Teachers with guns is a crazy idea

— February 18, 2014

Kerry Drake

I went to college with a strong law enforcement program, so there were always a lot of cops on campus. Not all of them carried guns, but some did.

It did not make me feel safer. One day in the cafeteria, an officer who was more Barney Fife than Wyatt Earp dropped his gun in the middle of a group of students enjoying lunch. It didn’t go off, but it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario where the incident might be repeated with disastrous results.

Several of us on the staff of the college paper began a campaign to ban anyone, including student law enforcement officers, from carrying guns on campus. We weren’t anti-cop, just pro-safety. It didn’t make sense to us to have a lot of people carrying weapons among us, no matter how well trained, because accidents happen and we didn’t want anyone shot because of a stupid policy.

We didn’t get anywhere trying to convince the college administration, which apparently didn’t want to upset the local police, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen who were students. They trusted them to conduct themselves in a safe manner. But eventually, views about guns at colleges and schools changed, and gun-free zones were created.

For the first time in years I thought about this last week when the Wyoming House overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow school employees and volunteers with concealed weapons permits to possess guns in schools. As in several other states, it was a reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down by a mentally unstable young man who was armed to the teeth.

This was the same answer the National Rifle Association came up with after Sandy Hook: arm the teachers and principals. It was as simple as the good guys taking out the bad guys, according to NRA leaders, who make the same pronouncement after every massacre: If everyone had a gun, some hero would expertly shoot the gunman no matter how panicked everyone was at the scene.

It was the same argument that gun advocates made after the shootings at an Aurora, Colo., theater: If many in the audience that night were armed, there would have been instant justice for the killer. Never mind that smoke bombs were set off and scores of terrified people of all ages were running in different directions to save their lives, someone in the audience would pull out the weapon they’ve been carrying just for this purpose and dispatch the evil-doer.

Yes, the NRA fantasy goes, we can all be Wyatt Earp.

I can’t imagine how much higher the body count would have been in Aurora if everyone just opened fire, but I think it’s safe to say that even more innocent people would have been killed or wounded.

It boggles my mind when the NRA responds to these tragedies by railing against any type of gun restriction or background check, because everyone supposedly has the right to carry military-type weapons that can shoot hundreds of rounds in an extremely short period of time. When someone takes those weapons that the government makes so easy to possess and kills a large number of people, the NRA says you can’t stop the crazies, you can only try to mow them down before they inflict more damage. Eliminating or restricting weapons used to kill victims isn’t the answer, according to the organization, just put more guns in the hands of the right people and everything will turn out fine.

It reminds me of when Archie Bunker came up with his famous solution to end hijacking: arm all the passengers. It was a funny line in the ’70s, but when it’s proposed as a real answer, it’s shows how scary life in the 21st century has become.

House Bill 111 passed introduction 54-6, and was approved 6-3 by the House Education Committee. I have no doubt it will pass by a wide margin this week and move on to the Senate, which will likely take the same action because in this gun culture, weapons are seen as the only way to handle things. Legislators won’t listen to one of their own, Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), who told her colleagues she’s heard from teachers who say they will quit if guns are allowed in their schools, and parents who say they will take their kids out of public schools.

They won’t listen to Kathy Vetter, head of the Wyoming Education Association, who reminded the committee even school employees who have gone through the firearms training required under the bill won’t know exactly how to respond to a shooting situation in their schools.

And they won’t even listen to Anthony Bouchard, executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, who says if the decision about who can carry weapons is left up to school boards, it will create a crazy patchwork of rules in different school districts that will be difficult to enforce. His opposition to HB 111 is based on his belief everyone who wants to should be allowed to carry guns anywhere.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne), said, “I think in a classroom situation, a teacher with a sidearm strapped might be intimidating.” Yes, indeed it would. Does anyone care about how the students feel, and that this is teaching them the only answer to violence is more violence?

Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy, after the Sandy Hook murders in his state, emphatically said guns don’t belong in schools. “More guns are not the answer,” the governor said. “Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.”

As all parents know, kids are curious. How long will it be before a teacher leaves a loaded weapon where a student will find it and accidentally injure or kill a classmate?

“We’ve had people people drop their guns right here in Cheyenne in businesses and people have been hurt,” Vetter said.

What happens when 9-year-old Johnny brings a gun to school and, since he’s having a bad day, pulls it on his fellow students? Does the teacher just whip out his or her pistol and shoot to kill? What if the “weapon” being brandished is actually a toy gun, but a school employee or volunteer with an itchy trigger finger can’t tell if it’s real?

Many states are responding differently to mass shootings at schools. South Dakota became the first state in the nation last year to allow teachers to have guns, but Colorado lawmakers killed a similar bill earlier this month. Denver’s Channel 7 News reported the victim of a 2010 drive-by shooting in front of Aurora Central High testified against the measure.

“One moment I was standing there talking to my friends, the next moment I was unable to move,” she recalled. “If a teacher was there with a gun not knowing who was responsible for the shooting, there easily could have been more injuries or fatalities.”

A majority of teachers don’t even want to carry guns. A January poll by the National Education Association found more than two-thirds of teachers opposed the idea. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called such state bills just “a marketing opportunity” for the gun industry.

Since Wyoming is now actively recruiting gun manufacturers to set up shop here, HB 111 means they won’t even have to market their wares out of state. Maybe they will just go to Parent-Teacher Night and pass them out like cupcakes.

Here’s an idea: If Wyoming lawmakers approve this bill, they should pass a companion measure that says guns are allowed at the Legislature, where they are currently banned. Yes, what could be a better recognition of how guns protect us than to see every lawmaker, lobbyist, journalist and visitor in the gallery packing heat?

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is editor-in-chief of the nonprofit, online community newspaper, The Casper Citizen. He also moderates the WyPols blog.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Kerry Drake

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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21 Comments

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  1. Folks, I know its hard, but try to keep things in perspective. Utah allows anyone with a permit to carry in their schools and they have not had any problems. There is no reason to believe Wyoming is any different.

    On the flip side, very few non LE/Military people who carry stop mass shootings. These events are rare and the chances of an armed individual being in the right place at the right time with the capacity to stop something are almost nonexistent.

    These are the facts. Do I think it should be allowed? Yes I do. Would I conceal carry on school grounds? No, probably not, to much hassle. Maybe if I was a teacher.

    Food for thought: I keep a gun in my truck, so every time I come withing 1000 feet of a school I break federal law. Am I a bad guy? Do I deserve prison? What if I forgot to take it out of my pocket while watching my kid brothers basketball game? What if there are teachers and principles who, like me, know what the law and figure its worth the risk? Should they go to prison.

  2. Hmm. Several points to make here.

    As a teacher and gun enthusiast, I have to tell my gun-loving brethren: arming teachers is little more than gun ideology run amok. It has very little to do with actually keeping kids safe and would in fact do the opposite.

    First, a kid’s chances of dying via firearm at school is roughly 1 in 2.5 million (CDC, 2012). Obviously, mass shootings generate publicity and scare everyone. But on a day-to-day basis, a child is much more likely to die AT HOME via a gun than at school. And the vast majority of school shootings involve one or two specific targets, not mass slaughter (CDC again).

    Second, I’m a pretty good plinker with a .357 and semi-auto 9mm (not to mention the AR-15), but that’s because paper targets and bottles aren’t shooting back. The idea that a concealed carry permit magically endows me with the ability to perform in a shootout is ludicrous.

    Third, I wear a shirt and tie but no sport coat. If I’m to carry a gun in my classroom, am I to just strap it to my hip? That’s one approach to classroom management, I suppose, but I prefer a classroom in which the threat of death isn’t part of the daily routine.

