"Guns are neat little things, aren't they?  They can kill extraordinary people with very little effort." ....John Hinkley.

Commentary of the Day - March 6, 2013.  Arming High School Teachers - Really?  Guest commentary by Georgeanne Spruce.

Have we truly lost our senses?  Why would any sane person think it's safe to arm a teacher who presides over a room of thirty teenagers with raging hormones and undeveloped cerebral cortexes?   Having taught in high school for over twenty years, I can't decide what is more dangerous, allowing the students or teachers to have weapons.

As much as I loved teaching this age, I can attest to the fact that most have not yet developed good judgment in all areas of their thinking.  When one's cerebral cortex isn't fully developed, one often canít see the realistic consequences of his choices.  If a teacher has a gun, the students are in proximity to it, and this is asking for trouble for any number of reasons.

After I stopped teaching full-time, I taught as a substitute for a few years.  At one school, there was a student who harassed me every chance he had, often yelling my name out in the hall with some disrespectful comment.  One day I taught a chorus class he took.  Around noon, the school needed me to go to another classroom and sent another substitute to teach the chorus.  At the end of class, I was telling her about the lesson plan, and I looked up to see this boy stealing fundraiser pies from the closet.  These were pies people had already paid for and were to be delivered at the end of the day.  His hands were full as he dashed from the room.

Despite the fact he was suspended, he didn't stop doing outrageous things.  His adolescent ego loved being the center of attention.  Otherwise, he would have stolen the pies when no one was looking.  I have no doubt that he would have found it a fun-filled challenge to steal a gun from a teacher.  He was in that stage of adolescence where testing his limits was at an extreme point, and he was not alone.  He had many pals who encouraged his behavior for their own entertainment and indulged in their own irresponsible behavior.

So, how can we possibly secure a gun in a classroom?  The storage spaces in most classrooms are desks and metal cabinets that are so flimsy even a weakling like me could probably jerk the locked cabinet open.  They simply aren't secure. To be useful in an emergency, a gun needs to be loaded.  If it's loaded, it's dangerous and can go off unexpectedly.  The same dilemma exists for those who have guns at home.

I was visiting with a mother the other day who has two toddlers and a husband who owns a hand gun.  I asked her how they secured the gun but still had it available in the case of a break-in.  She said her husband locked the gun in one part of the house and the bullets in another area.  "But how could that be helpful?" I asked.  "By the time he got it loaded, the burglar would already be inside and have the drop on him."  She thought it was as pointless as I did, but when she asked him the same question, he merely replied that it made him feel secure.

If I were a teacher who had a gun in my classroom, I wouldn't feel secure, nor would I feel secure about the 23-year-old teacher next door having one.  In the county where I live, most new teachers are hired right out of college, so their cerebral cortexes are not fully developed either.  This maturity usually occurs around age 25.  So, high schools are full of young people teaching only slightly younger students.  I've seen too many new teachers who lack disciplinary skills and the backbone to control their classrooms.  They want the students to like them and fail to set the appropriate boundaries for acceptable behavior.  Are they really ready to assume the responsibility that comes with being armed?

In 1994 when I travelled and studied in West Africa, the police dressed in camouflage uniforms and carried rifles.  Our bus was often stopped, and the driver paid a "fee" to pass through that area.  I felt very unsafe just standing near such obviously armed men.  Even in this country after 9/11, there were armed military with rifles guarding the airports.  I do not like seeing people with guns in public places.  It feels like I'm living in a police state.  Having lived in major cities most of my life, I have never owned a gun.  I would never have been comfortable having a gun in my classroom.

Unlike people in Europe, we seem obsessed in this country with the idea that being armed will protect us and yet it hasn't.  So many people are afraid they'll lose their second amendment rights, but what they fail to remember is that when that amendment was written, muskets were the guns everyone used.  Nothing remotely like AK-47ís even existed.

Having a gun readily available can be a recipe for disaster.  Loaded guns in households are often the cause of death for youngsters who find them or for people impulsively committing suicide.  I don't live in a major city, but there is an article in the local newspaper almost every day about an accident involving a firearm, or about people who have gotten into a dispute in their own homes that ended up with a shooting.

Arming teachers with a gun assumes that we could all make the perfect split-second decision in the face of a real threat.  Instead of arming teachers, let's look for other solutions.   Most of the mass murderers in our schools have been young men who did not fit in.  Instead of teachers carrying guns, we need to better secure entrances to schools, stop the bullying that damages students psychologically, learn to identify mentally ill young people and provide them with the help they need.

A school should be a sanctuary not a fortress.

 © 2013, Georganne Spruce.
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Georganne Spruce is a freelance writer from North Carolina.  She has had more than 25 years of teaching experience in public and private high schools.  She has taught English, speech, drama and dance.

The Irascible Professor comments: The IP agrees with Georganne.  Arming teachers is not a good way to protect students either at the high school or the elementary school level.  In addition to the reasons suggested by Georganne, the IP would add one more.  [First, the IP would note for the record that he is well-trained in the use of firearms for defensive purposes, and in his younger days actually competed in pistol matches sponsored by the International Defensive Pistol Association.]  Far too many people including the majority of gun owners have a romanticized notion of the level of protection provided by a sidearm.

As Georganne correctly notes a determined aggressor is very likely to have his or her weapon at the ready if not already firing.  It takes the better part of a second for a well-trained person to draw, obtain a sight picture of his or her opponent, and begin to fire, and this assumes that the person is carrying a gun on his person with a round in the chamber.  It takes longer if the weapon has to be retrieved from locked storage.  During this time the opponent most likely will have fired several rounds.  But, there are some circumstances where there is sufficient warning that a threat is approaching.  Even then it's not so easy to neutralize the threat.  The opponent, even if he is after a particular target, is not going to be concerned with collateral damage.  The defender, on the other hand, must hit the aggressor while avoiding collateral damage.  This is not easy to do in a crowded classroom with students scrambling in every direction.  It takes frequent training and practice to develop and maintain this level of skill with a pistol.  The majority of handgun owners have never practiced shooting in high-stress situations, and most have never shot at anything except stationary targets.  It's much, much harder to hit a moving target, and even harder to neutralize an aggressor who is wearing body armor.  It's unrealistic to think that more than a handful of teachers are going to be willing to develop and maintain such a high level of skill, and do so without significant additional compensation.

School security can be improved as Georganne notes by identifying threats ahead of time, and by dealing with students and others who have mental health issues, by overhauling the physical security of campuses in numerous ways (restricted entrances, positive identification, metal detectors, etc.), and by increasing the number of police officers on or near school campuses when school is in session.  Increasing school security will cost money, and never will be 100% effective.  But in the IP's view, only fully trained police officers should be permitted to carry firearms on school campuses.

 

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© 2013 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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