In early January a 34 year old English teacher, and mother of three, was talking with two students as they left baseball practice at a public High School in a trendy neighborhood. A few minutes into their conversation the group was approached by two men. Both were in their early thirties, one had prior convictions for aggravated assault, while the other was released from prison a week earlier after serving nine years for kidnapping and rape. There was little the teacher and two students could do to defend themselves from the unexpected assault – a violent attack which left them unconscious in a parking lot until an assistant coach found them later and called 9-1-1.
Two days earlier I met with a school Superintendent to discuss the rationale and logistics to allow licensed teachers to carry their legal firearms to protect themselves and defend their students against an active shooter. It was instructional for me as I learned first-hand how this senior administrator sought to satisfy his constituent’s desire for security. He argued that since parents and residents had not asked to arm teachers, he felt it was his duty to provide security through other means. He pointed out the hundreds of cameras that were recently installed and funded through a bond issue. The Superintendent was excited about having a recording of any event. He was more comfortable telling parents there was nothing he could do than to deal with another “distracting program” or the possibility a teacher might lose control of a weapon inside one of his schools. He did not understand the difference between safety and liability, and although he acknowledged security could only be offered through an immediate response to danger, he chose to support solutions measured in minutes on a timescale that must be mapped to seconds.
This Superintendent preferred optics to action and logic and reason were wasted on him. Moreover when he asked us what data existed to show that armed teachers provided a safer environment he cut us off before we finished explaining that police stations and other offices where guns were frequently available had a much lower incidence of gun violence – his response was “Those people are trained.” That’s a lot of faith in a curriculum he’s never seen, but it also dismisses the possibility that Safe Schools could require the same level of training required for law enforcement Officers.
Gun Free Zones are a misnomer. They imply security where there is none. Most arguments in favor of gun free zones simply ignore that by definition a criminal will not follow the rules. Rules that in most cities prevent teachers from defending themselves, even while many of them are capable of maintaining the skills required to carry a concealed weapon and apply good judgment about situations where they may be needed. Safe schools would mean qualified teachers can carry without diminishing the educational environments administrators, teachers and students strive for. Let me show you how.
The Federal Flight Deck Officer Program is an excellent proxy for arming teachers. This is a cost effective program that places responsibility for safety with potential victims and recognizes that seconds count. Following 9/11 pilots were allowed to carry fire arms in the cockpits of commercial aircraft, as long as they met the training and licensing criteria to be an FFDO. This continues to be a voluntary program and at one point almost half of all commercial pilots flying for major US carriers were enrolled. The FFDO program has overwhelming support from passengers, Government officials, and the public. It serves as an existence proof that pilots can do their jobs and flights depart and arrive on time safely. Guns in the cockpit have not proven to distract pilots’ attention from their core responsibilities. What makes teaching so different? Do we view pilots as old marine corps fighter jocks – they’re men and they can handle a gun, while teachers are thirty year old Moms who drive mini-vans to work and don’t know the difference between a revolver and an AR-15? I suspect stereotypes play a role.
Members in both the FFDO program, and the Sky Marshals, those dedicated armed special agents in the sky, have lost or discharged firearms since 9/11, some inside security, but none of those situations led to disaster, and it’s unlikely that a voluntary program that allows teachers and administrators to carry concealed in school would have a different outcome, but it would put potential shooters on notice – This School is NOT a gun free zone.
Here’s a roadmap for real security:
- Start with the goal – Allow capable teachers and staff members to carry concealed weapons in schools.
- First, map your school districts decision-making structure: Principals, Superintendent, Board, City Manager, Police Chief, Security Manager or Security Consultant.
- Next determine who understands the distinction between real security (responses measured in seconds vs. minutes or longer) and who has a desire to implement actual security measures.
- Then determine who the decision-makers are, and what pressures (constituent, budgetary, human resources, etc) they are under. You must uncover how they are measured – graduation rates, test scores, etc.
- Collect data about the number and percent of teachers and staff who have prior military or LE experience. Gather data about the number who have a CHL. Additionally, interview some of those teachers to get their opinions about an FFDO like program for teachers.
- Meet with Superintendents and Board Members, but plan to “Teach” them how to “buy” from you. Example: “we’ve met with other members of the board and a number of your teachers and parents and they support our position.” Share real stories from parents and teachers and the data you’ve already collected – these provide a great starting point for your discussion.
- Continue to gather supporters until you have a security program that addresses the threats facing your kids.
There’s little cost to this program – unlike paid security guards (many unarmed), the teachers volunteer their time for a license and their money for equipment and training. You could even use a school fundraiser to donate ammunition for teachers’ quarterly qualifications, and the local police department should be engaged to conduct quarterly training and certification. All this is available immediately and places “first responders” where they’re needed – at the scene, without delay, and every school could do this without spending incremental funds.
The real story about the teacher attacked in the parking lot ended differently. In early January a teacher shot two attackers in a school parking lot. One of them died at the scene while another was transported to a hospital. How do you feel about this now? Does it matter that this seventy-year old teacher’s heroic actions actually enhanced the sense of security at his school?
He was walking two girls to their cars in the parking lot after Basketball practice when one of two attackers grabbed the chain around his neck. This took place in Detroit, and he was armed since he is a Reserve Police Officer. Why should he be allowed to protect himself, while every other teacher in that school is prohibited from carrying a handgun? These are important things to think about and even more important to act on.
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