always facing the door at the front of the class, so that if something happens I can react to it without having to maneuver through a sea of frantic teenagers in my way. And thirdly, noise level is to be kept at a minimum, because not only do the students need to hear what I’m saying during the lecture, I also need to be able to hear any suspicious noises coming from outside my classroom. Before I’m accused of being paranoid, keep in mind that the point of all of this is to keep me alert, so my students don’t have to be. Their job is to stay focused on the assignments, mine is to get them through the day in one piece.
And I cannot see how strapping a gun to my belt is going to aid me in keeping my students on task for what they are primarily required to go to school for: education; not worrying whether they’ll be part-timing as either inmates or wardens. (This is in reference to the even less likely proposition that students ought to carry guns to class as protection; no, they most definitely ought not be doing any such things, as the responsibility for school safety is the priority of the school educators, administrators, and campus security–a burden that should never be passed down to the students themselves, whose main priority should always be to focus on the school work at hand.)
I wrote this post with a sense of reluctance as I’m aware how easy it is to misconstrue someone’s words when they seem to run counter to one’s preconceived preferences, but seeing as how this specific topic concerns my profession, I figured it would be disingenuous not to give a professional opinion while it is still relevant in people’s minds. Because I understand the sensitivity that accompanies this topic (especially amongst some segments of the U.S.), here is a preemptive clarification of things I did not say:
No, I’m not calling for the second amendment to me repealed.
No, I’m not calling for a nationwide ban on firearms.
No, I’m not saying that there is no such thing as a responsible gun owner (roughly 50% of my immediate and extended family fall into this category).
No, I don’t believe that simply owning gun makes you a murderer, murder-enabler, or a homicidal maniac.
No, this post was not about the broader subject of gun regulation in the U.S., but a direct response to a specific proposition.
Finally, yes, as a teacher, as someone who spends half his day on a school campus that’s occupied by thousands of individuals throughout the active part of the school year, as someone who has to stand vulnerably in front of over a hundred different students every school week, I do do not agree with the position that giving me or my colleagues a gun will have much of a positive impact when it comes to increasing safety in our classrooms. And I’m very suspicious of the motive of politicians, pundits, and laypeople who seem hellbent on lecturing experienced educators on how a classroom ought to be conducted.