Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Are Packing Teachers the Answer to School Violence?

After the tragic and depraved events in Newtown, Connecticut, one of the solutions being suggested by some--such as Oregon State Rep. Dennis Richardson--is the idea of two or three teachers at each school being allowed to carry a concealed weapon in order to deal with an armed intruder emergency.

Let me first say that I have nothing at all against responsible use of firearms.  In fact, my father is a firearms instructor.  I look forward to getting a new concealed weapons permit myself in the near future for a .45 caliber handgun.  What I do question, though, is the wisdom of this recommendation for four main reasons.

Opposing Skill Sets

Perhaps relevant to this discussion is a quick snapshot of my own background.  As a young man, I spent many an hour helping in classrooms, followed some years later by ride-alongs with city, county, and federal law enforcement officers from Seattle to Port Townsend.  I have also had the opportunity to work in the loss prevention, corporate security, and even as a Campus Security Officer for Seattle Pacific University before going to work for the State of Oregon in 1997.  

While I have the greatest respect for teachers, the skill set and talent required to educate our children is completely different than what's required for a law enforcement officer.  The teacher is slow and methodical, while the police officer must, through experience and constant training and education, be prepared at any moment to take lethal force against an individual.  He's not going to aim for the legs; he's not going to fire a "warning shot."  If he pulls his service weapon, he is prepared and ready to take a life.  These professions are diametrically opposed--not great candidates for job sharing.  A simple error in judgement could quickly lead to catastrophic results.  (One example of this would be the issue of bystander safety.)

Conflicting Priorities

If the armed teacher were to suspect an emergency in-progress, is he expected to leave his students unattended to go race down the halls?  The teacher's primary responsibility should be to do everything in his power to ensure the safety of his students.  This doesn't include abandoning them alone in the classroom.

Too Much Authority?

Last year, a teacher at Sprague High School was arrested .  Sadly, this is nothing new in our nation, but it should give us all some food for thought.  It's well known that abusive teachers will often wield their authority in a way that intimidates their victim.  Do we really want to risk handing this same teacher a 9mm?  I suggest a diversification of authority in schools safeguards our children.

The Pacific Northwest is not Texas

I'll probably catch some heat (only slight pun intended) on this from my Texas family, but let me explain.  Just because some schools may be successfully employing a practice along these lines in Texas, doesn't mean it's necessarily appropriate in Oregon or Washington (especially western sides of the respective states).  No, I have absolutely no statistics to back this assertion up, but, as a guy who has lived both in the north and south, I suggest that firearm familiarity may be a little more prevalent down south than in the Pacific Northwest.  (If you don't believe me, just try breaking into a house in south Dallas.)  This issue needs to be addressed on a state by state basis, and I don't believe that either Oregon or Washington is the ideal test candidate.

A Better Solution

Rather than arming our educators, I suggest that one way to approach this is to utilize more plainclothes personnel who are well armed and highly trained.  These individuals would randomly patrol school district property.  They would not get involved in citing cars in the fire lane, but they would take action any time a violent encounter is observed.  (After all, even a small fight between high schoolers can quickly escalate if a weapon appears.)

People need to understand that a uniformed officer serves both as a deterrent and a first responder, but he is also likely the first target.  The plainclothes personnel would have the extra few seconds they would require to get in position and terminate the threat as safely as possible.


  1. In one sense, I think I'd support allowing teachers to arm themselves. But on second thought, how likely is a mass shooting to occur in one's local schools today, compared with how likely it would be for students to overpower teachers they think are armed, to get that gun, in the heat of the moment when adolescent tempers flare. It's one thing for a teacher to be struck or shoved today in anger, with the consequences rarely fatal. It's quite another if that teacher is overpowered by the student(s) and his/her handgun--or the keys to the lockbox in the classroom where the gun is kept--are taken. Thoughts? (I'm aware that I've moved the scene from an elementary school to a middle school or high school.)

  2. Great point, Bill. I hadn't considered that, but that would seem to be another problem with the idea.