The idea of students bringing guns to school sets off alarm bells. But how about allowing educators to bring them?
It’s an idea that has gained currency since the Sandy Hook, Conn., elementary school shooting in 2012 that took the lives of 20 children and six teachers. Only 39 states and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit permit holders from bringing their weapons into K–12 schools. Each time a shooting takes place at a school or college campus, the National Rifle Association, the powerful gun lobby, has suggested the same thing: Let school employees carry guns, and maybe someone can take out the shooter.
It is magical thinking — and a terrifically bad idea. For one thing, there’s no way to prepare every civilian to responsibly fire a gun in a crisis. There’s a reason law enforcement and military personnel receive special training. We know too well how even trained professionals with a gun and a badge have erred in their response tactics. Even the presence of an armed guard does not guarantee safety. In 1999, there was an armed guard at Columbine HS.
And there are the other scenarios no one likes to contemplate when envisioning a heroic rescue: What happens when an errant bullet from the rescuer hits an innocent student, or if the killer wrests the gun from the teacher’s hands? And what are the chances of a student getting a hold of a school employee’s gun during a regular school day? The possibilities for tragic mistakes are endless.
The two soundest approaches to gun violence in schools are the two that have been vigorously discussed since the Sandy Hook horror: more stringent gun control to keep guns out of the hands of mentally ill people and better mental health services for those who need it. Stronger gun control might seem unlikely in the current political climate, but many Sandy Hook parents who lost their children have staked their lives on it.
The Sandy Hook shooter had mental health issues that were never fully addressed, although he had exhibited profoundly disturbing behavior prior to his rampage at the school. Mounting a public information campaign to improve the reach of mental health services to families and combat the stigma of the disease while following up on troubling signs of mental illness can make a difference.
That’s the place to start. Not with another gun.