Why Making Teachers Carry Guns is a Horrible Idea
“We need to arm teachers,” the self-professed Good Guy With a Gun (GGWAG) gun says, disingenuously arguing that the solution to guns is more guns.
“You just don’t understand how guns work,” the GGWAG will reply when I try to explain on social media why arming teachers is an incredibly bad idea. I’ve even had some offer to take me to the range to show me how to use guns safely.
I’ve taken gun safety classes, thanks. Contrary to what GGWAGs like to claim, guns are not really that complicated. Point and shoot. Guns were invented to make killing so easy any chump could have the power to take someone else’s life without having to get close enough to get blood on his hands.
I’ve also been working in schools since 1995. I’ve been in 50–60 elementary schools, middle schools, high schools, and colleges in some working capacity. I train people to be teachers. I work with practicing teachers. Instead of mansplaining to teachers about how guns work, GGWAGs need to listen to teachers explain how schools work and what teachers’ working conditions are like.
So, again — for the people in the back — here is a summary of why arming teachers is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad idea.
Teachers are already juggling too many jobs and responsibilities.
Studies on decision making on the job demonstrate that teachers are second to air traffic controllers in terms of the number of decisions they make each day. We don’t expect air traffic controllers to help provide airport security or help staff the TSA screening stations because we don’t want to distract them from the critical job of making sure metal cylinders flying through the air loaded with jet fuel don’t run into each other. We also don’t want the people who are focused on ensuring airplanes take off and land safely to have to multitask to provide the critical service of ensuring that someone with a weapon doesn’t get on a plane, so we hire separate people to do that job.
Carrying a loaded weapon is a tremendous responsibility. Carrying a loaded weapon and keeping it secure while in close proximity to children all day is exponentially more enormous — and more risky. Most of us do not have the bandwidth to shoulder this responsibility while meeting our numerous other responsibilities.
Make teachers carry guns, and it’s only a matter of time until there’s an accidental discharge from a mishandled gun, a teacher sets their gun on the counter in the bathroom and accidentally leaves it there, has a loaded gun fall out of their waistband while doing a cartwheel, or a student grabs the gun and it shoots. These have already happened — several times — often with TRAINED officers whose main job was to provide security. Teachers — who are already juggling so many tasks and responsibilities while engaging with 30+ students who might all be demanding their attention while being interrupted by intercom announcements, plus special education teachers and other adults coming in and out — simply don’t have the mental bandwidth to also monitor the security of a firearm every second of the day. If teachers are armed, these kinds of incidents WILL increase and each one will create additional threats to our children’s safety.
As a teacher, none of what I am writing is any kind of criticism of teachers, their qualifications, or their ability to manage difficult situations. Quite the opposite. I am arguing that it is not fair to add managing a loaded weapon and providing security to our workloads when we already perform a dozen or more essential functions in schools and with children on any given day.
Teachers did not choose to provide security and are not sufficiently vetted, trained, paid, or prepared to do so.
While teaching, I dropped a laptop on my foot and dislocated my big toe. Would people really want me to be teaching with a gun?
1980’s situational comedies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger aside, it should go without saying that the person who chooses to become a kindergarten teacher might not be the person who would choose to become a police officer or join the Marines. While some teachers may have training with firearms, and may enjoy owning and shooting guns, many teachers do not want to. We’re teachers. In the event of a threat, our first defense is to shield kids (unlike some actual police officers). Not to play draw our guns, leave our students, and start seeking out an active shooter.
Where will the money to buy guns, ammo, and training for teachers come from? While I’m sure gun manufacturers are creaming themselves over the potential profits of issuing a gun to each of the 3 million or so teachers in our country, teachers know being supplied with a gun in good condition and sufficient ammo either won’t happen or won’t last. Many of us need to supply copy paper, Expo markers, Kleenex, fans, clocks, computers, food for hungry kids, and myriad other goods for our classrooms. We’re pretty sure that if we start having to carry a gun, the cost burden will get passed on to us and purchasing a gun that actually shoots straight or getting more than a few bullets a year will get added to the long list of classroom supplies we have to purchase out of our meager paychecks.
