Should Virginia permit public school teachers to be armed?
Arming teachers isn’t the answer for having safer schools
Kiser is president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and superintendent of Gloucester County Public Schools.
Providing a safe environment for teaching and learning in all schools is paramount to school boards, superintendents and other educators. In the wake of another tragic school shooting, in Newtown, Conn., educators have reviewed emergency protocols, resources, facilities and awareness levels of all personnel.
A natural reaction to such senseless tragedy is to suggest that this violence can be thwarted or minimized by having armed personnel in schools. This strategy, though not new, can be one component of a comprehensive plan to ensure that all schools are safe. School resource officers (trained law enforcement personnel) have been part of public schools for several years. We know, however, that this is not the complete solution. Columbine High School, the site of one of the nation’s first tragic school shootings, had armed personnel in the building at the time of the mass shooting. Clearly the arming of teachers or other school personnel will require much deliberation before this strategy should be embraced.
Instead of a quick solution that may be expedient, a broader conversation needs to occur that includes strategies to help educators truly provide safe places for teaching and learning on a daily basis. While arming teachers may be a comfort to some, many parents who have children in schools will feel less safe knowing that personnel other than well-trained law enforcement may have guns in their possession. As schools are places for teaching and learning, and not imprisonment, providing support for children and families that includes mental, social, physical and academic responses is imperative. This includes having an adequate number of teachers, support personnel, school administrators, counselors and mental health personnel to assist children and families on a daily basis. Educators are balancing quality programs that address many needs in an environment of diminishing resources. School boards are making difficult decisions with limited resources in an environment where the denigration of public education is often more frequent than support.
Neither federal nor state funds are available to enhance school security, including school construction and the renovation of old buildings with obvious and glaring needs. Resources for school security and capital improvements must be supported by localities primarily through property tax revenue. School districts need financial support to address a plethora of facility deficiencies, including broad-based communication systems to allow staff to quickly communicate with personnel in the face of violence and emergencies.
While sensitivities are acute due to the recent violence, a broader conversation should be initiated that may include having additional well-trained law enforcement personnel in all schools. The caveat is that supporting this one strategy only may be perceived as the “fix” and policymakers, over time, will move on to other urgent matters and not consider a comprehensive approach, until it might be too late again.
Time to consider allowing school personnel to carry firearms
Adams is the legislative committee chairman and a past president of the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, the state affiliate association of the National Rifle Association. He served as assistant secretary of education and deputy secretary of education for higher education during Gov. Jim Gilmore’s administration.
Much has been said about how to prevent another shooting like the one that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Unfortunately, most of what is being suggested is focused on firearm restrictions, none of which would have prevented the shooting had they been in place. However, there are two proposals that do merit consideration.
National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre has suggested there should be an armed security officer in every school. There are currently 22,000 schools around the country that use some form of armed security, whether it is a school resource officer or other armed security. It is hard to see why this was so controversial. The only conclusion I can draw is because it came from the NRA.
Gov. Bob McDonnell was the first high-profile official to suggest allowing school personnel to be armed. Critics say it would only add danger to the classroom while distracting teachers from their job of educating children. There is evidence the opposite is true.
In a 2009 Connecticut Law Review article titled “Pretend ‘Gun-free’ School Zones: A Deadly Legal Fiction,” Independence Institute Research Director Dave Kopel looked at the policy issues related to “gun-free” schools and incidents where a lawfully armed individual had stopped an attempted mass murder. In Utah, anyone with a concealed handgun permit may carry at all K–12 public schools as well as on any of the nine campuses in the Utah state college system, including in dormitories. Kopel found that Utah disproves all of the suggestions that allowing teachers to carry in schools would be unsafe. The policy has been in effect for almost 20 years and there have never been any problems caused by armed teachers.
A lot of teachers in Ohio and Texas apparently agree this is an idea whose time has come. After offering free training, the Buckeye Firearms Association received applications from 900 school employees. Of those applicants, 73 percent were teachers, with 10 percent of those being kindergarten teachers. In Texas, 400 teachers immediately filed for a free concealed handgun course, forcing the instructors to add another class. Just days after the Newtown shooting, 200 teachers took advantage of free courses in Utah.
No one is suggesting that we force teachers to be armed. In fact, if places like Ohio, Texas and Utah are an indication, it’s possible that if more teachers had the ability to carry on the job, they would likely do so.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine referred to teachers as “first responders.” Given that a single security officer could be dealt with by a mass killer, doesn’t it make sense to have a second line of defense to protect our children?