OP-ED: Arming teachers is a terrible idea
By Michael Franzen
A few days ago, President Trump outlined a proposal to arm teachers as part of plan to help protect schools against a mass shooter. He clarified he didn’t mean putting guns in the hands of just any teacher, only those with expertise such as prior military service. It felt like he was speaking directly to me, as I am such a person. As both a veteran teacher and firearms expert, I can unequivocally say that arming teachers is a terrible idea.
Here is a little bit on my qualifications. I began shooting at about the age of five with my father (I’ll take his word for it, as I cannot remember a time before shooting). He purchased a small pistol for the task, as most firearms would have been too big. Like millions of other Americans, “shooting with dad” became a regular and cherished pastime. As I grew older I advanced to higher-powered firearms when dad felt I could safely handle them. At thirteen I earned both the rifle and shotgun shooting merit badges through the Boy Scouts. At nineteen I enlisted in the Marines, where I learned to shoot, maintain, and disassemble/reassemble the M-16 (the military version of an AR-15), the M9 pistol, and several different machine guns. At the shooting range I qualified “Expert” in marksmanship (the highest rank) for both the rifle and pistol, something only a small fraction of Marines does. Between military and civilian experiences, I estimate I have shot at least three dozen different firearms.
When I turned twenty-one I applied for a Washington State concealed weapons permit, which entitles me to carry a concealed pistol almost anywhere in the state. I have held that permit for the last two decades. When I was twenty-six I graduated from a Police Department Community Services Officer academy (badge #72) where among other things I was trained in threat assessments and the responses. In the line of duty, I saw the tragic effects of what firearms do to people and their families. When I was thirty-three I earned my teaching degree and teaching certificate. I have been a full-time teacher in Washington for the last nine years and taught students ranging in age from kindergarten through high school.
When someone says teachers should have guns, they are probably only thinking about the exact moment of the tragedy, and not every other moment. If someone attacked my school yes, I would absolutely wish I was armed to give me the best chance at stopping the bad guy. However, you don’t get to that single moment of being the good guy with a gun without the thousands of ordinary moments that happen before or after. Even in that moment of a school shooting, you cannot always tell the good guys from the bad. An armed teacher can mean tragedy if police attempt to enter a classroom without first identifying themselves (which happened to a colleague of mine during a recent lockdown). If I had been an armed teacher in that classroom, it is quite possible I would have misidentified an officer as an assailant and attempted to shoot and kill them to protect my students, and would have been killed myself by the other officers, as they would in turn mistakenly assume I was the bad guy.
When everyone is armed, a simple mistake like forgetting to say, “it’s the police” as you enter a darkened room with guns drawn could easily result in children witnessing their teacher and a police officer getting shot to death in front of them.
The day-to-day arming of teachers carries many dangers. A teacher keeping a gun concealed from everyone right up until they need it is a myth. Students are very observant; they notice when I’ve had a haircut more often than my wife does. I once had a student notice when I switched brands of deodorant! If one student knows, they will all know. Smaller firearms are more easily hidden, but that isn’t truly an option. A pistol is no match to an AR-15 in range, accuracy, stopping power, or ammunition capacity; shrinking the pistol to improve concealment widens that gap. The chances of keeping concealed a firearm that would have a prayer of stopping the Sandy Hook, Columbine, or Parkland shooter is practically zero. Additionally, I have taught students that had relatives shot to death (sometimes in front of them), that were kidnapped and held at gunpoint, or were friends with a student that committed suicide with a gun. Being a good teacher requires you to build positive relationships; what kind of relationship do you think is possible if students know I wear a weapon like the one that horribly changed their lives forever?
Aside from concealment, responsibly carrying a gun means preventing accidents. In a room full of children, the most likely accident is a student getting the gun. I have worked at schools that have armed security and at least once a student attempted to grab the officer’s gun. It is inconvenient to have your keys or cellphone stolen; it can be deadly if it’s your firearm. Yes, that can be mitigated but doing so requires significant focus on gun safety which does nothing to help educate kids, a teacher’s primary job. Just like texting and driving is a recipe for disaster, you cannot effectively teach diverse groups of students while simultaneously adhering to firearm safety protocols.
If somehow you magically get past those dangers, arming teachers is still a terrible idea. Many times, a school shooter is a current or former student. What would the classroom environment be like if I had to prepare for possibly shooting and killing a student? Getting shot by a family member is more common than dying from a school shooter, but who brings a gun to Christmas or Thanksgiving so they can kill their uncle if necessary? Yes, I’m sure there are lessons to address the issue with students but again, that does nothing to improve perpetually sagging state test scores. Professional development is critical for teachers to acquire and maintain necessary skills. While my colleagues are learning how to teach reading for students with dyslexia or on the warning signs of neglect and abuse, is it appropriate for me to be at a shooting range, preparing to kill a rouge student if the need arises?
President Trump often says he “hires the best”, presumably to listen to their expertise. Please listen to this expert and focus on other ideas to keep students safe.
Seattle Public Schools teacher
Well said. Arming teachers is truly a terrible idea. We've already had multiple incidents with a negligent discharge involving a police officer in the classroom doing some type of "safety demonstration". In one of them, the officer didn't even realize a child had his hand down the holster until the kid pulled the trigger. In another it was actually the officer who accidentally fired the gun. Arming teachers will exponentially increase the number of such accidents, with no reasonable return on thwarted attacks.