In the wake of the shooting earlier this year in Uvalde, Texas, that left 19 students and two teachers dead, the inevitable calls to arm teachers have returned—and loudly.
In Ohio, the governor has signed a bill that would allow teachers to carry guns in class after only 24 hours of training. In Mississippi, the state board of education recently voted in favor of a policy that would make it easier for teachers to carry weapons at school.
Currently, at least 28 states allow schools to arm staff members other than police or school security, according to a 2020 RAND Corporation study.
In Florida, more than half of school districts allow staff to carry weapons—a response to the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.
In other states, such as Arkansas and Colorado, there are no policies permitting armed school personnel but also no laws explicitly prohibiting it, leaving room for state policymakers and school officials to decide or even encourage the arming of teachers and other staff members in the name of safety.
The calls to arm teachers resurface each time a tragedy like Uvalde occurs, by those who insist that weapons carried by school staff members are an acceptable response to school violence. Yet there is no research to support the idea that more guns in school buildings actually make students safer. And I would argue the opposite is true. Between 2014 and 2018, the Associated Press found, there were more than 30 incidents involving a firearm brought to a school by a law enforcement officer or that involved a teacher improperly discharging or losing control of a weapon.
I am a teacher, and I believe there are several reasons why allowing school personnel to carry guns would make schools more dangerous, not less. Here are a few:
Over the years, I have left my cell phone lying around more times than I can recall. I never realize it until I pick it up later and see a reel of recent selfies of smiling students. I have since learned to keep my phone locked but continue to misplace it often throughout the day. I’ve also lost my keys, tablet, stacks of papers to be graded, and a slew of other things.
But you want to arm me with a gun?
Rates of suspension and other disciplinary measures are far higher for Black and Hispanic students and students with disabilities. These students are far more likely to end up expelled or arrested, even when similar conduct by their white peers goes unnoticed. The school-to-prison pipeline often begins in the classroom, with students from marginalized communities being disproportionately targeted for behaviors. There have been several, highly publicized cases of police officers, who are actually trained to use weapons, directly inflicting violence upon students they deem threatening. What happens when a teacher with access to a loaded gun “fears for their life” or “thought a student had a weapon”?
But you want to arm teachers with guns?
Even the barest, most basic training programs cost around $100 per person, according to a report in the Washington Post. If that were the threshold for arming teachers—and I’m not sure many people would argue it should be—it would still cost roughly $360 million to train all 3.6 million teachers in America. More extensive training can cost upwards of $1,000 per person, which translates to roughly $3.6 billion. And never mind the training—who foots the bill for the weapons themselves, which can cost hundreds of dollars a piece? With that kind of school funding—many billions of dollars—we could begin to address a lot of the most pervasive issues in education.
But you would rather arm teachers with guns?
I’m a teacher. I want to be armed, but arm me with the things that matter.
Arm me with research-based practices that promote community, trust and student mental health. School environments where students feel safe and valued help to forge connections with parents, teachers and community members. What we need are increased social-emotional support systems for students who may be in crisis—not guns in the hands of teachers.
Arm me with time during the day to meet with students one-on-one or in small groups, so that I can establish connections with students that promote open communication and sharing around feelings such as anger or depression, which can sometimes lead to violence if left unaddressed.
Arm me with the funding needed to implement sustained, school-wide practices, such as restorative justice, that can help address conflicts before they spin out of control. In places like Oakland, California, restorative practices have resulted in decreased bullying, fewer suspensions and improved feelings of student safety and belonging by teaching students to communicate, address harm and take accountability for their actions.
Arm me with a fully staffed school that includes social workers, counselors and mental health professionals, so that students have access to adults who can reach them, even if that adult isn’t me.
Arm me with legislation, like enforcement of red flag laws, that prevent would-be perpetrators from getting easy access to guns in the first place.
Schools should be safe places for both students and teachers. Common sense and research-based investments in people and resources are what keep schools safe. The answer is not and cannot be more guns, especially by those of us charged with educating our nation’s children.