School security, especially in light of the Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, is on the minds of many. President Donald Trump, S.C. Sen. Lindsey Graham and others have also suggested teachers should be allowed to carry guns.
The idea of arming teachers is not new. Teachers in some Texas schools already carry guns. Not every school in that state has marshals, and it's left up to each school district to decide on whether select teachers can carry guns. The school marshal program in Texas has strict guidelines and those who take part are required to sign up for an 80-hour training course, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In the four years since Texas lawmakers enacted a school marshal program, no teacher has fired their weapon, the article said. Firearms must be stored in a locked container and can only be used in an active shooter situation.
There are many reasons why teachers — even those willing to do so — should not have the added responsibility of having a firearm in their classroom.
Educators should not have to worry about how they would response in a crisis; their chief responsibility should be educating students — a tall order given that some have classrooms filled to capacity. In an active shooter situation, could someone who isn't a police officer effectively fire a weapon and halt a shooter, particularly one with an automatic weapon? If the gun is required to be locked in a safe place, would they have time to access it?
And what if a student was able to get access to a gun that was supposed to be in possession of a teacher?
The cost and liability of such a proposal could make it too expensive for some school districts. Further, law enforcement officials responding to an active shooter situation may mistake a school marshal for the shooter.
One of the more disturbing revelations from the Parkland, Florida, school shooting is that several school resource officers assigned to the school on Feb. 14 did not engage with the assailant.
If trained officers are hesitant to do so, teachers may be also.
The National Association of School Resource Officers recommends that state and local funding be provided for every school to have a trained officer on campus. In the case of larger campuses, more than one officer should be employed.
The nonprofit group for SROs cites several reasons on its website for opposing the arming of teachers. Among them:
"Firearm skills degrade quickly, which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.
"In addition to maintaining marksmanship, ongoing firearms practice helps law enforcement officers overcome the physiological response to stress than can reduce the fine motor skills required to accurately fire a weapon.
"Anyone who possesses a firearm on campus must be able to keep it both ready for use and absolutely secure. Law enforcement officers receive training that enables them to overcome attempts to access their weapons.
"Discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims. Law enforcement officers receive training and practice in evaluating quickly the risks of firing. They hold their fire when the risks to others are too high."
The sad fact is there is no way to make schools completely safe. Hiring more mental health professionals, creating a climate where students and parents feel comfortable reporting suspicious behaving, restricting school building access and trained police officers won't deter a person intent on firing a gun inside a school.
But that shouldn't stop everyone in the community, from politicians to parents to students from trying. More communitywide discussions like those which have sprung from the Parkland shooting may illicit some useful ideas.
Let's keep talking. It will likely take a combination of security measures to make schools safer. Teachers should be focused on education — that is more than enough to keep them busy.
This is an abridged version of an editorial from The Greenville News provided via The Associated Press.