Again the question: Could armed teachers stop shootings?
News and wire reports
Saturday, February 24, 2018
Utah teacher Kasey Hansen says carrying a concealed weapon in school is “more of a solution” than hiding in a corner and waiting if an armed intruder enters the classroom. But Texas teacher Tara Bordeaux worries that she lacks “the instincts” of a law enforcement officer and can’t easily see herself carrying a gun in class.
In the aftermath of yet another mass school shooting, the idea of arming teachers continues to divide educators, parents and the public in search of a solution. Lawmakers in several states are wrestling with the contentious idea, including Florida, where the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are being mourned.
Mildred Council, chairwoman of the Pitt County Board of Education, said serving as an armed guard is not a teacher’s role.
“Their role is to teach our children,”Council said. “They have not been trained to be in (an armed guard) role, and it would be very chaotic if something should happen. That's the role of law enforcement and people who are trained in that area. Right now we have resource officers in our schools, and that's who has been hired to protect and serve the staff and students and our other personnel.”
Travis Lewis, public information officer for Pitt County Schools, would not comment specifically on teachers carrying weapons. However, he said safety is the district’s top priority.
“Our teachers, our custodians, our bus drivers, parents and members of the community at large, will work collaboratively to keep our children safe,” Lewis said. “That applies not only to a school setting but to businesses, churches, theatres, anywhere there's a mass gathering.
“We've been working closely with law enforcement agencies to increase security and examine best practices,” he said.
Lindsey Gray Richardson, sales manager at Greenville business Colt's Gun and Pawn, said she supports teachers being able to carry a concealed weapon.
“However, I think it’s essential for them to have proper training, and it would benefit the teachers who carry to have mandated training every quarter in order to build up their automatic in a time of crisis,” Richardson said. “You need people in the system that can fight back and protect themselves and the children who are in the schools.”
President Donald Trump has weighed into the debate, saying during a listening session Wednesday with parents and survivors of school shootings that a teacher adept at firearms “could very well end the attack very quickly.” He followed that up with a tweet Thursday that “highly trained teachers would act as a deterrent to the cowards that do this.”
But the president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called arming teachers “a horrible idea” and said an educator’s handgun would be no match for the assault-style weapons often wielded by attackers.
“The solution is to ban these military weapons from people who shouldn’t have them,” Weingarten said.
Wayne LaPierre, vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, said Thursday that reactions like Weingarten’s are expected after mass shootings.
“The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous,” he told a conference of conservatives in Washington.
In the North Carolina General Assembly, House Speaker Tim Moore announced Tuesday that he’s forming a new school safety committee that will be charged with developing recommendations for how to improve safety in the state’s schools. During a news conference in Shelby, a reporter asked Moore if the committee will consider arming school faculty.
Moore said the committee will look at a myriad of issues and get feedback from school districts and law enforcement.
“We want to hear what the local school districts want to do on that,” he said. “What does law enforcement believe is appropriate on that because right now it’s the law enforcement officers who are stationed in schools right now who are the front line of defense if something like this would happen.”
Kip Gaskins, public information officer at the Pitt County Sheriff's Office, said the office would uphold the laws passed by legislators.
“We focus on what the laws are and we can’t operate on our personal opinions and feelings,” Gaskins said. “We will see what laws are passed and will go from there.”
Similar discussions have taken place in Kentucky, Colorado, Florida and Alabama in recent days. In Wisconsin, the attorney general said he’s open to the idea.
The debate breaches statehouse walls. A poll released this week by ABC News/Washington post says 42 percent of Americans believe teachers with guns could have prevented the Florida shooting.
“I’m not here to tell all teachers that they have to carry a gun,” said Hansen, the Utah teacher, who’s from Salt Lake City. She said the idea to arm herself in school began with the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults died.
“It just really hit home that these teachers, all they could do was pile those kids in a corner and stand in front of them and hope for the best,” she said. “For me personally, I felt that it was more of a solution than just hiding in a corner and waiting.”
In 2014, a Utah teacher who was carrying a concealed firearm accidently dropped her weapon in an elementary school bathroom and it fired. The teacher was injured when the bullet struck a toilet and caused it to explode. No faculty or students were around, but the teacher resigned from her job and was charged with a misdemeanor. She paid a fine and took a firearm-safety class as part of a plea deal.
Bordeaux, in Austin, Texas, is comfortable with guns. But she wonders whether she could pull the trigger on a student, even one who is armed.
“Would I get the same training and would I have the same type of instinct of when and how to use it?” asked Bordeaux, her state’s 2018 teacher of the year. “I don’t have any instincts in me to be an officer of the law. My instincts are to be a teacher.”
At least eight states allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Brock Cartwright, the superintendent in Claude, Texas, won’t reveal how many or who among his teachers is armed, but the district’s message to potential intruders blares in capital letters in three signs: “Please be aware that the staff at Claude ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”
Like other administrators, Cartwright said armed teachers are just one part of safety plans that include drilling for emergencies and shoring up buildings. The small town east of Amarillo doesn’t have a police department, raising concerns about the potential response time for law enforcement.
“Hopefully, we never have to use it,” Cartwright said, “but if we do, our thought is we’re going to hold off until help arrives.”
When asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt about arming teachers, the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, said states “clearly have the opportunity and the option to do that.”
Robert Morphew, a parent from Magnolia, Texas, would want strict guidelines, including for teachers to be trained and licensed, to support guns in his son’s high school.
“I do think it would be a deterrent, there’s no doubt,” he said.
In Buffalo, New York, parent Wendy Diina disagreed.
“Why am I trying to prevent someone from having a gun by giving a gun to someone else?” the mother of two asked.
The National Association of School Resource Officers favors hiring more trained law enforcement officers, in part to ensure a teacher’s gun won’t mistakenly wind up in a student’s hands.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco; Mallory Moench in Montgomery, Alabama; Ken Thomas, Nancy Benac and Jill Colvin in Washington; and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.