Five years ago, I remember talking about lockdown drills (or “active shooter drills”) with colleagues at Penn College. Such drills were voluntary. Basically, the drill involved locking the classroom door, moving students to the back of the classroom, and having them hunker down, away from windows, while keeping silent so as to avoid detection by a shooter roaming the halls.
I was against these drills. I thought they added to the fear, and I chose not to do them. But maybe I would do them today.
After one shooting massacre (I can’t recall if it was Virginia Tech in 2007 or Sandy Hook in 2012), locks were added to the classroom doors. In theory, if I heard gunshots, I or one of my students could jump up and lock the door before a shooter got in. But what if a determined shooter shot the lock out?
What a world we Americans live in. Locked classrooms, lockdown drills for active shooters, and now the proposal to turn teachers into so many Harry Callahans (Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry) and our schools into “hardened” targets by arming teachers with pistols. Perhaps we should keep an AR-15 in each classroom (alongside the fire extinguisher), with a sign that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass – then lock and load.”
President Trump has argued that select teachers be armed – following the NRA’s theory that a good man with a gun is the best insurance against a bad man with a gun. It’s a crazy idea, but we live in a crazy country. Among the worst parts of Trump’s proposal was his stingy suggestion that armed and trained teachers might earn “a little bit” of a bonus. How generous of our brave commander-in-chief.
Think about that for a moment. There is an active shooter (or shooters) in a school, armed with military-style assault weapons and perhaps protected by body armor. Young people are running and screaming, bullets are flying, and in this bloody chaos, we place our faith in a teacher, perhaps armed with a 9mm pistol, thoroughly trained in shooting under combat conditions, willing to risk it all “for a little bit of a bonus.”
It’s a powerful fantasy: the cold bold Harry Callahan-like teacher, taking aim with his or her pistol and blowing away school intruders with perfect head shots. And that’s exactly what it is: a fantasy. As Belle Chesler, a teacher, put it at TomDispatch.com, “We are not warriors, we are teachers. We are not heroes, we are teachers.”
It’s one thing to shoot at paper targets on a gun range; it’s another thing entirely to fire accurately in combat when you’re outgunned and someone is firing back at you. What if, during the chaos of shooting, a teacher accidentally shoots a few students? So-called friendly fire incidents happen frequently in combat, despite the most careful troop training.
If you want more security guards in America’s schools, hire them. Don’t try to turn teachers into cheap cut-rate guards. Yet “a little bit of a bonus” for armed teachers is the best idea our stingy billionaire of a president can come up with.
As we saw in Parkland, Florida, even armed and trained deputies may hesitate before confronting a heavily-armed shooter. How is your average teacher going to react? At least we know Trump will rush in, heel spurs and all, whether he’s armed or unarmed, to save the day. Or so he says.
Most people, even when armed, will not rush toward the sound of gunfire. We tend instinctively to freeze, to take cover, or to run. It takes a combination of training, willpower, and courage to rush toward danger, often strengthened by teamwork and inspired by one or more leaders who set the example. The problem is not as simple as “give a teacher a gun, and he or she will blow the bad guy away.”
In a country awash in weapons, there are no easy answers. One model is to turn our schools into fortresses, complete with surveillance cameras and panic buttons and smoke ejectors in hallways, as in this “safe” school in Indiana. Trump’s model is to arm select teachers for a tiny bonus. Limited efforts at gun control, such as raising the age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21, are like putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. One thing is certain: better law enforcement is crucial, e.g. there were many warnings about the Parkland shooter that were dismissed or ignored.
Again, there are no easy answers. And so Lockdown America is now our reality.
Update (3/9/18): In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Florida legislators have approved guns for teachers in the classroom, as well as more spending on school security. Assault weapons, however, are not to be banned. So the solution to bad men with guns is indeed good men with guns, according to Florida. The NRA wins again.
How long before a teacher, teacher’s aide, or coach with a gun accidentally or intentionally hurts a student with a gun? How long before the inevitable lawsuits result from this, the multi-million dollar settlements? Will school districts be required to carry expensive insurance against gun shootings by educators? Are taxpayers ready to pony up a lot more money to cover the costs of insurance premiums and lawsuits?