My eldest daughter was a kindergartener in Durham, NC, when 26 students and teachers were shot to death in their school hallways at Sandy Hook Elementary. For a week I walked around dazed and barely functioned. I snapped back to reality each morning when I dropped my daughter off in the car line, watching her tiny body climb the huge concrete steps to her school building.
I felt helpless. Was there nothing I could do to keep her safe?
Two weeks after the Parkland, FL shooting on Valentine’s Day 2017, a panel of Florida legislators approved a new statewide program to put armed teachers in classrooms. The “school marshal” program will cost a whopping $67 million on training alone. It banks on the old-timey, Western-themed adage that the good guy (or girl) with a gun can simply take out the bad guy with a gun.
I desperately want a solution to the problem shootings in schools. I too want my children to be safe. I too will consider every option out there. But after reading article after article on this issue, I still don’t see the rational thinking behind arming schoolteachers. In fact, I think this change would make my child less safe.
Since the mass shooting at Columbine in 1999, advocates shouting for tighter gun safety/ control measures have been criticized for being emotionally reactive. They are taking advantage of a tragedy, some say, despite the evidence that links tighter gun control with fewer deaths. But I have yet to see how the unprecedented, untested, un-evidenced school marshal program is little more than an emotionally reactive solution that benefits no one but gun manufacturers and stockholders.
Here are seven reasons why I am adamantly opposed to this so-called solution.
- I want my child’s teacher to specialize in empathy, not in firearm handling. I want to know that if faced with a former student holding a gun, my child’s teacher is the kind of person who would think twice before shooting him dead. I want her to run with and hide with and soothe my child and the others in her care. I don’t want it to be her job to hunt down and kill someone shooting in the hallway.
- Furthermore, I don’t want my child’s teacher to have to endure the type of dehumanizing firearm training that cops and military troops have to go through. I don’t want to know she spent her spring break at the shooting range. I don’t want to know that the same person who calms my child when she’s having a meltdown has been desensitized to killing other human beings.
- My child’s teacher has enough to manage already. I wouldn’t do teachers any justice by trying to list out all the jobs they are expected to perform perfectly each day. But I will say this: the six hours between school pickup and bedtime in my house — as I help my kids with homework, insist on personal hygiene, oversee lessons and extracurriculars, prepare a healthy meal, and supervise bedtime — feels like a heroic feat most days for this single mom. If I had 22 other humans in my care, and then was asked to also be prepared to participate in a shootout at any moment, it would simply be too much. The sheer anxiety caused by that weighty responsibility would do me in. Speaking of…
- Teachers are regular everyday humans who are managing their own stress, anxiety, depression, PTSD and family issues. What they need is support and sympathy and better pay and free therapy and solid unions and generous healthcare. What they don’t need is a weapon hanging out in their desk drawer, as this Georgia high school recently learned.
- Speaking of desk drawers, kids are smart and can get into those buggers. They can break into teachers’ phones and steal pictures and important information. They routinely blow up chemistry labs and injure themselves on the playground. Accidents happen enough as it is. As a parent, I feel safer knowing that a gun isn’t anywhere near my rambunctious nine-year-old or my curious eleven-year-old. Especially if the teacher is prone to forgetfulness, as this teacher was.
- If my child’s teacher was carrying heat, I would demand to know. In the same way I want to know if there are firearms in the home when I drop off my kids for playdates. But this presents a problem. If everyone knows which teacher is carrying, there is greater potential for that teacher to be attacked by someone going after her gun. Even cops aren’t able to secure their own guns 100% of the time, and they are trained to take on attackers and have backup. How can we expect a 130-pound woman with her hands full of children to do this?
- Not even trained law enforcement officially are prepared mentally and emotionally for the chaos of a mass shooting. The four armed resource officers outside the Parkland school either were too afraid to enter the school, or were too confused to know what to do about it. Either way, the good guys with guns failed. We can do drills all day long, but when an active shooter with a bullet-spraying weapon who’s been planning his attack for months begins firing, people will predictably run like hell. This is why we send in SWAT teams and combat units — not gentle Ms. Astor who wears Keds and sparkly earrings with planets on them — to take down shooters on a suicide mission.
Putting guns in the hands of teachers is a Band-Aid solution. It provides for some people a false sense of security, and for others like me, the sense that a deadly accident is just around the corner. Expecting teachers to be able to accurately and unflinchingly shoot to kill is too much pressure and completely unrealistic. It only shifts the blame to where it needs to be: on the shooter.
Or more accurately, on those that gave him access to a killing machine in the first place.