As mass shootings in schools have increased over the last few decades, so has the public perception of the need for increased security measures in the schools. In the context of schools, teachers and other school administrators are often first responders in a shooting incident. In response, many policymakers across the United States have argued that arming school staff may be the most effective way to prevent a shooting or stop one that has already begun.
On February 14, 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz gunned down seventeen students in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen other students were injured in what would be called The Parkland Shooting. Prior to this shooting, there were thirteen other school shootings in 2018 alone, totaling thirty people dead and other forty injured. As of February 14, 2019, there have been an additional thirty-one school shootings in K-12 schools throughout the United States, totaling nineteen deaths and forty-four injured.
As a response, several State legislatures and social movements have been attempting to change local gun laws and implementing better emergency response programs. In North Carolina, Representative Pittman introduced House Bill 216, or “the School Self-Defense Act,” on February 27, 2019.
The Bill proposes to authorize certain members of the school faculty or staff to carry a handgun on school grounds to respond to acts of violence or an immediate threat of violence. Specifically, it would authorize certain people, known as “volunteer school facility guardians.” They would be a member of the faculty or staff, a full-time or part-time employee, and possess a valid concealed handgun permit issued to the person under North Carolina law. However, if it were to be enacted into law as is, it would give the governing body or entity of the school the ability to opt out of the program.
In addition, the North Carolina Senate has proposed a similar bill, Senate Bill 192. Dubbed “the School Security Act of 2019,” the bill proposes to do the same as House Bill 216, except it would require the teachers to become sworn resource officers under Chapter 17C or Chapter 17E of the North Carolina General Statutes. Also, as an incentive, the teachers would be given a five-percent pay raise if they volunteer for the program. Senators Daniel, Hise, and Tillman are the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 192.
However, not every teacher would be able to benefit from this program. The Bill proposes that a maximum of 3,000 teachers would receive the five-percent raise and the State would pay just under $4.8 million to train the teachers.
In response, the North Carolina Association of Educators told WNCN-TV, teachers shouldn’t have to carry a weapon to get a raise and that the State should focus on adding more counselors, social workers, and other support staff to schools. “Arming teachers is something we’re adamantly opposed to and a disaster waiting to happen,” said Mark Jewell, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators.
Giving teachers the ability to arm themselves in order to protect the school and school population is not a new idea in the United States. Broadly, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 limits students from having guns, but not teachers or administrators of schools with concealed-carry permits. According to a report, many states have opted to pass laws prohibiting conceal-carry in schools, but at least twelve states have allowed it: (1) Alabama; (2) Alaska; (3) Idaho; (4) Illinois; (5) Michigan; (6) Missouri; (7) New Hampshire; (8) Oregon; (9) Rhode Island; (10) South Dakota; (11) Utah; and (12) Wyoming. Additionally, eight states specifically allow non-security school personnel to carry firearms on school property: (1) Idaho; (2) Kansas; (3) Louisiana; (4) Missouri; (5) South Dakota; (6) Tennessee; (7) Texas; and (8) Wyoming.
Giving teachers the ability to arm themselves is also not a new idea in North Carolina. The same Bill was proposed to the North Carolina Senate last year on May, 24, 2018. Senators Daniel, Hise, and Bishop were the primary sponsors of that Bill. However, that bill died in the Senate Committee. Senator Tillman is hopeful for the Bill during this legislative session because “that climate has changed to give legislation more support this year.”
We need to allow teachers, other school personnel and other citizens, who are willing, to be screened and to receive tactical training and bring their weapons to school, in cooperation with local law enforcement who would need to be informed as to who is doing this. We should give them a fighting chance. Otherwise, when they die, and children die whom they could have defended, their blood will be on our hands. I cannot accept that. I hope you will think this through and find that you cannot accept it, either.
The Representative went further saying, “gun free zones represent tragedies waiting to happen, as they offer would be attackers an open invitation to kill without fear of facing return fire.” The Representative argued the best course of action to prevent another Sandy Hook Shooting or Parkland Shooting, is to follow other States who have armed their school employees to act as a deterrent to future would-be shooters.
While there is a national movement amongst legislatures to arm teachers and school administrators, what do the parents sending their children to school think and what do the teachers think?
In a National Survey by the School Safety Commission, when asked to choose between two potential ways of addressing school safety, seventy-six percent of all adults and seventy-one percent of parents of school-aged children prefer an increase in mental-health services over armed guards in schools. By far fewer parents – thirty-seven percent – favored allowing teachers and other staff members to carry guns. In addition, about sixty-six-percent of parents surveyed said they would prefer for their child to be in a classroom with a teacher who does not carry a gun. However, support for arming teachers rose to about half of all parents when asked about a program that includes special training in weapons and approval of local authorities.
Information obtained through a Gallup Poll also suggests that teachers are not in favor of being trained and armed for school shooting emergencies. Overall, the majority of respondents, ninety-five percent, do not believe teachers should bear responsibility of protecting students by carrying a gun in the school classroom. Also, only six-percent of those surveyed said they felt comfortable using a gun to stop an active-shooter at the school. Furthermore, the percentage of teacher surveyed who indicated a willingness to use a gun in an active-shooter situation was only about ten-percent. Additionally, when asked if teachers could be able to voluntarily carry a gun in the school to prevent an active-shooter, about eight-percent of respondents answered affirmatively.
The proposed Bills in North Carolina to arm teachers and school employees are still being reviewed and edited in their respective committees. It is unclear if they will even get out of those committees. The prevention of school shootings is a complex question that has baffled experts and legislatures alike as to the best course to preventing or stopping them. Arming teachers could be an option and there is little empirical data to test its effectiveness as either a response tool or a deterrent. The future is unclear on how state legislatures or the national government will respond. They will continue to debate on what the best course of action is; however, one thing is unfortunately clear: there will be another school shooting, we just don’t know when or where.