‘Our Schools Have Become Battlefields’: Teachers Consider Arming Themselves in the Classroom
The text message was brief: “I’m hearing there is an active shooter near the school and the kids are on lockdown.”
This past week, for the second time this year, my daughter was near a school shooting. The terrified comments from anxious parents flew back and forth until we learned we had again been spared. Last spring, a gunman opened fire at a nearby school. This most recent shooting had taken place outside a different neighborhood campus. My elementary school-age daughter came home talking about what it felt like to have to shelter in place.
2022 is on track to have the most school shootings ever in America. (And of course, as we’ve recently seen in a Colorado club and a Virginia Walmart, the gun violence is not confined to schools.) I feel angry, afraid and helpless. Everyone agrees that what is happening is unacceptable, but people have very different opinions on what should be done about it.
On my podcast “First Person,” I interviewed a teacher who is considering carrying a gun inside her classroom in the hope of protecting herself and her students from what she sees as an inevitable attack. We wanted to know how other teachers, parents and law enforcement officials view the option of arming teachers. The responses have been varied and impassioned.
“If my school were to move to requiring teachers to carry guns, I’d end my 20-plus years as a public high school educator,” said one public high school teacher from Michigan. “What’s to stop a student from trying to forcibly take a gun?”
A former teacher feels schools are no longer safe: “Our schools have become battlefields and teachers need the option to fight back and save the lives of their students and themselves.”
Others who wrote in gave common-sense solutions and lamented the burden teachers face having to even consider such a step.
The fact is, many states already allow educators to carry a weapon on campus, and as long as this epidemic of gun violence continues, the debate over arming teachers is unlikely to go away.
The comments below have been edited for length and clarity. — Lulu Garcia-Navarro
‘Teachers need the option to fight back’
I took a course for a license to conceal carry in the 1980s in Miami, where I was teaching at a private school. It was for my personal safety outside of school. It seemed smart to carry, especially on field trips. It made me feel secure and confident in my ability to protect myself and others. Other teachers who carried guns to school felt the same way. I don’t believe any of the students knew we were armed.
Schools have become a soft target of choice for disaffected young men. It’s unacceptable. Teachers should be able to count on, first and foremost, funding for real security officers and security to come to their aid. But the police can arrive too late or wait outside, as happened in Uvalde, Texas. Our schools have become battlefields and teachers need the option to fight back and save the lives of their students and themselves. — Melisa Neuman, 55, Florida
‘I think my community would support it for teachers like me’
The reality in extremely rural areas, like where I teach public high school, is that the police can be over an hour away and our building is very small. If a person tries to harm me or my students, I feel a responsibility to protect them. Concealed carry isn’t allowed by state law, but I think my community would support it for teachers like me, who are trained. Much of the conceal carry class I took was learning that if I use a firearm in self-defense, I will likely be arrested. This is not the Old West. If I shoot someone I had better be willing to spend the rest of my life in prison as a consequence of my actions. — Dashiell Rohan, 41, Nebraska
‘It’s unrealistic to expect law enforcement officers to be solely responsible’
Arming school personnel is certainly an issue worth addressing and needs to be researched by parents, teachers and all other individuals who work on campus. I taught in a public elementary school. It’s unrealistic to expect law enforcement officers to be solely responsible for protecting people in a school setting. In a perfect world, no one would need to defend themselves at school or anywhere else for that matter, but I don’t see that ever happening in our country. With the anger and hatred we see on a daily basis, it makes sense to allow mature, responsible adults to make the decision for themselves as to whether or not they want to carry a weapon. — Carol Edwards, 71, California
‘It is so easy to mess up and hurt yourself or kill someone’
I can see why some teachers would want to carry a gun. The fear for them is real. But training is so important to make sure they can handle firearms safely. I go to shooting ranges every couple of months (I am not a gun enthusiast. I just want to know how to operate them safely). It is so easy to mess up and hurt yourself or kill someone. Imagine reacting out of fear in a shooter situation and killing an innocent student or co-worker. But if done properly, students and teachers may feel safer knowing certain teachers are carrying.
I once held a debate with the 11th graders at the public school where I teach, assigning students to argue the pros and cons of gun legislation. I was surprised when many in the class not only wanted teachers to carry or have a locked gun box in a classroom, but said they would trust me with protecting their lives. I was moved by their trust in me, but I said I did not become a teacher to face that type of choice and that I didn’t want the moral responsibility. They seemed disappointed. I’ve thought about that class session often. — Kimberly Gibson-Tran, 32, Texas
‘Teachers need firm policy to back them up’
I’m a public high school teacher, a veteran and a former law enforcement officer. I have severe reservations about the issue. Teachers comprise the same microcosms as society at large. People react differently in stressful situations than they think they will. Training should involve hours of static weapons training, followed by move and shoot drills, followed by stress shooting (for example, run a quarter mile before getting to the firing line) and training in the actual building and classroom where they work. If they could pass all this, I would be OK with that teacher carrying.
My biggest question, though, is during a lockdown, what should that teacher do — stay with students while others are gunned down? Leave students so they can hunt a shooter, trusting children to stay where they are? These are tough questions. Teachers need firm policy to back them up. — Chris Lutzow, 45, Idaho
‘I am massively uncomfortable with the idea of other teachers carrying firearms’
I would, without a second thought, stand in the way of a bullet heading for one of my students. But I cannot imagine myself being able to look a child in the eyes, armed or not, and shoot them.
I am massively uncomfortable with the idea of other teachers carrying firearms for a myriad of reasons. I teach at an inner city public high school that is over 90 percent low-income and students of color. These are students who have been shown that they cannot always trust people in power: law enforcement officers, teachers or adults. A teacher with a gun will make many students feel even more uncomfortable. And while I believe that many teachers are wonderful and want the best for their students, I can’t ignore implicit or explicit biases held by some teachers. Can we say with certainty that a teacher won’t mistake an innocent student for a school shooter? Keeping children safe in our tumultuous world is a herculean effort. It needs to be done by a concentrated, coordinated team of politicians, social workers, teachers, administrators, health care professionals and anyone else who might interact with these kids. — Anita Woofenden, 23, Rhode Island
‘It seems like a recipe for disaster’
If my school were to move to requiring teachers to carry guns, I’d end my 20-plus years as a public high school educator. What’s to stop a student from trying to forcibly take a gun? It seems like a recipe for disaster.
We need more funding for programs to foster connections between social workers, therapists, teachers and parents. Rarely have these shooters done things with absolutely no warning. The current ratio of social workers and therapists to students is useless. There are times we report things to counseling and it’s never followed up on, or our hands are tied because the parents see no issue. — Evelyn Krieger, 44, Michigan
‘Guns have no place in any classroom’
I am a professor at a community college and, in 2013, survived a shooting there. My students and I fled through an emergency exit. I think about the “next time” every hour and in every situation: my classrooms, the pool where I swim, my yoga studio, my church. I am consumed forever by thoughts of gun violence. It will never leave me.
Do you have any idea how predictable it is every single time I hear about another school shooting? It is almost always a boy or man with a history of harassment who got their gun at home. I want to scream every time I hear about the law-abiding gun owners whose rights will be infringed by gun safety laws. My shooter bought his gun legally and learned to shoot at the town citizens’ police academy.
Guns have no place in any classroom. What on earth does that do to a learning environment, when kids know their teacher has the ability to kill them? Lawmakers need to acknowledge the overwhelming evidence that more guns do not, in any context, make anyone safer and then make decisions based on that evidence. I teach my students how to evaluate evidence. Why is Congress unable to do the same? — Megan Doney, 47, Virginia
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