Allow me to start by saying congratulations on your monumental win over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Your candidacy was a particularly riveting one to watch. I only wish I could have been a fly on the wall in Hillary’s green room when she learned of her resounding defeat.
Now, on to more pressing matters.
I have been a classroom teacher for just shy of 24 years. I am also a shooting enthusiast, long-time firearms owner, NRA member, self-defense instructor, and student of active shooting events. I’ve read a stack of books on the subjects of violence and school rampages. I have imagined scenarios too horrific for most minds to contemplate – and then imagined ways to counteract those imaginary events. My ultimate goal is to fully understand how and why active killing rampages happen and how best to stop them.
Arming teachers, Mr. President, is not the answer to the scourge of school rampages for a host of reasons.
Let me first point out, however, that complex problems are rarely solved with simple solutions. Both sides of the political aisle were quick to jump feet first into offering their one-step approaches to ending school violence. The Progressive Left wants to ban anything remotely resembling a gun, not only from school campuses but from the hands of private owners also. Meanwhile, the Conservative Right wants to put more guns in schools by arming teachers.
Both of these solutions are outright folly.
You and I both, Mr. President, understand why the Progressive Left are wrong in their thinking. Banning scary guns was tried in the 1990s under President Bill Clinton. The UPenn study of the weapons ban concluded that the intended effects of the 10-year ‘assault weapons’ restrictions were marginal at best. Further, with nearly 10 million AK- and AR-platform weapons in the hands of private citizens today, any renewed ban would require confiscation to truly have any effect. We both know how attempts at gun confiscation would go.
Nevertheless, given that so many mass shooters acquire their weapons via straw purchase or theft, any weapons ban will have a negligible effect on violence, school rampages or other.
Now, to the recommendation that we arm teachers. In that regard, Mr. President, I must politely yet vehemently disagree. My contradiction is not based on the same rhetoric that has been commonly stated in public forums to date – that is that arming teachers will result in teachers shooting innocent bystanders, that they will be mistaken for the shooter by law enforcement, or that students will overpower them and take their weapons. All of those possibilities are real, but they are manageable with a minor amount of planning. There are, however, more pressing reasons to forego arming teachers.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, whose acquaintance you made at the White House meeting on video game violence, wrote in his eye-opening book On Killing that taking the life of another human being is a wholly unnatural act. Knowingly taking a human life requires a specialized form of training, and the closer in proximity one is to that target, the more difficult taking the shot becomes. Specialized military units experience countless hours of training in order to overcome our natural revulsion for killing other humans. Unless the plan is to subject teachers to summer-length spec-ops military-level training with ongoing refresher courses every weekend, the training you suggest to ready these teachers to take a human life will be woefully insignificant and thus ineffective.
That’s not the end of the argument, however. Consider such a difficult task as taking a life in light of the fact that so many active threats are students who attend (or recently attended) the targeted schools. Try to imagine a teacher who comes face to face with a shooter who, just days before, was sitting in third-period algebra class. Such was the case in Paducah, KY; Jonesboro, AR; Springfield, OR; Littleton, CO; Parkland, FL; and a host of other school massacres.
The familiarity between teacher and shooter-student will be the downfall of the teacher and every student in the room. That teacher will have to look that shooter-student in the face as she/he pulls the trigger. In that moment, there will be hesitation, and hesitation in a life-or-death scenario will be deadly with the advantage going to the person who has already demonstrated contempt for human existence.
Arming teachers with guns will, intentionally or unintentionally, create a deep chasm between them and their students. Teachers already struggle to develop effective and constructive relationships with their students. Those relationships become all but impossible when the teacher is strapped. And heaven forbid (s)he should ever have to use that weapon in the presence of students.
Now, criticism without constructive feedback is just complaining, so permit me to offer some suggestions on how teachers should be ‘armed’ in order to respond to school rampages.
First, sanction training for all teachers in basic defensive tactics. These methods can be taught in a matter of hours and only require periodic repetition in order to retain. I teach them to my students, and I’ve shared these techniques with other teachers. To go further, provide twice-annual combat lifesaving training to enable teachers to perform basic lifesaving triage for injured students and staff.
Second, sanction active killer drills for all schools. Such drills should include law enforcement, teachers, and students in coordinated training to mitigate the numbers of targets available to a shooter. One might contend, as you yourself have, that such drills are, “a very negative thing.” I couldn’t disagree more. The plan is essential to survival – no different from fire or tornado drills. When I was a child growing up near naval bases, I experienced nuclear drills where we crawled under our desks and covered our heads. Our teachers were judicious in explaining these drills to us. Teachers today can do the same – assuming they put partisan politics aside.
Third, fund the hardening of schools. Providing classroom door locks that lock from the inside, installing bulletproof film on door windows and anti-intrusion systems on the doors themselves is a great start. There are plenty of great safety consultants who can aid you in this endeavor. Might I suggest a call to Curt Lavarello with the School Safety Advocacy Council. He is a terrific resource on the matter of hardening a school.
Finally, give teachers what they really need: permission to do whatever it takes to survive the threat. Teachers by and large are notorious sticklers for the rules. Let them know in no uncertain terms that they have permission to do whatever it takes to protect their students and themselves. While it may seem to be a rather obvious point, you might be surprised to learn that most people will not act unless they know they are permitted to do so. You are the highest authority in the land, Mr. President. Having your permission to act is a necessary and powerful mobilizer.
I completely respect your Office, and I respect the difficulty and gravity of the moment into which you have been thrust as President. Decisions must be made, and you have demonstrated that you are willing to act when others stand idly by. I implore you, however, to act in accordance with what teachers can and cannot do (or should/should not do) versus acting in the passion of the moment.
Thank you for your time, and thank you for your service to our great nation.