Conservative media are calling on teachers to be armed in response to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, even as law enforcement experts, educators, and others argue that bringing guns into schools would make classrooms more dangerous. This advice comes on the heels of legislation being considered by Republicans in at least six states that would allow or require teachers and staff to carry guns.
On December 14, a lone gunman killed 26 people, among them 20 children, at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, before shooting and killing himself.
During a segment on the tragedy, Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade dismissed arguments for gun control, saying that he favors “hardening the target and maybe arming the teachers” as a way to avert such massacres in the future. He also advocated for the hiring of retired law enforcement and military to police school halls.
Co-host Steve Doocy pointed to a school in Harrold, Texas, whose teachers carry concealed weapons to suggest that such a program would work well at other schools.
When co-host Gretchen Carlson dissented, saying she worries about what the consequences would be for children to grow up in a culture in which people are armed, Kilmeade stated: “They're in that culture.” He added: “The reality is there's school shootings and I want my kid to get out alive.”
CNN contributor Bill Bennett also supports arming teachers. In a CNN.com opinion piece, he wrote: “Suppose the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed lunging at the gunman was instead holding a firearm and was well trained to use it. Would the result have been different? Or suppose you had been in that school when the killer entered, would you have preferred to be armed?” He concluded: “Evidence and common sense suggest yes.”
However, former law enforcement officers argue against arming teachers, citing the lack of necessary training and experience.
ASSAM: [T]o answer your question, you know, a teacher wants to be a teacher. He or she doesn't want to be a police officer. And I think it's -- and I hope people just really listen here, because I hear both sides of this argument. And I hear where you are coming from. And both arguments make sense to me.
So, in my opinion, to -- to tell a teacher that he or she needs to be armed is -- that is ridiculous. It just -- it doesn't make sense. That is not their calling. Their calling is to be a teacher or to be a pilot. And when you have trained personal in place, it is their job.
Assam was working as a security guard when she successfully confronted a gunman at New Life Church in Colorado Springs. She added: “I was a very well trained officer from a very aggressive police department where we -- I never called SWAT once when I was on the department, and we had shootings all the time. Because SWAT doesn't have really better training than us. They just have better equipment.”
Retired police officer Michael Black has similarly argued that the suddenness and confusion of an active shooter situation, coupled with the “terror that occurs in a real-life firefight” exposes “the folly of the politician's belief that an armed civilian could have easily taken out” armed gunmen.
Following the January 2011 shooting at a Nebraska high school after which the state's lawmakers also proposed that teachers and school staff be armed, police and school security officials argued against it. The Deseret News reported:
The bill's opponents said allowing teachers to carry guns in school could actually make things worse. Bringing a gun into a school could result in a confrontation escalating into potentially fatal violence, and a violent student could end up taking a gun from an armed teacher.
Police and school security officials also raised concerns that the level of training required to obtain a state concealed weapons permit wouldn't prepare a teacher to respond to a dangerous situation.
“They're not trained law-enforcement officers,” said Bill Kuehn, who oversees security for the Lincoln school district.
The National School Safety and Security Services, a national consulting firm specializing in school security assessments, training, and planning, also advises against arming teachers and school staff. President Kenneth S. Trump has stated regarding the issue: “School districts considering arming teachers and school staff with guns would take on significant responsibility and potential liabilities that I firmly believe are beyond the expertise, knowledge-base, experience, and professional capabilities of most school boards and administrators.”
Recent cases provide evidence that the notion that teachers and school staff could be adequately trained to respond to active shooter situations is doubtful at best.
As journalist LZ Granderson noted in his column pushing back against teachers carrying guns, even professionals trained to respond in such situations can misfire and end up causing more harm:
In August, nine bystanders in New York were wounded as a result of police gunfire -- the police were trying to arrest a suspect connected with another shooting. In September, police in Houston shot and killed a double amputee in a wheelchair who was trying to stab an officer -- with a pen.
Back in 2009, in Perry's state of Texas, a military doctor opened fire at the Fort Hood Army post, killing 13 and wounding 30 others.
The victims were all professionals, surrounded by guns, and trained to handle -- in Bennett's words -- “this kind of thing.” Why would anyone think teachers and principals could take a couple of weekend classes and do better than them?
Cases of armed civilians who have intervened in active shooter situations also offer caution:
- During the tragedy that resulted in Rep. Gabby Giffords' shooting in Tucson, Arizona, an armed bystander rushed to the scene only to avoid narrowly shooting the wrong man.
- In a Tacoma, Washington, shopping mall in 2005, an armed civilian drew his pistol to stop a gunman who had opened fire on crowds but was shot twice by the gunman as soon as he pulled his gun. He was the most seriously wounded victim of that tragedy.
- In a 2005 shooting in Tyler, Texas, an armed civilian fired his licensed handgun at a gunman on a rampage at Smith County courthouse. He was shot dead.
A Mother Jones investigation found that there is no evidence that arming civilians helps prevent mass shootings. In fact, according to their study, just 1.6 percent of the mass shootings in the past 30 years have been successfully stopped by armed civilian intervention.
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are strongly opposed to proposals calling on teachers to carry guns, with the NEA stressing: “Guns have no place in our schools. Period.”
The National PTA has also long advocated against guns in schools, saying:
National PTA's “Components of an Effective School” recognizes the importance of a safe learning environment and describes an effective school's climate as one with settings that are “safe and encourage the highest level of student learning and achievement.” In order to achieve an effective climate, schools must “have a gun-free environment.”