How and when will teachers be trained? Will we be compensated for that time? How much gun training will schools be able to fit into professional development (PD) schedules that are already packed with covering federal, state, and district mandates? Half a day might be optimistic. A full day might be a pipe dream. That won’t cover much when they have to train many people who have never handled a gun. How much will that minimal amount of training really prepare us for an active shooter situation when even officers who have spent days training can’t seem to follow their own protocols? We’ve all sat through so much useless PD that we don’t have much faith that our training with guns will be sufficient or effective. That will force the more conscientious among us to add range training to what we do in our “free” time. It will also inevitably mean that we have schools filled with teachers who are armed, but not sufficiently trained to handle a firearm, let alone an active shooter situation.
Teachers are growing tired of constantly getting told that we should gladly make endless sacrifices “for the good of the children.” Particularly not when men who aren’t teachers aren’t even willing to give up their guns for the good of the children. Many teachers are asking whether carrying a weapon and doubling as security officers will lead to an increase in pay or hazard pay. Or will we at least get paid as much as police officers and get the same benefits? I think we all know the answer to that question.
Not to state the obvious, but teachers work with CHILDREN. How can the GGWAG John Wayne logic of “good guys and bad guys” apply to children and their families? Classrooms aren’t a shootout at the OK Corral — not even in active shooter situations. GGWAGs reveal their blase attitudes to students’ safety when they answer all questions about gun safety and keeping schools safe with “I believe in arming teachers” — without providing any consideration to the safety of students who will have to attend school each day with teachers who are armed.
Guns have a tendency to escalate situations when most disciplinary situations in schools require de-escalation.
Will it be harder for teachers to de-escalate situations when they have a gun holstered at their hips? Will de-escalation be as likely, or will teachers go the way of police officers, who are taught to escalate with force — often with deadly consequences?
Teachers’ working conditions do not lend themselves to keeping a gun secure
GGWAGs generally have not spent much time in classrooms, so they do not have a clear idea of what working conditions for teachers are like. Most teachers (the good ones, at least), don’t just sit behind a desk or stand at the front of the room. They work in close proximity to students, leaning over one student’s desk to help them while another student gets the dreaded “teacher butt,” which — if the teacher had a gun in a holster — would put a gun in easy reach.
Or teachers are sitting on a rug surrounded by young students.
Or even doing more hands-on activities with students on the playground, during labs, playing games, or doing other activities.
How long is it going to be before a child manages to disarm a teacher? What happens then?
Would children be more likely to get shot?
GGWAGs think in black and white terms, where there are “good guys” and “bad guys,” and where it is easy to tell one from the other (they think you can just look at the color of the cowboy hat). In their spaghetti western world, threats are clear, easy to spot, and have a clear solution.
But teachers’ decision making often involves shades of gray. With full respect for the vast majority of teachers’ professionalism and restraint, teaching is a stressful job. Not only does it involve more multitasking and decision making than almost any other profession, it also requires the diplomacy to work with children and parents who can be challenging or even hostile.
Anyone who has parented or taught knows that some children have a special ability to seek out our one, last, frayed nerve and pluck it. Or to push a boundary we’ve asserted many times. Or to argue us into insanity. Or engage in a major power struggle over every little thing. Or to get into something they shouldn’t have had access to. Or to do something stupid and dangerous. Increasingly, both before and especially now during COVID, more students are openly defiant, destructive, threatening, or even violent. And their parents? Well, I’ll just repeat teachers’ aphorism that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
How will arming teachers affect these already fraught interactions? What should teachers do when two students get in a fight? Or when a student is defiant or threatening and refuses to leave our classroom when asked? Or when a student assaults us? What do we do if a parent comes in and threatens or assaults us? What should teachers do if a student attempts to take their gun? (Most gun training classes say it’s appropriate to shoot when an attacker attempts to disarm you.) Giving teachers guns is going to increase the number and types of decisions teachers will need to make on when to use force — with potentially deadly consequences.
