When I first heard, approximately one day after the Newtown shooting, about the proposition to arm teachers, I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a knee-jerk reaction to the tragedy. Now, more than 30 states are considering legislation to allow teachers to carry weapons in schools. South Dakota has already passed a law allowing teachers and other school personnel to become “sentinels” by carrying a gun. They have to pass certain requirements and the law graciously says that a disinclination to pack weaponry is not grounds for dismissal, nor can it be a reason not to hire someone; people may choose to become school sentinels. They don’t call it the Badlands for nothing.
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As an educator for 23 years at both the middle school and elementary level, the idea seems ludicrous and ineffective to me. There are no secret places in a classroom, especially an elementary classroom, with 30 active, curious people all sharing the same space for hours a day. It’s just not possible to keep a gun and ammunition away from the prying eyes and fingers of 30 children in a classroom.
Let’s suppose, however, that someone built a secret, completely childproof place to conceal a weapon in a classroom. I doubt seriously if there is anything completely child-proof on the planet. But, just supposing of course, you have a secret, safe place for a weapon. Most likely, there will be some kind of law that will make it mandatory, for safety, to keep the weapon and the ammunition in separate places, so you would need two childproof secret places.
If a gun is kept in one part of the classroom and the ammunition is kept in another, what happens when a bad guy shows up? While you are hunting for the gun and the ammo and trying to load the weapon, you could have been moving your students to a more protected area, like a bathroom or a closet. You could have done something to slow the shooter, like locking the door and turning out the lights. Students are a teacher’s primary responsibility; not bagging a bad guy. Better to have a “what-if” plan where you’ve thought out the options and practiced them instead of relying on a shootout in front of 30 terrified witnesses.
As a grandparent, I would not feel one bit safer knowing that my granddaughter’s teacher was packing. I might feel safer if I knew it was very difficult for anyone to get to the students. An armed and trained security person outside the school monitoring all incoming people might make me breathe easier, but a pistol-packing teacher searching for ammunition wouldn’t raise my comfort level.
My opinion has nothing to do with the ability of teachers as gunslingers or guardians, because teachers are capable beings. It has everything to do with what I view as a teacher’s job and the overall safety of the classroom. I would worry more about a snoopy 7-year-old finding a weapon or ammunition than about the possibility of a nutcase coming in to shoot up the school. I would worry more about a teacher having to focus on shooting such a nutcase instead of focusing on teaching students and protecting them. A shootout at school doesn’t sound like protection to me — it sounds more like Armageddon.
Wendy Schultz is a staff writer and columnist for the Mountain Democrat. Her column appears bi-weekly.