    Fourth, the ultimate goal should be to *prevent* gun violence at school. To that end, let’s talk metal detectors and putting more SRO’s in schools, even the rural ones. Leave the firepower and training to law enforcement.

  3. Dewey V, I really enjoy reading your comments even when they’re long, because you make a ton more sense than many of the other commenters. I appreciate your voice. Thank you for sharing your sanity in this often insane state.

  4. RBD—not pickong on you . But since I have your attention , let me ask you something. Can you name a single Right spelled out in the Constitution that is not regulated ?

    No, you cannot, because there are not any . The Constitution and the Second Amendment are just frameworks, not laws. Certainly not absolutes. They point in a direction and broadbrush the desired philosophical intention , but that means rules and regulations are required to make it so and give us all the actual codified parameters to live by. And boundaries.

    Your ” liberal entitlement society” notion is just bumpersticker bombast.

    I opine from the experiential stance that guns create a heckuva lot more problems than they solve. I’m heartened you agree that armed teachers in the classroom is not the best idea.

  5. Crazy is a gross understatement,,
    Are the schools willing to take responsibility for the outcome? Purchase liability insurance, get parents approval?
    Certifiably insane would be more appropriate, take guns out of the hands of the certifiably insane would work so much better!!!

  6. Geez Dewey, you used about every bipolar word I have ever heard…..

    Let me break it down for you. I’m not a member of NRA, I am not a sociopath, no bipolar issues, no anti social issues, etc. I am simply tired of the liberal entitlement society taking yet another one of my rights away from me in the name of the common good. I am simply tired of people thinking they need the government to take care of me and taking away another of my rights. It is my right to carry a firearm – in a responsible manner – and while it may not be the best idea having teachers armed in the classroom, it certainly better than the alternative we have at the moment – defenseless children at the mercy of a real sociopath………

  7. Ready, Shoot, Aim.
    The NRA has twisted the minds of its members to an ” All Guns All The Time ” mindset based on an absolute right to own , possess, carry and even use a firearm at will, willy nilly… a right of demand not enjoyed by any other instrument made by man. It is absolutism , authoritarianism, a severely bipolar form of anarchy. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that mass casualty shooters have an extreme case of sociopathy or a mental illness which makes them do what they do. Nobody talks much about the obsessive compulsive neuroses of rabid gun rights advocate, though . We all know that guy. He/she has a reverse sociopathy and a mental illness— a perverse desire for projectile weaponry to compensate for their own percieved insecurity real or imagined, cloaked in the garb of ” I’m a responsible gun owner ” with the NRA patch on their breast . They can be truely fine folk, right up to the moment they snap and release the safety on their AR-15 or Glock. Yup. We all know that person . It’s the ones we don’t know that multiply our anxieties to the point of proposing equally but oppositely insane solutions to situations that have no real solutions. Arming school teachers is just methadone for gun junkies. Doesn’t cure the addiction , just replaces it with a less harmful substance. There is no sharp line between a psychopathic or sociopathic shooter and the responsible gun owner. It’s a wide twilight zone where legislation, policy, and law enforcement do not work well before or even during an incident.

    Public gun safety definitely has a mental illness component. but it is not the exclusive province of the malevolent shooters. We really need to delve into why Americans have such a perverse fascination with guns in the first place, so much so that we have hundreds of millions of them available. In absolution.

    Where is that ” well regulated militia ” again that the Second Amendment profuses. ? Regulated. REGULATED.

    Here’s another scenario already being applied and working well. The Cody schools have had a fulltime armed Cody PD police officer staffed for years. It’s a paid partnership between the City of Cody and School District 6. I think his job title is ” School Safety Officer” or something. He’s usually based at the High School but works all five schoolhouses, which are less than a 3 minute drive away. He’s also on call for any urgent city police work as needed if something goes south, and the local PD is trained to intervene in the schools as needed. At any given moment we have 3 police officer on shift. The school officer is the fourth . He’s not there first and foremost to prevent mass casualty shooters post-Columbine, although that may have been the catalyst. . His job instead is to build respect for the law and be a community service person, and by each and every account I have heard, that officer is welcome by all. He IS the well regulated militia, of a sort that did not exist anywhere in 1789 America.

