ON THE RIDICULOUS SUGGESTION THAT ARMING TEACHERS WILL MAKE SCHOOLS SAFER
Let me tell you a quick story about something that happened yesterday (Friday, February 16th).
I teach at a local high school. Of course, in light of the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School and the predictable rumors of copycat shooters waiting for their own front page story, it should go without saying that everyone in the school has been on edge.
On that note, yesterday, the fire alarm went off. This was an unusual fire alarm. See, we already had a fire drill early last week. In fact, we had that fire drill and we had a practice “active shooter lockdown” on Tuesday, the day before the shooting at Stoneman. Furthermore, this alarm went off between class changes. We never do drills between classes.
Most of my students had just entered the classroom. They were gabbing and putting their bags down, getting their notebooks out. It was the typical, high school scene. Then the alarm went off and everyone went silent and wide-eyed…including me! Which was awkward, because everyone was looking at me for direction.
I did my best to present a front of calm and decisiveness. I waited a long thirty seconds for an announcement that the drill was a mistake and everyone should go about their day. It did not come, so I told my students to do what they’ve been taught to do. I did suggest they keep their eyes open, but it was a fire drill and we have a protocol to follow. I grabbed my clipboard and keys, locked my door, swallowed hard and followed my students to their designated drill spot, scanning everything, every potential hiding spot that I could.
I wasn’t the only one. Every one of my colleagues looked bewildered and concerned. I might add that they also maintained an acute sense of responsibility and professionalism.
Before everyone reached their places, the Assistant Principal announced that it was a false alarm and that everyone should return to class. It turns out that some contractors working on repairs at the school accidentally set the alarm off. No big deal.
When I came home and checked my social media I saw one of the memes that always follows a school shooting (it’s a shame that we can actually recognize trends resulting from school shootings, but that’s America, for ya’) suggesting that the solution for school shootings is to let teachers come to school packing. Christ!
Here’s how it works. A shooter comes to school aiming to gun down some defenseless kids. Instead of finding fish in a barrel, however, the shooter encounters Mr. “Dirty” Harry, the Social Studies teacher and Girl’s Volleyball Coach with Ruger Nine ready to take him out. The only casualty is one dead potential school shooter. All’s good!
In fact, a potential shooter isn’t even going to bother targeting a school where he might encounter Mrs. McGuillacutty, the strapped Home Ec teacher. Forget that. He’ll look for some liberal no-gun zone he can shoot up.
The scenario above is, of course, ridiculous. Anyone who has ever experienced gun violence, especially gun violence in a heavily populated area, knows that the above story is not the reality. When people talk about gun violence, especially men, they tend to see themselves as John Waynes in the face of danger (it should be noted that John Wayne never had a real gun-fight). But we’re not. Even John Wayne wasn’t.
So let’s return to the story I just told. Let’s say that this alarm went off. All of us teachers, armed and ready for action, grab our easily accessible guns (what, you want us to keep them in a safe while on school property? What good are guns in a safe? No, we’re carrying!) and make our way out with our students. We’re all nervous, the weight of our weapons against our side only heightening our awareness. Something’s not right. Hearts are pounding, hands shaking with adrenaline.
Then something happens!
Holy Shit! Mrs. McGuillacutty’s Got a GUN!
More guns come out…people with guns EVERYWHERE!
Bang, Bang, Bang!
The situation would be pandemonium. And teachers would be reacting to any perceived threat rather than cooly making strategic, shooting calculations. Mrs. McGuillacutty is, after all, a teacher with a gun, just like me…but then…she might have snapped and gone POSTAL. Not taking any chances.
Turns out, it was just a car backfiring, or a kid dropping his books.
Going to miss Mrs. McGuillacutty.
I’m being tongue in cheek because arming teachers is simply not a plan to be taken seriously.
The truth is, adding more guns to a shooting only adds to the confusion.
I’ve had this conversation in many of my college sociology classes. Again, it’s a shame, but just about every semester I have this conversation in response to a recent shooting. Invariably, one of the students suggests that he should be allowed to carry a gun to class in the event of a shooting, he could rise like Wyatt Earp and save the day.
This suggestion is a great way to spark some interactionist analysis to the curriculum, but also instrumental in walking through the actual process in the event of a shooting.
The truth is, when the shooting starts, especially in an environment in which shooting is never experienced, like a school or college, it takes some time for the brain to even acknowledge what is happening. Human attention is not easily definable: We’re in class. The teacher is teaching. The students are all diligently looking at the teacher taking notes. Suddenly the door opens and it’s someone with a gun. Oh, I’ll just use my gun and take down the bad guy. Bang.
No. The teacher is teaching, thinking about that glass of wine that’s waiting for him when he gets home. The students are doing any number of things. during which they are paying attention intermittently to what the teacher is saying. Many are checking their phones, doodling in their notebooks (that was my favorite thing to do in class), daydreaming, running over an argument that they had with their boyfriend a few minutes before class, planning that pizza and beer run right after class.
Someone walks in with a gun and starts shooting. Bang!
Professor is down!
Everyone jumps with a start. What the hell!
Screaming, students falling, blood spraying, it’s gunshots!
I have a gun!
Have to think about getting my hand to take the gun. I’ve been trained. Calm!
There’s two shooters!
Shoot! Shoot! Shoot!
Except there’s only one shooter. The other two are just your fellow classmates who had the same idea that you had, bring a gun for defense in the event that just such a thing happened. So even if you had the wherewithal to get a couple of shots off, it’s very likely that you would shoot the wrong person and only add to the innocent body count if you, yourself, weren’t mistakenly shot by another armed student.
Don’t think this would happen?
Even professionally trained soldiers and police officers, people who drill regularly with weapons, shoot innocent victims.
How often have we heard police officers use the fear for their lives to defend having killed unarmed suspects?
Suggesting arming teachers, or allowing college students to bring their guns to class, is absolutely ridiculous, but it’s endemic to our cultural value of self-reliance which I plan on elaborating in another piece. That the go-to solution for shootings is to arm more people rather than look at the social supports and emphasizing mutual responsibility for the well-being of our neighbors is part of the underlying problem that contributes to these shootings.