In the wake of the appalling events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the decades-old struggle to end gun violence in schools has taken on new urgency. All manner of solutions have been suggested, some more ludicrous than others. But one proposal in particular caught my attention—that of allowing teachers to carry concealed firearms on school grounds.
And I was prompted to ask: what if? What if teachers at Leesville were allowed to carry concealed firearms on school grounds? Would it prove effective in stopping a shooter’s attack on the school? Or would it put us all in greater danger?
Imagine if you will…
You are a teacher at Leesville Road High School. You were recently offered license to carry a concealed firearm on school grounds, and you immediately jumped at the offer. You’ve spent countless hours unloading into paper targets at the gun range, and are utterly confident in your ability to protect the school from any and all threats.
One day, while strolling about the school during your lunch block, you witness a shooter enter the school and open fire on the crowded cafeteria. Chaos erupts as students begin fleeing in all directions, seeking safety from the hail of gunfire. You scramble to draw your weapon, fumbling frantically with the holster until you manage to wriggle the gun free.
Your fingers clumsily disengage the safety and you take aim, your vision narrowing in on the gunman. Adrenaline coursing through your veins, in a state of shock and terror, you squeeze the trigger. A crack rings out, followed in quick succession by another three– but your eyes have fooled you and tainted your aim. One round barely grazes the gunman. Another buries itself harmlessly in the floor. The final two find unintended marks— burrowing deep into the flesh of two fleeing students.
You freeze as the bodies fall to the ground, and as you stare agape, you feel the weight of a speeding freight train slam straight into your chest. You collapse to the floor as a dozen more freight trains come barreling into you. The life ebbs out of you, spilling onto the tiles. You hear the screams and heavy footfalls of students fleeing for their lives. You hear the crack of the assailant’s weapon as he snuffs out yet another life. And as the darkness closes in around you, the last thought that passes through your head is “I’ve failed…”
Failure to neutralize
This hypothetical shooting highlights a few of the main deficiencies of the proposal.
Firstly, our “would-be hero” failed to neutralize the threat—allowing the shooter to continue on his brutal killing spree. One factor contributing to this failure was a lack of training. Shooting paper targets at the gun range is a far cry from exchanging fire with an armed assailant. Law enforcement professionals participate in vigorous and continuous training to develop and maintain the skills necessary to effectively handle violent confrontations. Though even with their intense training, law enforcement has been largely unsuccessful in dealing with attacks upon schools. Columbine High School had an armed security officer on campus at the time of the 1999 massacre. Virginia Tech had an entire campus police force on staff when the 2007 killing spree took place. But a combination of uncertainty, miscommunication and superior firepower rendered even professional law enforcement officers ineffective in ending the violence. So, if even trained professionals are often unable to neutralize a school shooter, how can we expect an untrained teacher to be successful in the same situation?
Secondly, our “would-be hero” was responsible for shooting two innocent students—a staggering amount of collateral damage to be certain. Once again, a lack of training carries the heft of the blame for the failure. In the shock and stress of the moment, it is easy to cast aside judgment and just start firing. Police officers constantly train under duress to maintain their ability to judge a situation, weigh actions and consequences and act accordingly. Neither possessing these abilities nor the time to develop them—teachers attempting to pacify an assailant run an astronomically high risk of causing collateral damage in the process. Adding to this enormous risk of collateral damage is the fact that most school-associated violent deaths occur during transition periods in the day—namely, during lunch and immediately before and after school. It is at these times when large numbers of students are crowded together in a relatively close environment. This offers both a target-rich environment to an assailant, and a chaotic mass of innocent bystanders to anyone attempting to defend the school.
Failure to deter
Lastly, the knowledge that teachers had access to concealed firearms did not deter the shooter from attacking the school. Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that people who commit crimes of this nature are almost certainly mentally ill; and it’s ridiculous to assume that an unbalanced mind will abide by the laws of conventional logic. Further, many school shooters commit suicide rather than be arrested. Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold, Seung-Hui Cho, Adam Lanza. All showed signs of mental illness, all committed heinous crimes and all killed themselves afterward. Going in, they already knew they weren’t coming out alive. So it is wholly absurd to expect the shooter, being both mentally ill and without anything to lose, to be deterred by the fact that teachers are armed.
I acknowledge entirely that the outcome I have hypothesized is just that– a hypothesis. An incalculable number of variables play a role in a situation of this nature, and the most subtle change in any one of them could result in an altogether different ending. But the fact is, a significant majority of facts, statistics and professional opinions support my conclusion– in a school shooting, an armed teacher is more likely to do harm than good.