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What's Up Magazine

Arming School Teachers

Jun 01, 2018 12:00AM

By Mark Croatti

“Pop!” I was teaching at Mission Community College in California in 1994 when I heard an odd sound outside of my classroom. I walked over to the door and looked out the window into the hallway. Nothing. I resumed lecturing. Suddenly, I saw blurry figures rushing past the window. “Call 9-1-1.” I heard someone scream. I opened the door; the teacher in the next classroom was down on his knees, performing CPR on a student bleeding profusely from a gunshot wound to his abdomen. “Stay with your students,” the teacher called out to me, pointing to my classroom. I walked back in and shut the door, wondering what I was going to say to the two dozen anxious faces staring at me. 

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” (The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)

Recent school shootings at high schools in Florida and Maryland have added a new debate to the argument about whether to further regulate or even ban guns: Should armed teachers become mandatory at every public school?

Assertion 1: “The Founding Fathers gave us the right to bear arms.” 

Neither the Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776, or the Constitution, signed in 1787, mention the right to bear arms. Although George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, and others supported armed citizen militias, only George Clymer, Robert Morris, George Read, Roger Sherman, James Wilson, and Benjamin Franklin signed both founding documents and Franklin, a writer and publisher, never specifically advocated citizens having “the right to bear arms.” However, it wasn’t the signers or the nation’s “founders” who approved the second amendment within the Bill of Rights, written by James Madison; it was the first bicameral Congress from 1789–91 under the new Constitution. Since only 11 of the nation’s first 19 senators and five of its first 66 representatives had been at the Constitutional Convention, just 16 Founding Fathers out of the convention’s 55 delegates—or 29 percent—were part of the Congress that voted to pass the Bill of Rights.

I walked back into my classroom and shut the door. The only way out was the way in. There were no windows, and the door opened to the outside, so there was no way to barricade it. If I stood ready to pounce on an intruder, my students would realize there was a threat and panic, perhaps by running outside, right into the path of the gunman. With only seconds to make a decision, I decided to lie. 

Assertion 2: More Americans die of gunshot wounds each year than in any other country. 

The number of American gun fatalities is the highest globally but the U.S. ranks ninth in violent gun deaths per 100,000 people. Furthermore, almost two-thirds of those deaths are due to suicides and accidents; only 35 percent of annual gun-related deaths are homicides. The first deliberate gun fatality by a K–12 student against another K–12 student took place just after World War II (not counting accidents, adult shootings at colleges, or K–12 students attacking teachers). Student versus student shootings remained a rare occurrence until the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Colorado, which began the current era of detailed pre-planning, random victims, and double-digit casualties.

I told my class that everything was fine, that a student next door was hurt, paramedics were on the way, and we would simply stay in the classroom for now. As I tried to stay calm, I nervously watched the front door, expecting someone to walk in at any moment and begin firing. If that had happened, there was nothing I could do except try to attack him and hope my students escaped. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life. Finally, security arrived and told us that we were safe. The wounded student lived; he had been the victim of an accident when a colleague brandishing his gun in order to impress their friends accidentally fired and then fled. 

Assertion 3: Students versus student, pre-planned school shootings causing multiple fatalities in classrooms and hallways with few escape options have now reached a point where it has become necessary to go beyond metal detectors or security guards and proceed to training and arming teachers. 

Harford County Republican Del. Rick Impallaria has submitted a bill to arm teachers. Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan disagrees, preferring to strengthen school safety by increasing the number of metal detectors, panic buttons, security cameras, and door and window locks. House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch, a Democrat, also prefers to prevent domestic abusers from getting guns and to ban military-style assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, and guns on college campuses. The other delegate in Busch’s district (30A), Republican Herb McMillan, is retiring; however, none of the candidates running to succeed him in either party have publicly supported arming teachers. 

Among Republicans, Chelsea Gill believes that people should have the right to own a gun but that “every gun needs to be stored safely and used with common sense.” Bob O’Shea, a government contracts negotiator, prefers a more cautious, “straight-forward, results-oriented approach” in order to solve these kinds of problems. Doug Rathell, a paramedic and fireman, advocates “training all teachers in CPR and Basic Life Support skills so they can react with proper training during times of emergency.” 

Among Democrats, Naval Academy graduate Aron Axe, a former Marine who taught at the Academy, would rather “arm and train resource officers and provide metal detectors, security cameras, and procedural training for faculty and administrators. Firearms training requires vetting and performance testing. Attempting to properly vet and train K–12 teachers is extremely ill-advised.” Alice Cain, a teacher and education policy expert on Capitol Hill currently serving on the Annapolis Education Commission, proposes increasing public safety laws to “prevent access to guns for the mentally ill and those convicted of domestic violence.” Naval Academy graduate Mary Reese, a former Navy spokeswoman, envisions additional gun laws and “safety precautions in schools such as lockdown door barricade devices and mental health resources for teachers.” 

Do you agree with Harford County Republican State Delegate Rick Impallaria that arming and training teachers is the best way to prevent school shootings?

Mark Croatti, M.A., has taught courses on American Government, Comparative Politics, Middle East Politics, and Terrorism at the U.S. Naval Academy, the George Washington University, and UMBC.