It’s been just over two years since the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and I struggle to find an appropriate word to describe how we remember. We need a better word for referring to the remembrance of school shootings than “anniversary,” because euphemisms only contribute to our lack of progress in conversations surrounding gun violence. And as I reflect, I am utterly disappointed with just how little has changed since the 2018 massacre. As an adult, as a teacher, it pains me just how badly we’re failing our kids.
I sobbed last year while listening to David Hogg speak to Dan Rather at SXSWEdu, as he recounted the trauma he and his little sister still experienced as a result of witnessing their peers violently slaughtered. Moreover, I cringe when I witness adults vilifying Hogg and other young “March for Our Lives” activists for raising their collective voice in an effort to combat future gun violence. After all, our children have a right to be angry.
As an eternal optimist, I would hope that we could all be on the same side of this conversation—that is, our kids deserve to feel safe at school—even if we aren’t in lockstep about how to solve the atrocity of school shootings in our country. We grapple with this problem, and others like it, every day. And in the thick of it, I frequently say things with which others disagree. They can handle it. Others say things with which I disagree. I can handle it. Yet in the midst of our conflict, in the amount of precious time we spend warring about politics and bureaucracy, we’re failing our children. We have to do better.
Immediately following the massacre, there were countless conversations about how we need “more guns in schools.” Even the President of the United States responded with the notion that we must harden our schools by arming our teachers.
Two years later, little has changed. I frequently see conversations about guns in schools popping up in states like Indiana, where the state Senate recently approved a bill that proposed a 40-hour training program for teachers who were willing to volunteer to be armed. Or consider Kentucky, where Governor Andy Beshear just signed a bill requiring school resource officers to carry guns. The topic has also been heavily debated in my home state of Illinois in recent months, but the Illinois Association of School Boards vetoed the possibility of teachers and staff carrying guns back in November of 2019.
Legislative or policy action—or inaction—however, doesn’t always translate to a change in hearts and minds. Just last week, in a conversation which was prompted by the recent “anniversary,” I overheard a number of adults—who were in no way even remotely connected to education—touting the popular opinion: “We need to start arming teachers.” Each time I hear it, I have to make a decision about whether or not to engage. Should I dignify such an outrageous claim with a response? On this occasion, I chose to remain silent.
Yet to be clear, my thoughts on this proposed “solution” are exactly what they were two years ago. Here are several questions I may have asked if I had chosen to step into that conversation:
- As a society, we currently have schools that are significantly underfunded. Who is going to pay for the weaponry and the training that arming teachers would require?
- Is there any research to suggest that putting more guns in schools actually increases safety, or if it increases the potential for negligence and, as a result, increases the number of school shootings due to unauthorized access by negligence on the part of the carrier (and then are inexperienced gun-toting teachers vilified when such negligence occurs)?
- By significantly raising the expectations of teachers to be trained to carry firearms and to act as armed protectors of their schools, will we also ensure that they are fairly compensated for the plethora of significant additional requirements being added to their job descriptions (again, in a climate when schools are already underfunded)?
- If we believe that people have a right to their guns, do people equally have the same right to refuse to carry a firearm and if so, should/could they be fired as a result of refusing to do so?
- Does no one question the ethics/loyalties of candidates who previously accepted money from the NRA to fund their campaigns, who now suggest that buying more guns in an effort to protect schools is the solution to this problem?
- Does the thought of me, armed with a gun, terrify everyone who knows me? Because it should, considering I can’t keep track of my phone on most days.
- There is no question that I would take a bullet for one of my students—for someone else’s kid. Although it shouldn’t be included in my job description—and it’s interesting how little attention this expectation gets when we talk about the decline in teacher recruitment—it’s something I can ultimately wrap my head around due to my immeasurable love for my students. Nonetheless, the thought of having to shoot someone’s kid? Of having to aim a firearm, at a moment’s notice, at one of my students and pull the trigger? This is not something I’m willing to contemplate, nor is it something I should have to contemplate. It’s definitely not what I signed up for.
It’s truly mystifying that two years later the proposition of arming teachers is still the immediate best course of action for so many, especially for our elected representatives.
Bottom line: As a teacher, I am trained to love. I am not trained to kill. The suggestion that I should be expected to shoot one of my students in a high-pressure situation is one that is entirely unfathomable. Most importantly, it’s not in my job description. So let’s stop pretending that arming teachers is the solution to gun violence in our schools. It’s not.
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