We have all heard someone say it. At a time when our nation continues to ruminate on the debilitating legacy of the Parkland shooting – and the memories from Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and countless other tragedies have returned to haunt the American psyche yet again – the president, congressmen, and NRA-apologists hold their heads high and say confidently, as if it is a cure for all societal ills, “Just arm the teachers!” Police are often slow to arrive, the logic has it, and allowing educators to act as first responders could save lives. Hence green light to guns in school classrooms, cafeterias, and gyms? Not so fast.
Worryingly yet unsurprisingly, tragedies like Parkland stoke human impulses – prodding the most well-intentioned among us to opt for radical solutions. As a conservative, I am appalled at the deluge of hostility towards the Second Amendment: the nonsensical lumping of law-abiding citizens, whose right to bear arms the Constitution vouchsafes, together with assault rifle-wielding thugs. At the same time, I must confess the proposal to arm educators gives off the same stench of extremism; so much so that one might struggle to decide which aspects of it are most odious.
First and foremost, investing in the concept of “teachers with guns” would reorient schools from their primary purpose: education. If the federal government mandated that every school employ teachers proficient at using firearms, the schools would inevitably start to prioritize gun-adept candidates in their hiring procedures, overlooking their qualification as educators. And, from a purely fiscal standpoint, that would make sense: when public school funding is extremely scarce, why not open doors to teachers who are already experienced gun users – even if they are not the cream of the crop education professionals – to save on training?
According to The Washington Post, arming 718,000 teachers could cost upwards of $251 million (and that is only if we assume the cheapest instruction and discounted Glock). If we instead take into account the full-price, more expensive firearm and advanced training, the cost could go well beyond $1 billion. At a time when thousands of public school teachers work two jobs to make ends meet, pay for classroom supplies out of their own pocket, and still struggle to surmount the achievement gap between low-income and financially secure students, I cannot help but ask: would not the same money be better spent on improving learning methods and outcomes? As Parkland senior Ryan Deitsch aptly put it, “We need to arm our teachers… but with pencils, pens, paper, and the money they need.”
It is no secret that public high schools, especially in low-income areas awash in poverty and crime, are hotbeds of violence. While teachers designated to carry firearms would supposedly have to pass background and mental health checks, flooding schools with guns only increases the likelihood they would fall into the wrong hands – those of students, non-teaching staff members, and outside intruders.
Last but not least, there is an issue of state-chartered militarization of our schools. Many of America’s public schools already conjure up images of warzone bases rather than educational institutions, and arming teachers would only make matters worse. According to The Atlantic, school police in several Colorado and California districts regularly wear AR-15 rifles and have even stocked up on grenade launchers and armored personnel carrier. Even the unabashedly bizzare suggestion of Newsmax host Wayne Roote to equip schools with armed drones does not seem too detached from reality anymore.
Perhaps, instead of rehashing ideological arguments, we should draw upon empirical evidence. Look no further than America’s police forces: militarized to a point where shooting of unarmed civilians – a disproportionate number of them minority individuals from low-income neighborhoods – surprises no more. Applying the same failed practice to schools, institutions tasked with providing inclusive and nurturing environments, advances the calamitous reasoning that the only way to keep citizens out of harm’s way is an ever-militarized state.