    Having said that , I would not have wanted my 10th grade American Literature teacher keeping a loaded piece in her desk.

  8. We protect our money with guns. Why can we not protect our kids with the same amount of force??? If you do not like guns or gun culture, LEAVE WYOMInG… Cuomo can say 2nd amendment supports are not welcome in NY. Liberals are not welcome in Wyoming. Go back to California or leave the BS at the state line.

  9. This article is full of emotion & confusion, as are some comments. Hint to Mr. Drake: modern pistols do not discharge if dropped.

    Just as extremely few police officers are ever involved in gun battles, extremely few non-cops who carry concealed weapons will ever confront armed adversaries.

    Evidence abounds that even the crazies who attack schools (or other public places) still calculate their odds of body-count fame based on the potential to be confronted by someone with a gun. No one planning body-count fame attacks a police station–they choose places filled with defenseless targets, and Mr. Drake seems to prefer the existence of as many of these places as possible.

    Schools need not be filled with teachers concealing handguns, nor do armed teachers need to be trained to the level of elite counter-terrorism agents. All that is required is that the prohibitions be eliminated and those who do choose to accept the burden of carrying a gun be fully aware of the obvious responsibility of doing so. Paradoxically, simply the possible presence of an armed victim alters the calculus of infamy-seeking people who intend to ignore laws against murder, much less “gun free school zones.”

    Logic, however, does not matter in this debate. We are now a nation of timid children, frightened of our neighbors and ever desirous of the illusion of safety instead of accepting personal responsibility in ourselves another others.

  10. “What happens when 9-year-old Johnny brings a gun to school and, since he’s having a bad day, pulls it on his fellow students? Does the teacher just whip out his or her pistol and shoot to kill?”

    I pray that he or she will. If it is the difference between my kid living and dying, yes, I would hope the teacher would make the decision to save the other 20 kids in his/her class vs letting the 9 year old kill most of the class.

    While Mr. Drake rants about the NRA and their positions, he uses the same tactics by using liberally biased data points and opinions of other liberal biased entities to push his own liberal agenda. Guns, cars, bombs, knives, compound bows……..when somebody is deranged, they will kill no matter what laws or regulations you and the entitlement society want to impose.

  11. Legalizing guns in schools is ludicrous. What we’ll end up with is “shoot first; ask later” mentality. If this passes, I’ll never go into another Wyoming school unless dressed in a bikini so all anyone will ever see is how how bad taste translates into safety first.

  12. Sorry you don’t trust are teacher’s to protect are children , but someone has to ,we can’t expect police to be there in an instant when teachers are already there . they should not be required to carry but if they wish to I believe the risk is less than the possible consequence . I own a couple of firearms but rarely carry because I don’t feel threatened , if our teachers want to carry we should train them and hope they never have to use the training just as law enforcement personnel hope they never have to use there training ,” better safe than sorry ” and yes accidents can happen but being prepared can lesson the effect .- remember we are talking about our future – [our children] .

  13. Insanity and hopeful thinking is that police can prevent all massacres in “gun free” zones.
    1. There is no such thing as a “gun free” zone. Someone will always have one (I’d rather it be a “good, law abiding, well-trained” citizen or, ideally, a police officer. To think otherwise is idealistic and wishful.
    2. Given that there are no “gun free” zones, a psychopath with a gun can realistically only be stopped by a “good guy” (on scene) with a gun. So well-regulated “concealed carry” is rational.
    3. This gives innocents a chance to fight back and live.
    Right now, school employees have only sticks and small knives in a gun fight. Unacceptable for your kids and mine.
    Given an imperfect world and the natural right to defend oneself against mayhem and annihilation (2nd amendment… read John Locke)
    Perishable skills or not, we are not talking finesse in defending oneself, but ABILITY. Training may not be perfect but can be kept minimally up-to-date by requals each year (ridiculous claim by Robert Hoskins above). Officers are only required to requal yearly on their service weapons (department policy varies here).
    Please stop the arguments against defending schools and our children from insane people with guns. It’s a non-starter.

