A conversation about armed teachers
This is going to be a little different, and longer, than my usual posts. It’s a Facebook conversation sparked by one of my last essays, Unarmed Teachers and our Addiction to Failure. I decided to post the entire conversation because it is very informative, and highlights something we usually miss during this debate.
I had this conversation with a high school friend. He’s a good guy, very intelligent and educated. He wants children to be safe, and raised reasonable objections to my support for armed teachers. I think my friend represents a great many people who oppose armed teachers, or support gun control, or oppose concealed carry by private citizens. They oppose armed citizens because, in my opinion, they (generally speaking) don’t understand the realities. That doesn’t make them evil. It just means they haven’t heard respectful, reasonable presentations of the need for armed citizenry.
The great gun debate, following the Newtown shooting, is reaching new heights of divisiveness. My pro-gun friends on FB post an endless stream of pictures and articles pointing out how stupid anti-gun people are, my anti-gun friends post the same about gun owners. Gun owners are making pledges to physically resist gun confiscation while gun control proponents voice their support for a partial repeal of the Bill of Rights. Lost in this screaming match is a basic truth: if the goal is to protect the innocent, which is what we ALL say we want, then we need to stop screaming, stop insulting, stop caricaturizing, and actually listen to each other.
I’ve included all the conversation, other than a side joke and two short lines discussing a typo. I’ve also put the points and counterpoints in the correct order, instead of the nonsequential way internet conversations often go. I will invite my friend to read it to ensure nothing has been left out of his side of the debate.
I realize this is a long conversation, but some issues are too complex to be be addressed in a short, attention-deficit manner. In the middle of the conversation I highlighted one sentence, because it addresses a comment I keep hearing about “armed citizens making it harder for the police to do their jobs”. I owe you one if you read all of it, and would appreciate your feedback.
F: Hi Chris, you make some clear points in this blogpost, some that I actually can agree with….but I pose this question to your statement that ‘unarmed teachers’ doesn’t work. Why, in most countries, where teachers are not armed, there are a small number to no incidents of ‘schoolyard’ massacres, where in the top 10 worst school shootings of all time in the world, the US makes the list 4 times? What are they doing different working with the same ‘unarmed teachers’ policy than the US?
Me: F, good question. My gut reaction is that they have a different culture, something more along the lines of where we were prior to the mid-90′s or so. But I don’t think (and I’m not suggesting you believe this) that unarmed teachers are a causal link to their lack of school violence. We didn’t have unarmed teachers because we didn’t need them; unfortunately, due to a variety of factors, we need them now. We can also look at school districts in Utah and one in Texas as micro examples that refute your claim: they have armed teachers, and haven’t experienced school shootings.
What I think you’re getting at is that it’s the gun culture in the US that produces these shootings. I would agree that the gun culture is one small part of the problem, but it also involves the glorification of violence in movies, music and video games. I should have added in my essay that arming teachers isn’t the entire solution, it’s just part of the solution. A real, workable solution will involve prevention, deterrence and response. I’m focused on the tactical, response aspect because it’s what I know. Others with more experience and knowledge will have to figure out prevention and deterrence.
F: Also, regarding your scenarios, I understand (and don’t disagree) them, but have you considered the other scenarios (I know, there are an infinite number that can potentially occur, but since you brought them up), like what if a student snaps, disarms the teacher and now becomes a shooter….the teacher indirectly has armed the shooter….or vice versa, what if the teacher ‘snaps’(but as we all know there has never been a case of teacher on student violence, not like a teacher has ever grabbed a student by the neck throwing him over a desk). Plus the quickest way to disarm a teacher is to take a hostage, giving up their gun and providing more ammo to the shooter.
Me: This goes into another subject entirely, but for tactical and practical reasons the teachers should not tell any student they’re armed, or carry the weapon exposed. Responding to an active shooter isn’t a “quick draw” scenario, and teachers should carry with the weapon completely concealed. Teachers who have carried for years in Utah and Texas haven’t experienced any of the possibilities you described. And the likelihood that an educated, professional teacher will lose it and murder a student seems extremely unlikely, and definitely less likely than the possibility of a mass shooting in school. Again, teachers in certain places have been carrying for years, and those things just haven’t happened.
Students will not necessarily know what teachers are carrying. I’ve been carrying a pistol for almost 20 years, and there have been very few times anyone has known. Part of the reason people saw that I was armed on one or two occasions is that I carry a large pistol, because my duty is to take action, possibly at longer ranges, rather than only defend myself. A teacher, with a duty to defend him or herself and students in a close range encounter would not have to carry a weapon that large or obtrusive. Numerous small, easily concealable weapons would be appropriate for a teacher to carry, and could be carried in a “belly band” type of holster that is totally covered by clothing and holds the weapon flat against the carrier’s body. Hiding a weapon isn’t that hard. And again, teachers in certain areas have been doing it for years, without any of the tragedies you’ve described.