Are there circumstances (however unthinkable) when teachers would be authorized to use their guns to handle a situation with students or parents? So far that question has not been discussed, let alone answered. GGWAGs usually don’t like to have to think through nuance and details. But it seems fairly likely that arming teachers could escalate already scary and difficult conflicts into situations where students could get shot or injured.
Guns will be likely to increase students’ trauma
As if the trauma of active-shooter drills starting in preschool and kindergarten isn’t enough, now students will have a visible, daily, reminder of the possibility that their teacher may have to defend them from an active shooter at any moment.
For students who may already be intimidated or afraid of their teachers, seeing a teacher carrying a gun is going to exacerbate that situation.
Guns will make already-marginalized populations feel LESS safe at school
People of color, people on the LGBTQIAA+ spectrum, people with learning disabilities, and even girls have already expressed that they are frequently subject to discriminatory policies that make them feel less safe in their schools. Many people of color, particularly our African-American students and families, already feel targeted by School Resource Officers (SROs). Our African-American students are already much more likely to be tracked into Special Education, targeted with punitive policies and consequences, and subjected to harsher discipline for the same or more minor infractions. Given our country’s history with police officers’ unnecessary uses of deadly force with African-Americans and other minority groups, members of these communities are concerned that arming all teachers with guns could threaten their children’s lives.
Students with learning disabilities, behavioral issues, or who are neurodivergent have also often been the victims of punitive and traumatizing disciplinary measures. Children as young as kindergarteners have been handcuffed , put in isolation cells, or hit with paddles. Some are also more likely to be suspended, expelled, or even arrested in their schools. How will these students and their families feel when the possibility of getting shot gets added to the mix?
On a more pedestrian level, guns will change relationships between students and teachers. Even if the school policy clearly states that teachers would NEVER be allowed to use their gun in situations with students, the mere presence of the gun on a teachers’ hip would communicate otherwise. How much is a student — particularly a student from a marginalized population which already may not trust police or schools — supposed to trust a teacher who is carrying a gun? How will that constant underlying threat affect students’ abilities to learn?
Arming Teachers is a Lawsuit Waiting to Happen
Are any insurance companies going to be willing to insure schools where teachers carry guns? So far, the answer is no. Maybe we should listen to the actuaries.
Think of the lawsuits that will emerge from all of the situations I described above. If a student gets shot from an accidental discharge or other incident, or gets shot (or even threatened) by a teacher who felt the students’ behavior was threatening, schools could be facing years-long lawsuits and be on the hook for millions. Even in an active shooter situation, a child who gets shot in the crossfire by a poorly trained teacher could become a lawsuit for the teacher and the district. Teachers will not get the same leeway to shoot every time they “felt threatened” as police officers do — which is as it should be. Teachers will rightfully be held to a much hire professional standard than trained police officers, even though they will be in much more difficult situations with much less training.
Teachers should also be concerned about their own liability. We’re in an era where we get blamed or attacked if a student is failing or is subject to any accountability or disciplinary action. We’re constantly at risk of being accused of “bias.” Karen Parents can call and complain if we touch a child, take their phones or other property, threateningly shake our finger at them (this happened to me) or even look at them wrong. How long is it going to take for a teacher to get inaccurately accused of “threatening” a student with her gun? What protections will school districts our our unions have in place for us if and when this happens? It’s a serious question, but I’m trying not to laugh because past experience has already taught us how little support we can expect.
Active Shooter Situations
Some GGWAGs might say that the above risks and difficulties can be overcome, and might be worth it if it enables a teacher to stop a “bad guy” who comes in and tries to shoot up a school.
That is is extremely unlikely to ever happen. An FBI report found that there were only 4 times out of 67 cases they studied where an armed civilian managed to kill an active shooter, and none of those were within educational settings.
