The question of whether to arm teachers strikes at the heart of the debate over how to balance our constitutional right to bear arms with everyday public-safety concerns. Is the answer to fight gunfire
with more gunfire, by asking educators to wield Glocks as deftly as gradebooks? Or is commonsense gun control in order, despite its potential to limit our supposedly inalienable rights, even if only in the slightest?
This issue rose to the forefront of our societal consciousness after 20 students and six staff members were killed by a lone gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. In fact, a National Rifle Association-funded report released just over three months after the Newtown tragedy argued that, “A properly trained armed school officer … has proven to be an important layer of security for prevention and response in the case of an active threat on a school campus.”
But the other side of the argument has plenty to say on the matter, too. “To be effective, schools must be perceived as safe havens where students want to be. The presence of armed school officials on campus conveys the opposite message,” representatives of two national principals groups said in a joint statement after the Newtown shooting. “That compromise would perhaps be necessary if arming teachers and principals actually made schools more secure. We believe, however, that such policies will not produce the intended effect—and they might do more harm than good.”
And if you’re wondering where money comes into play, just consider the fact that guns and ammunition generate roughly $16 billion in sales revenue and more than $6 billion in taxes per year, according to news reports and data from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Furthermore, training school staff to carry guns would cost millions of dollars per state, while young lives are obviously priceless.
The bottom line is that we all want our children to be as safe as possible. But it’s unclear which approach would ultimately be most effective in that regard. So with that in mind, we turned to a panel of experts in the fields of education policy, gun control and constitutional law for guidance. We asked them one simple question – “Should teachers be armed?” – and received 4 Yes votes to go along with 12 Nos. You can check out the experts’ bios and responses below. And if you’d like to join the debate, please share your thoughts in the Comments section at the bottom of the page.
No, Teachers Should Not Be Armed
- “People might be better off having a gun when there’s an attack on a school, but that’s not the only time they’d have one. The guns would be there during the parent-teacher conference, the math test, the recess, the high school musical, the basketball game. And guns are dangerous. The presence of a gun can escalate a minor dispute into a deadly one. But probably more significant, guns kill people in accidents on a daily basis.”
Kermit Roosevelt // Professor of Constitutional Law, University of Pennsylvania Law School
- “Our professional law enforcement officers are highly trained prior to being permitted to carry a firearm, and even they are subject to making a mistake. Permitting someone with just basic firearms skills to carry a firearm in our schools would be problematic on numerous levels. The weapon might be taken from them; they might actually escalate a problem; responding police might mistake them for a suspect; an innocent bystander would be more likely to be harmed. The list is endless, and this doesn’t even get into the issue from a liability or risk management perspective.”
Gerald W. Schoenle Jr. // Chief of Police, University at Buffalo Police Department
- “Members of ACPA—College Student Educators International have opposed concealed gun carry on campuses since Utah passed the first permissive legislation in 2004. … We do not take this position because we resist the Second Amendment. We do not oppose gun ownership. And, we believe that increasing the number of firearms in the hands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors presents an increased risk to our communities. Firearms on campus should be strictly limited to recruited, trained, and supervised police officers (federal, state, local or university police) or participants in institutionally endorsed educational programs for which use and carry of a firearm is a necessary requirement.”
Cindi Love // Executive Director, ACPA—College Student Educators International
- “It seems to me that educators have a different calling and dedicate themselves to contributing to a society in which greater learning develops the greater capacity for people to reason and solve problems without violence. … In a perfect world, I firmly believe that there should be armed responders in or immediately available to our schools. But these individuals should be law enforcement professionals, not teachers.”
Randy A. Burba – President, International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) & Chief of Public Safety, Chapman University
- “The presence of guns in any environment is the single biggest risk for harm due to guns, including intentional harm, accidental harm, or self-inflicted harm. The notion that the armed teacher can fend off evil doers is fictional, borne out only by idiosyncratic anecdote that has little bearing in fact. In short, there is no reasonable argument in favor of allowing guns in educational spaces. Doing so runs directly counter to the goals of a good education, and endangers the lives of teachers and students alike.”
Sandro Galea // Dean and Robert A. Knox Professor in the School of Public Health, Boston University
Ask the Experts
Yes, Teachers Should Be Armed
- “Gun-free zones are magnets for murderers. Even the most ardent gun-control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their home. Let’s stop putting them elsewhere.
John R. Lott, Jr. // President, Crime Prevention Research Center & Author of “The War on Guns”
- “Many lament that ‘guns don’t belong in schools.’ Maybe not. But reality is a harsh mistress. Children should not get cancer either. But they do. Failure to address the problem only results in more loss of life. Some kids need chemo. Some need armed protection. The fact that both are ‘rare’ events is of little comfort when yours is the child in need. We can wait for a cancer diagnosis to begin treatment, but waiting till you need armed protection is like putting a seatbelt on a traffic fatality.”
Jim Irvine // Director, FASTER Saves Lives
- “Locations known for, or posted as having on-site armed security, are far less likely to experience an active killer attack. For those enlightened by these facts, a program for arming school staff makes perfect sense.”
Ron Borsch // Founder, SEALE Regional Police Training Academy
Ask the Experts