Your concern about a teacher killing a student, in particular, highlights a very common theme among those who support gun control: the belief that nobody, not even educated professionals with no criminal history (teachers), can be trusted with a weapon. I don’t know why this sentiment comes up so often, but it does. We’ve known teachers all our lives, and even the guy who throws a kid across a desk isn’t likely to pull a gun and murder him. I think it’s a misplaced worry at best, and at worst an indication (not for you personally) that people don’t trust even the best of our own citizens.
F: Of the people you say didn’t know you had a weapon, how many of them did you interact with on a daily basis, 8 hours a day? If It was a casual interaction, I can see how they could miss a weapon, but daily? Children are smart…they watch. Narrowing down someone who is carrying wouldn’t be too hard. Even strategically placed tattoos get seen, because we become lax and careless. We wouldn’t have a gun problem if all gun dealers/owners were diligent about gun safety and regulations. Remember, a gun isn’t born in the hands of a criminal, it follows a legal process there, the final step into their hands usually is illegal, but somewhere along the way a process was removed.
Me: Good point, and all I can tell you is there are extremely effective methods of concealing a weapon. That doesn’t mean a teacher won’t ever be discovered, but it isn’t likely, or at least not as likely as you think. We’d have to see if it’s happened in the schools where teachers have been carrying without incident for years.
F: But an armed teacher is even easier to defeat, all one has to do is take a hostage. I doubt that the teacher is going to take the Keanu Reeves tactic, shoot the hostage.
Me: If someone takes a hostage, it’s no longer an active shooter situation. There’s a huge difference between someone trying to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible, and someone taking a hostage. It is definitely incorrect to say “all someone has to do is take a hostage”. There is no situation that simple. If someone is holding a hostage and ordering a teacher to give up his/her weapon, the teacher has to make a choice. 99 times out of 100, giving the hostage taker control by giving up a weapon is the wrong choice. First response is, hold your ground, maintain the weapon, and wait for help. If the hostage taker kills the student, chances are that’s what he would have done once you gave him your weapon anyway.
F: Again, like I said, there are infinite number of scenarios, but like you said, doing nothing doesn’t stop the potential threat. What I’m saying is, there isn’t one correct way to solve this issue. The threat will always exist and unfortunately there will be more incidents. Instead of making quick decisions on what may appear to be the best way to neutralize the situation, why can’t we investigate why other countries aren’t plagued with this dilemma and try to understand what change needs to be done.
I agree with you that it is most likely a cultural issue, but I’ll go further and say that as a nation, we baby our youth. The overprotection and over indulgence that some children receive(in my opinion) screws them up mentally.
Me: And I’m going to beat up on you a little bit for a logical fallacy you fell into: you asked, “why can’t we investigate what other countries have done?” My answer is, “who says we can’t?” If we allow teachers to carry, that doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t explore other possible solutions. It just means that we have a threat right now, and it has to be addressed right now. If we convene a panel of experts to uncover the real cause of school shootings today, it doesn’t save the kids in the school that get shot up tomorrow. As a medical analogy, if you encounter a guy bleeding to death from a stab wound, the first thing you do is stop the bleeding. You don’t take hours trying to figure out why the guy got stabbed, whether knives should be banned, or if people get stabbed a lot in other countries. First, stop the bleeding. Then figure out everything else.
F: Ah, an analogy, lets look at this:
So, the guy bleeding to death I’ll assume is ‘society’, the wound is a school shooting, and the assailant is a gun toting crazy guy. Well, yes stop the bleeding, but you don’t do that by giving the victim a knife. You apply pressure, and in extreme cases where the bleeding cant be stopped, a tourniquet. Now what that ‘pressure’ is and what the ‘tourniquet’ is, we have yet to see and everyone has a different opinion what those are. Have we reached the point where the ‘bleeding’ can’t be stopped?
I hope not, am I in favor of gun control(my opinion of ‘pressure’)? To a certain extent, yes. Am I for banning guns(my opinion of a tourniquet)?….no. Am I in favor of arming teachers no, but you do make some valid arguments. Even though if its a concealed weapon and it wouldn’t be made public which teacher is ‘carrying’, kids are smart and observant and they’ll figure it out. Just as they do now, they can tell which teachers are involved and they know where teachers place certain items.
Me: 1st question: in the analogy, you’re correct that the bleeding man was society. No, I’m not suggesting we give him a knife if he’s already bleeding. What I am suggesting is that we do what needs to be done now, rather than talk about it and implement some grand solution years later. All the discussion in the world will not stop the man from bleeding to death; only immediate action will. There is no way to “appease everyone” with a solution about how to stop bleeding. As you said, there’s only direct pressure or a tourniquet.
Likewise, there’s no response to active shooters that will appease everyone, but there is a response that works (armed resistance). When the incident has actually begun, discussion about what happens in the rest of the world makes no difference, nor does discussion about why it shouldn’t happen here. What I’m addressing is what to do once it’s begun.
