Opponents insist that having more people armed at a school, especially teachers or administrators who aren’t trained to deal with crime on a daily basis, could lead to more injuries and deaths. They point to an August shooting outside the Empire State Building, where police killed a laid-off clothing designer after he fatally shot his former colleague. Nine bystanders were wounded by police gunfire, ricochets, and fragments.
“You are going to put teachers, people teaching 6-year-olds in a school, and expect them to respond to an active-shooter situation?” said Ladd Everitt, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, who called the idea of arming teachers “madness.”
Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner said she would not have felt better if teachers at her children’s Seattle school had been armed during a May shooting at a nearby cafe. A gunman killed four people at the cafe and another woman during a carjacking before killing himself. The school went on lockdown as a precaution.
“It would be highly concerning to me to know that guns were around my kids each and every day. … Increasing our arms is not the answer,” said Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder and CEO of MomsRising.org.
On Dec. 19, the National Association of Elementary School Principals and the National Association of Secondary School Principals released a joint statement opposing proposals to arm school officials.
“NASSP School Safety Specialist Bill Bond, who experienced a school shooting as a principal in 1997 and who has assisted in the aftermath of just about every school shooting since, reminds us that most of these incidents happen very quickly and last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes,” the statement says. “Bond’s close examination of each shooting incident reveals a complex series of decisions that a school official would have to make to eliminate the threat while still safeguarding the school. It is not reasonable to expect that a school official could intervene in a deadly force incident, even with a modicum of training, quickly and safely enough to save lives.”
Even the slightest hope of saving lives, the organizations add, “bumps up against another well-researched reality: Gun-related violent behavior is closely connected to local access to guns. If we increase the number of guns in schools—no matter how carefully we safeguard them—we can expect an increase in gun violence.”
While there is no simple solution to increasing school security, the groups say, there is something schools and communities can do: “Build trusting relationships with students and others in the community, so that communication flows freely among public agencies and threats come to light quickly.”
“We need policy makers to support and promote collaboration among community-based mental health organizations, local law enforcement agencies, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment,” the statement said. “These efforts should promote wellness in schools, including how to address the mental health needs of students and all community members, while responding to potential threats to community safety.”
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, agreed. He said focusing on arming teachers distracts from the “real things” that could help prevent a school shooting “and at worse it furthers a dangerous conversation that only talks about guns as protection without a discussion about the serious risks they present.”
As the debate continues, Harrold’s school plans to leave its policy unchanged.
“Nothing is 100 percent at all. … But hope makes for a terrible plan, hoping that [a tragedy] won’t happen,” Thweatt said. “My question is: What have you done about it? How have you planned?”