Why We Should Allow Teachers to Bear Arms

Sebastian Bryant

Two days later, [Jesse Osborne, perpetrator of the Townville Elementary School shooting,] debated whether he should attack his middle school, from which he’d been expelled, or his elementary school, just up the road. He decided on Townville Elementary because it was closer and had no armed security.

‘It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel,’ he wrote his friends…”

-Washington Post

A quick note:

If you are concerned about how such a proposal could be reasonably implemented, skip to the bottom where a rigorous application process for teachers who wish to carry firearms is described.

Why We Should Allow Teachers to Bear Arms

The Radnor Township School district is entrusted with the lives Radnor students and it is a dereliction of its responsibility to the safety of these children to merely wait complacently for some fix-all piece of legislation to magically solve the problems that now ail American society.

I ask that you, the audience, keep an open mind as you read what I consider to be a logical line of reasoning as to why we would benefit from permitting, even encouraging, teachers to exercise their second amendment right to self preservation.

This idea has been floated by a multitude of politicians both at the state and local levels; most notably, a survivor from the Columbine shooting, who is now a member of the Colorado state legislature, pushed for a bill that would permit teachers to carry firearms on school grounds. Despite the place this idea now has in the public discourse, I have yet to see a reason based or empirical case against the proposal. That’s not to say there hasn’t been opposition to the idea. Many, including Radnor teachers and students, disregard it as absurd. They have an immediate emotional reaction of either disgust or ridicule. But why? Why is it a bad idea? Emotion should not be the driving force in public policy; rather data, facts, empirical evidence, and reason should be the factors we consider when we debate such issues. You may have the same visceral and innate opposition to the idea. You may think it feels wrong. But ask yourself, is your opposition to this proposal the result of a logical examination of the issue, or is it instead purely emotional, unsupported by reason or fact?

Licensed concealed carry permit holders are already permitted to carry a firearm on their person as they go about their day to day lives. Why don’t we allow similarly licensed teachers to live by the same rule of law they encounter the moment they step off school grounds?

My support for this proposal is predicated on one particular premise. If this premise were to change, then my position would change as well. It may or may not be true that certain gun control regulations could perhaps in some way impact gun violence in the United States. The two political parties are deeply entrenched in this debate and a hyper partisan atmosphere certainly isn’t helping. However, arming teachers should not be a partisan issue if the following premise remains correct: Legislation, at either a congressional or state level, is extraordinarily unlikely to pass, and if it does it is even more unlikely to have a meaningful impact on the issue of school shootings. If tomorrow a magical bill that would stop all school shootings descends from the capital, stop reading now, because arming teachers would no longer be an issue. If, however, you believe that meaningful legislation is unlikely, a statement that is historically accurate given that little has changed between Columbine and now despite the countless mass shootings, then perhaps it’s time to consider the ways that you as an individual and as part of a community can protect yourself from that which the government can’t. We can debate what particular pieces of congressional or state legislation are likely to solve this issue, but until a solution is devised, we have to live with the reality that school shootings occur, and that as of now there is no way to stop them preemptively in a reliable fashion. Even if you think it’s unfortunate, given Congress’s history, the premise upon which the rest of my argument is based is likely to be the case for many years to come: If we cannot prevent school shootings ahead of time, the only remaining option is to mitigate the loss of life as much as possible by stopping them quickly and effectively once they’ve begun.

Ok, so how do we stop shooters once they’ve already started? According to the FBI, in more than half of school shootings, the shooting ends on the shooter’s terms when he either kills himself, runs out of bullets, or randomly decides to stop as the Parkland shooter did. Police rarely arrive in time to stop the perpetrator. As we saw in the tragic Parkland shooting not only did the schools armed guard simply sit outside as this wretched shooter massacred seventeen innocent children over the course of 4 minutes, but so did 3 other Broward county deputies. It wasn’t until Coral Springs officers arrived on scene that law enforcement even attempted to stop the shooting. We have to realize that we can no longer depend on law enforcement to protect us.

Rarely are law enforcement officers close enough to arrive on scene in time to do anything, but even if they’re already present we have no guarantee that anything will be done. If the police are, either due to time constraints or fear, unable to keep teachers and students safe, it follows that that responsibility now rests firmly on the shoulders of educators.

In the United States it is estimated that there are between “500,000 and 3 million” cases of defensive gun use per year according to a CDC study Obama commissioned through executive order in 2013. These results are in keeping with a wider body of research on the topic. Research by John Lott has the number of DGU’s between 800,000 and 2 million. Research by Gary Kleck, a Florida State University criminologist, has the number at around 2 million. When compared with the amount of reported crimes in which a gun is used, 467,321 according to the National Crime Victimization Survey, we see that firearms have tremendous success in not only stopping crime, but also protecting innocents.

I believe, as our founders did, that every human being has a God given right to self preservation. Permitting teachers to bear arms is about allowing individuals to exercise their basic human right to the protection of life and liberty. If a teacher wants to have a means of defending himself and his students from permanent harm, then by all means who are we to restrict the exercise of this most basic natural right.

I’ll be the first person to admit that there is no guarantee that an armed teacher would be capable of putting down an active shooter. However, when faced with the alternative, a completely unarmed teacher, the choice is obvious. If teachers were allowed to be armed, every teacher who desires now has a fighting chance to protect himself and his students. If teachers are not armed, their lives and their students’ lives are in the hands of the shooter. Unarmed, a teacher has no chance to protect himself or his students. Armed, at least teachers have a chance. To not allow teachers to carry guns makes teachers powerlessness in these situations. Are we to believe that because the odds are low, we don’t at least deserve a chance to fight back?