F:You make a scenario of a teacher waiting in a classroom to engage the shooter, why not place heavy, steel, bullet proof doors in the classrooms that a teacher/student can lock? We’ll just let those students in the hall fend for themselves as they shouldn’t have been tardy anyways…lol…
I think there are many answers to this issue, which one is the best to address it and appease everyone? That in itself is another issue.
Me: Heavy steel doors,”bulletproof” windows, metal detectors, even high strength magnets as one person suggested, are all passive and extremely expensive measures. And they’re all easily defeated. Passive measures on the scale necessary to truly harden a school against attack would cost hundreds of billions of dollars nationwide. School districts don’t have that money. Allowing teachers to carry, on the other hand, is an affordable and faster way to harden a school, and would be more effective.
F: [Heavy steel doors are] Expensive yes, but at what price do you ensure your child’s safety?
ME: My child’s life is priceless. Unfortunately, schools have budgets. I’m not saying it’s not worth the price, I’m saying districts don’t have that kind of money.
F: But I guess what I’m really trying to say is, I don’t disagree with you totally, but where do we stop? Today teachers, tomorrow movie attendants, next week Luby cafeteria workers? As a peace officer I’m sure you can appreciate arriving on a scene and dealing only with one potential armed suspect, but what if there’s 10 people wielding guns? How do you identify the ‘bad’ person? I know usually it’s the one clad in military style clothes armed to the teeth, but really, where does it stop?
Me: Regarding your last comment: it stops when the problem has been solved. If people are still being massacred but we stop adopting response measures because we feel like we’ve gone too far, then the problem hasn’t been solved. And as a police officer, yes I want to arrive on a scene and have an easily identifiable threat. However, making life easier for the police isn’t the goal. The goal is to save as many innocent lives as possible. If that makes life harder for me as a cop, that’s just how it is. Any policy designed to make life easier for cops, at the expense of the people we’re supposed to protect, is an automatic failure.
F: Oh, and I’m feeling a need to address something I’ve been hearing associated with the whole ‘arm teachers’ debate….I’ve been hearing a lot that ‘if people know that teachers may be armed, the shooter will think twice before shooting up a school.’ I think people are concluding that because a school is a gun-free zone that it was targeted for that reason. Noooo, it was targeted because these shooters were familiar with that place. Sandy Hook, Columbine, Virginia Tech, UT Texas, Ft. Hood, and the Batman shooting, well he probably cased that theatre and chose it because they were showing Batman and I would venture to say, that he probably was a patron of that theatre in the past.
Me: You’re correct that each of those shooters chose targets they were familiar with. But like the rest of this problem, there is no one answer that easily explains why each shooter picked their targets. They had different motivations, active shooters aren’t cookie-cutter personalities. Hassan stands out from the rest as being motivated by religious extremism rather than cowardice or mental issues. As far as the theater shooting goes, one thing I’ve read but not verified is that there were ten other theaters in the area that Holmes could have picked, including some closer to his house than the one he targeted. However, the one he targeted was the only one that was designated “gun free”. If that’s the case (and I’m not claiming it is), then yes, that’s pretty powerful evidence he chose it specifically because he didn’t want to worry about armed resistance. Anyone who wants to commit a mass murder but is afraid of anyone fighting back, and who wants to have a huge impact, can find no better targets than a “gun free” school. Unarmed children and women present almost zero threat.
F: I’ll try to answer quickly and I’m not trying to get a rise out of you, I always find your posts and responses informative and well thought out.
I’m not saying that we should have a round table, order lunch, and come up with elaborate structures. I’m saying, like you, action needs to be taken, but there are alternatives to just an armed response. You say no teacher will be forced to carry, but what if no teacher in that school wants to carry?
Me: Once the incident has begun, no alternative other than armed response will work. Prevention will hopefully stop anyone from getting to that point, but it won’t be 100% effective. Neither will deterrence. Armed response won’t be 100% effective either, but once you’re at the point of attack nothing else has a chance of success. You’re probably right that there will be some schools where every last teacher or administrator will refuse to carry a weapon. There is no answer to that. Hopefully a prospective murderer won’t know all the teachers refuse to carry, and will still worry that he might meet armed resistance (although I can see a group of extremely naive teachers publicly stating, “we at this school refuse to carry a weapon”). In that case, nothing can be done. If someone understands that a) there is a threat, b) the police or security guards can’t protect them, yet c) they refuse to protect themselves, well, what more can be done?
F: Well, Chris you have certainly given me food for thought. Not sure if I’ll ever be totally on board withy he idea if armed teachers, but I can see your rationale in support of it.
Me: That’s all I’m asking anyone to do, is consider it. Just as I consider the reasons to not support it. Thanks for the conversation, I think we both learned something.
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