By the squall staff
It is a sad reality that what was once shocking and nauseating has now, after multiple occurrences, become accepted as the new normal. Eliciting thoughts and prayers to the point where the very words have become cliché and treated cynically by the public, mass shootings are as frequent and readily forgotten as Nicolas Cage B-movies. After years of inaction, it appears gun manufacturers and groups like the NRA have become the true boogeymen of Washington, with congressmen sweating in their ill-fitting suits whenever hearsay of gun control is uttered in close enough proximity.
What does not seem to make lawmakers uncomfortable, however, is the placement of even more firearms in our schools at a time when we could do with far less of them. From Donald Trump all the way down to your friendly neighborhood militiaman, arming teachers with guns has become quite the enticing prospect, fitting quite nicely into the “good guy with a gun beats the bad guy with a gun mentality” purported by the NRA and the gun lobby. Talk of arming teachers is certainly a good PR stunt in times of lagging gun sales, but can it ever be more than that? If the time comes, and arming teachers becomes reality, would it actually keep us safe? Unfortunately, for those of us who would have to deal with the effects, unnecessarily placing more guns in schools and into the hands of teachers doesn’t just lead to headaches and annoyances, but also to unneeded tragedy and recklessness.
The first problem that should be instantly recognizable to anyone who has any experience in public education in the U.S. is that of legal liability. The issue is just what exactly the school is condoning when it hands a teacher a gun, and what the consequences are if policy guidelines are not met. When a gun is handed to a teacher, it comes with a heavily implied expected outcome: you will have to potentially shoot your students. This differs from our current situation, where instead of teachers being delegated to the role of defenders, they too are the victims. The main problem with the flipping of these roles lies in accountability, as it seems safe to reason that if a teacher fails to eliminate a school shooter, a good degree of weight would be placed on them for the deaths of others. Much like the Florida school resource officer who did not enter the building and promptly resigned afterward, failing would clearly lead to consequences for a teacher. Even more worrying, however, is the legal headache of accidental death. If students are caught in a teacher/shooter crossfire, who is to blame? If teachers mistake a gun-like device such as a walkie-talkie for a firearm and draw their weapons, are they acting out of bounds? Those ethical dilemmas are likely to never be solved, and if we move towards making them a reality, they would have to be dealt with.
Disregarding the liability question, it seems unlikely that given the psychology of school shooters, they would be deterred from shooting up a school due to the presence of armed personnel. What proponents of armed teachers fail to realize is someone shooting back at a school shooter isn’t a problem to them: it’s apart of the game. A school shooter usually shows up fully intending to die, either by his own hand or that of others. In a study of all mass shootings between 1982 and 2018 by Mother Jones, it was revealed that more than half kill themselves at the scene and that 7 in 10 shooters who engage the police don’t survive the encounter. In fact, dying in this fashion has become mainstream, with sayings such as “suicide by cop” entering the popular lexicon. But why would school shooters commit their attacks in light of those heavy statistics? Their psychology. In the mind of a school shooter, one that typically expresses a “pseudocommando” mentality (an unhealthy obsession with weapons and a “warrior” mindset) fighting armed opposition may even be an appealing part of their fantasy. These are not rational individuals with a will to live, but rather heavily armed, mentally ill people with the end goal of ending it all in a “blaze of glory”.
In the long run, however, it is not going to be the questio of what happens when there is a school shooter that will entail the worst effects of this policy, but a question of what happens in the vast majority of days there is not. It is the quality of education that will truly suffer in the United States if we institute a policy of armed teachers, as it all ties back to teacher workload and the quality of their relationships with their students. Teachers, as we all know, have been stretched to the breaking point by decades of budget cuts, increased workloads, and larger class sizes in their schools. No longer is the responsibility of a teacher just to teach, but to be a coach, a social worker, a fundraiser, a parent, and a psychologist all in one single job description. As if there was nothing more that could be done to further burden teachers, now people are seriously considering adding a police badge to the already Everest-sized pile of responsibilities., increasing costs and driving them away from more essential responsibilties: like teaching.
Schools are notoriously overfunded in some areas and notoriously underfunded in others—that’s just the world we live in—but funneling money into guns and the training for those who wield them diverts money away from crucial institutions: counselors. According to the American School Counselor Association, the ratio of students to counselors in Michigan is 729 to 1: the third worst out of all the states (the recommended ratio is 250 to 1). These are our first line of defense against school shooters, as not only do counselors provide academic help and college advice, but help with mental illness, stress, and bullying, all of which are factors that can lead to a school shooter to pop.
Instead of focusing on measures that wait until the shooter is already too far gone, we should be investing in preventive measures, ones that move towards making sure the potential school shooter has nor the means nor motive to kill anyone in the first place. It is a sign of the times that we are more prepared to kill someone than spend the time and effort necessary to bring them back from the brink of despair most shooters find themselves in. We are far too ready to accept flashy solutions, security theater that only makes us feel we are safe, and choose not to confront the root of our problems. Unfortunately, simply feeling safe doesn’t make it so, and unless we want to be having this same conversation the same time next year about the same subject, we need to stop working on distractions like armed teachers and more on solutions based in reality.