Handguns are no match for someone armed with an assault rifle. This is why School Resource Officers or Police Officers who encounter an active shooter almost always take cover and call for backup. This happened with the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL in 2018, and with the recent shooting at Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, TX a few days ago, where 19 police officers stood outside and scratched their balls for 78 minutes while terrified children trapped inside the building were calling 911 and asking them to please send in help. If trained officers cannot disable an active shooter with a handgun, what makes people think that teachers will be able to?
Active shooter situations are chaotic. People are screaming and running in different directions. It can be hard to know where shots are coming from, or if there are one or more shooters, as the shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, the shooting of a concert in Las Vegas and shootings in most schools, stores, and other public places have demonstrated. It can be difficult to find the shooter, let alone to get a clear enough shot to take him (almost always a “him”) out without endangering countless other people. This is why shooters are usually able to continue their deadly rampages even when security guards or police officers are on the scene. Responding to these types of situations usually requires specialized forces with extensive training. Thinking teachers with handguns will be able to accomplish what SWAT team members can’t — with minimal training, bargain-priced handguns and maybe a couple rounds of ammo — is a joke.
Adding more shooters to an active shooter situation often increases the chaos. More people shooting creates more risks of more casualties. People hear shots from multiple directions and don’t know which way to run. Victims often can’t tell who the active shooter is, who might be a possible defender, what is a real threat, and what is protection.
Then there’s the fact that arming teachers will put them at a greater risk. When the police do get around to coming into the school, how are they supposed to distinguish between a “bad guy” with a gun and armed teachers trying to defend their students? Making teachers respond to an active shooter situation with handguns increases the risk that they will get shot — either by the shooter or by the police. It also increases the risk that students could get shot in the crossfire.
In active shooter situations, the presence of more people with guns slows the police’s response times. GGWAGs always envision themselves heroically saving themselves, their families, and innocent bystanders with a perfectly-placed handgun shot. But case after case shows that when people with guns are actually in active shooter situations, they take cover and protect their own behinds, leaving everyone else to fend for themselves. Then police have to spend more time reviewing security camera footage and determining who is the threat and who is just defending themselves.
In an active shooter situation in a school, police (and other teachers) will need to contend with panicked teachers hunkering down in classrooms with their guns trained at the door, or with panicked teachers who might shoot anyone else they see with a gun. How will they distinguish between the armed threat and the armed defense? If we thought taking 90 minutes for Uvalde Police to secure the perimeter and actually enter the school was a ridiculously long response time, wait until we see how long it takes them to secure a school where teachers are armed. At the 2017 Walmart shooting in Thornton, CO, police spent 5 hours investigating security camera footage to sort through all the people with guns before they identified the threat and entered the building.
The idea that a couple teachers with cheap handguns and maybe half a PD day of training are going to stop one or more guys in body armor armed with assault rifles is a joke, and the people who make these arguments know it. Even they don’t take the argument seriously. The people who think that teachers are “traumatizing” children with the Fox News-fabricated “Critical Race Theory” (CRT) or that we’re “grooming” students to be gay by reading a book about a baby penguin with two dads definitely won’t trust a bunch of female teachers who they don’t trust to responsibly manage their own uteruses to carry guns.
The goal here is to do what Republicans always do and suck people into endless debates that go nowhere until the media frenzy blows over and they can go back to their real goal of doing nothing except maybe sending a few thoughts and prayers. Get everyone to go down rabbit holes arguing about the supposed merits of arming teachers, or “hardening” schools by building fences around them and having one point of entry (this was already the case at Robb Elementary in Uvalde and it didn’t help). Make people with PhDs spend an entire day writing articles that refute their spurious points. Suck the air out of the room until there is no space left for the victims’ grief or for any substantive discussions.
Their sole purpose is to create a diversion argument that will allow them to keep their favorite toys. Guns are one of the foundations of toxic men’s identities that are centered around dominionism, violence, and power. They don’t care how many children’s lives need to be sacrificed as long as their “freedom” to exercise control over others remains unfettered. Everything else is just noise meant to distract us from that fact.