At its most basic level this proposal is about ensuring an individual’s right to self preservation. However, if enough teachers have firearms, there would not only exist an effective deterrent for school shooters (according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 98% of mass shootings occurred in areas designated as “gun free zones”) but a school in which a significant portion of educators are capable of aptly using a firearm would increase the likelihood that a shooting could be stopped in time to save lives. Let’s look at Parkland again as an example.

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The above graphic published by the New York Times describes how the shooter entered the school, pulled a fire alarm, and shot at the children who exited their classrooms. Upon hearing shooting, the kids ran back into their classrooms. The shooter then walked down the now empty halls, shooting into classrooms on the first and second floor. I don’t believe that it is unreasonable to believe that if these teachers had been armed they’d have been able to do something other than hide as the shooter came door to door in search for more victims.

Common Concerns:

I’ve discussed this proposal with a number of teachers, students, and activists within the Radnor community and certain concerns were expressed several times by separate individuals. I address them below.

Wouldn’t giving teachers firearms be dangerous?”

If done correctly, there’s no reason why it should be dangerous. (I discuss how this would be done correctly further along in the article.) A number of schools in Ohio, Alabama, Wyoming, and other states already have heavily armed educators and so far no reported incidents of firearm related accidents have been reported. In addition, concealed carry permit holders are, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, the most law abiding people in the country, committing firearms violations at rates not only lower than that of the average population, but also lower than that of police. Intensive training and experience requirements would make armed teachers an incredibly safe group of people.

In addition, although some may argue that a large influx of firearms into a community may have adverse effects, most data refutes this hypothesis. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center’s extensive research led him to write the book More Guns Less Crime. Intense controversy has surrounded the findings of Lott and others who arrived at his conclusion. In order to settle the issue the Harvard Injury Control Research Center reviewed all major academic research regarding the topic and found that “the changes have neither been highly beneficial nor highly detrimental”. In other words, the amount of guns in a community has little effect on crime.

Arming teachers would create a hostile learning environment and scares kids into not speaking out in the classroom.

There a a few things which factor in here. First is a cultural difference. In Radnor and similar suburbs, firearms aren’t widely prevalent so people develop fear and animosity towards guns, whereas in areas where gun ownership is common the gun is respected, not feared. Second, according to the New York Post, students who attend schools with armed educators do not report feeling unsafe due to the presence of these firearms. Teachers are not going to publicly execute rowdy students or any such nonsense. There is no reason to feel that an armed teacher means you can no longer engage in free expression.

“What’s to stop a student from simply taking a teacher’s gun?”

This is most certainly an aspect of this proposal about which we should be concerned. That’s why I would not support the proposal if the educators were asked to carry their firearm on a standard belt holster. The only two gun storage options that seem feasible: The gun could be stored in a gun safe hidden within the classroom. If teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas had had a gun safe in their room they would have been able to intervene as that piece of human debris went door to door firing upon innocents. If there was even a chance that an armed teacher could have done something then it is our job to facilitate the arming of teachers. Another option is the use of “in waist holsters” which are essentially concealed carry holsters that go under the pants making it practically impossible for someone to take a teacher’s gun.

“If the armed guard at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School wasn’t capable of fighting the shooter, why would teachers be able to?”

This is exactly the reason we need to arm teachers. If we know the authorities are incapable of responding to active shooter threats and we then proceed to leave potential victims unarmed we are depriving educators of the very tool that could meaning the difference between life and death. Second, the armed guard wasn’t incapable he was simply unwilling. He knew that if he remained outside he was safe. A teacher caught in a school shooting has no such assurance. In such a situation it is quite literally do or die. The choice there is obvious.

“What if a teacher shoots a student?”

Following 9/11 the federal government started a volunteer program which allowed pilots to  carry a gun after passing the required gun safety courses. In a plane, it’s almost guaranteed that a stray bullet will hit someone. Yet the program remains federally backed because the risk of all the passengers dying outweighs the risk that one or two die in an accident. Likewise, if one of the teachers at parkland had shot the shooter as he started his rampage, but also killed a nearby student, this teacher could have prevented many more deaths than she caused.

So, how would Radnor Township go about implementing such a plan? It should first be noted that the idea is not to arm teachers per se but instead, to allow them to carry a concealed weapon if they so choose. The school district should not under any circumstance just hand out blanket firearm usage permissions nor should it compel all teachers to bear such arms. A teacher who volunteers to carry a concealed firearm should have to apply to the school board or administration to receive special permission to carry their firearm on campus, contingent upon a multitude of mental and physical aptitude examinations.  The application process should put the teacher under strict scrutiny and be highly selective:

The teacher should have to prove proficient ability in the use of firearms through the completion of firearms training courses recognized by the school board.

Said teacher should be required to engage in continued education as scuba divers and doctors do in order to keep their permits. A significant amount of required yearly hours should be prerequisite to keep this firearms permission.

Apart from standard background checks, the teacher should be required to provide a medical write up by said teacher’s doctor verifying that the teacher is medically capable and responsible enough to handle a firearm.

Family members and other teachers who know the applicant would have vouch that said teacher has never at any point suffered from mental health issues, is responsible, and does not show impulsive tendencies that would make them a risk with a firearm in order for the applicant to receive this special permission.

Finally, for safety reasons, under no condition should students be made aware of which of their teachers are carrying firearms.

As you finish this article, I ask again that you maintain an open mind. If you disagree with my proposal state why. What’s the reasoning behind your disagreement? If you find yourself disagreeing on a purely emotional level, or for reasons that don’t follow a coherent line of reasoning, consider whether or not your disagreement is valid. I greatly enjoy productive conversation and encourage all those of you who may disagree to reach out to me with your concerns and disagreements.