  14. Mr. Drake,
    “I can’t imagine how much higher the body count would have been in Aurora if everyone just opened fire, but I think it’s safe to say that even more innocent people would have been killed or wounded.”
    I can imagine how the body count would be non-existent if this theater had not been a “gun-free”, zone.
    “So why did the killer pick the Cinemark theater? You might think that it was the one closest to the killer’s apartment. Or, that it was the one with the largest audience.

    Yet, neither explanation is right. Instead, out of all the movie theaters within 20 minutes of his apartment showing the new Batman movie that night, it was the only one where guns were banned.

    Most movie theaters allow permit holders carrying guns. But the Cinemark movie theater was the only one with a sign posted at the theater’s entrance.

  15. Your right Drake– let them sit locked in class rooms to cower and die with no chance or respect—- This is Wyoming not europe- we protect what we care for. The teacher nor kids should be asked to waive their inalienable rights— When you figure out how to stop the mayhem we can reverse the policy– meantime let them have a chance—

  16. As a professional soldier trained and experienced in close quarters combat, I agree with Kerry. The ability to function successfully in a firefight comes from intense, long-term training. The idea that teachers can go through a short firearms and tactics course and respond appropriately to a mass shooting or threat of one is simply willfully ignorant ideological nonsense. It takes a lot of work and practice to maintain the edge. Teachers will never have the time. They barely have time enough to teach. Where are they going to find time to be reserve members of the local SWAT?

    The causes and problems of gun violence are rooted in the complete cultural, economic, and social dysfunctions that characterizes this country, brought to us largely by corporate, consumerist America. Civil society, the body politic, the common interest, are all in terminal decline. Short term fixes to gun violence, arming teachers or increasing firearms regulation or turning schools into police barracks won’t solve anything.

    RH

  17. Hey, great idea! Let’s just have all the criminals check in their guns to the local law officers and we won’t have to worry about school shootings or theater shootings, or mall shootings anymore.

  18. I have a 12-year-old girl in Middle School. Our schools, like most I assume, now do lock-down drills – a sad commentary in itself. She describes several teachers that, during lock downs, will grab some makeshift “weapon” and hide behind the door, opting to be a teacher that would rather die protecting their students than cower and pray for a positive outcome.

    Her teachers are limited to defensive weapons like chairs, Exacto knives, and dowel rods.

    I don’t expect every teacher to have the desire, knowledge or ability to carry a weapon in school, and those that do I would expect be held to a high level of responsibility with a gun in the classroom. That said, for those teachers that don’t want themselves or their children – MY child – to be at the mercy of some psychopath with a gun and a vendetta, I’d rather give them effective tools of protection instead of hope and a heavy biology book.

  19. It’s a battle of worldviews, ideology vs practicality, theory vs reality. The belief that gun violence can be stopped with more guns reminds me of the aphorism “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Rather than looking at the world around us and seeing reality, ie. that creating a culture of nonviolence reduces violence, we want to live in a theoretical reality, based on untested ideology, that fear of violence reduces violence.

  20. Great piece, Kerry. This bill simply shows how the NRA has much of the legislature in thrall. Legislators, to avoid primary challenges from even more extreme whackadoodles, will support stupid bills. This is simply an exercise in ideological purity, and common sense suffers as a result.
    Legislators are also historically ignorant. In the glory days of the Old West, when every man was packing a sidearm, communities like Dodge City and Tombstone passed laws requiring guns to be checked in with law officers — NOT carried into bars. Our great-grandfathers had more sense than we do today.