In the Wake of Tragedy, Should Schools Have Armed Personnel on Campus?

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The national debate about gun-control laws was re-ignited following last week’s tragic Newtown, Conn. school shooting, with proponents of both sides taking their issues to the airwaves, social media and the streets of Washington, D.C.

While some of the proposed legislative changes are centered on new restrictions – such as limiting ammunition clip sizes, instituting a national assault weapons ban and tightening regulations for secondhand market sales – many politicians, organizations and advocacy groups believe that gun control itself is partly responsible for last week’s shootings. 

Photo by Seth Tisue via Flickr.Two days after the shooting, William Bennett, who served as education secretary during the Reagan administration, said the tragedy could have possibly been averted had administrators been armed. “I’m not so sure I wouldn’t want one person in a school armed, ready for this kind of thing,” he said Sunday on “Meet the Press.”

“It has to be someone who’s trained, responsible,” he continued. “But my god, if you can prevent this kind of thing, I think you ought to.”  

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.) made a similar statement during a Fox News broadcast, suggesting that Sandy Hook Elementary School principal Dawn Hochsprung - one of 26 people killed in the rampage - could have prevented fatalities had she been armed. 

“I wish to God she had an M-4 in her office,” Gohmert said. “Locked up, so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out; and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, and takes him out, and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.”

Dennis Baxley, a Republican state representative from Florida, told the Sarasota Herald Tribune that “overzealous” gun laws have inadvertently turned children into targets.

“If you prepare ordinary people to take responsibility for stopping violence, they do. Otherwise we’re just creating more vulnerability,” Baxley said. “I know that it’s very foreign to people that live in a more left and urbanized culture to see how that works, but in fact it does work.” 

In Minnesota, state Rep. Tony Cornish proposed state legislation allowing instructors to carry handguns in the classroom. “Even an armed security or an armed cop doesn’t do a lot of good if they get by him or her,” he told the St. Paul, Minn. CBS affiliate. “So, I think the best defense is a teacher.”

State representatives from Oklahoma and North Dakota have also proposed similar legislation in the aftermath of the shootings.

While the National Rifle Association remained silent until four days after the massacre occurred – going so far as to delete their Facebook page just hours after the shooting - several smaller advocacy groups have made public remarks, with several echoing the call to arm school personnel. 

Gun Owners of America Executive Director Larry Pratt released a statement the day after the shooting, stating that “blood is on the hands of members of Congress and the Connecticut legislators who voted to ban guns from all schools in Connecticut.”

He believes that laws stemming from the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 - which make it illegal for individuals to bring firearm onto school property - give shooters “defenseless” targets. 

“Hopefully the Connecticut tragedy will be the tipping point after which a rising chorus of Americans will demand elimination of the Gun-Free Zone laws that are in fact criminal safe zones,” he said. 

Pratt made similar statements in a heated interview with Piers Morgan on CNN, adding that gun laws promote violence and that other countries that have banned guns have not witnessed any change in the level of violent crime. Morgan disagreed.

“You’re an unbelievably stupid man, aren’t you,” Morgan said.

“It seems to me you are morally obtuse.” Pratt shot back. “You seem to prefer being a victim to being able to prevail over the criminal element.” 

Similarly, Illinois State Rifle Association president Richard Pearson told the Chicago Sun-Times he believes “gun-free zones” are likelier to be sites of mass shootings. “We have a gun-free zone around a school,” he said. “Every crazy person knows that. And so, the gun-free zone is like a magnet for the lunatics. He or she knows there won’t be any resistance there.” 

Numerous educators and analysts, however, have criticized the prospect of arming teachers and administrators.

American Federations of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten believes arming teachers is an unviable, and potentially dangerous, idea. 

"Schools have to be safe sanctuaries," she said on “Meet the Press.” “And so we need to actually stop this routine view that just having more guns will actually make people safer.”

Weingarten, alongside David Hecker, president of AFT Michigan, both signed an open letter to Gov. Rick Snyder, asking him to veto a proposed bill that would allow teachers and other personnel to carry firearms into Michigan schools. 

“Permitting firearms in schools — visible or concealed — enables a dangerous set of circumstances that can result in similar tragic outcomes,” the open letter read. “We should be doing everything we can to reduce the possibility of any gunfire in schools, and concentrate on ways to keep all guns off school property and ensure the safety of children and school employees.” 

Illinois Education Association spokesman Charlie McBarron slammed the idea as well. “It’s hard to understand how a sane person could make that serious suggestion,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s ridiculous to think bringing guns into a school or classroom would somehow make that area safer.”

Paul Fennewald of the Missouri Center for Education Safety also has qualms with the idea.

“If you’re going to have [firearms in classrooms] totally locked up,” he told the St. Louis Beacon,“how quickly could you get it? Unless you have it on your person, ready to use at a moment’s notice, how much difference would you make?”

If legislators authorized armed personnel in schools, not only would they require extensive training, but continued training on par with law enforcement officials, he said. 

“You would be giving them the same authority to make life-and-death decisions in a fraction of a second as law enforcement officers, and they have strict requirements,” he said. 

“You would have to do the same thing with educators.”

Photo by Seth Tisue via Flickr.