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The Most Effective, Logical Solution: Arming School Staff

No other proposal is economically feasible ... or provides better safety.

Mike McDaniel


April 27, 2013 - 12:00 am

Only one question matters in the school violence debate: when a shooter is attempting to enter a school, what will be done to protect the lives of students and staff?

Asking what can be done to prevent mass school shootings is a secondary matter. Honest commentators — with the background and experience to know what they’re talking about — should be aware that in a constitutional republic, school shootings cannot be altogether prevented, and that gun control can have no effect. The worst school attack in history — in Beslan, Chechnya, leaving 300 dead and 700 injured — took place in a liberty-restricted state with democratic pretensions. Deterrence is possible, but not with past or current policies; the actual defense of the school during an incident is the heart of the debate.

At enormous expense, schools can be hardened, which may help to deter some potential killers, and which may slow down, to some degree, less intelligent and prepared killers. Unfortunately, “slow down” implies seconds, not minutes. Equally unfortunate: the money necessary to harden schools to the point of truly credible deterrence that could slow or stop killers to any meaningful degree is not available during the Obama economy.

Just recently, it was revealed that the Sandy Hook Elementary School killer needed only five minutes to shoot his way into the school and murder 20 children and six adults before killing himself. This fact is fodder for those wishing to ban “assault weapons” and standard capacity magazines so that future killers with five minutes will require a few seconds longer, or might only be able to kill 20 rather than 26. They miss the point, and many intentionally ignore more sensible proposals.

Former Navy SEAL and current educator John A. Czajkowski proposes a solution that embraces the recommendation of the NRA: place armed security in every one of the 100,000-plus American schools. However, he generally opposes the arming of school staff:

Although I grew up very comfortable with the responsible use of firearms as a boy and then later professionally, I still can’t support arming teachers first when there are still so many other more proactive opportunities for improving our security. Arming teachers is far down my list of recommendations for improving security, per balancing return on investment and risk assessment. Although I am entirely comfortable with the idea at a personal level, the difficulty of applying Kant’s universal imperative makes me hesitate to adopt an armed teacher paradigm.

Only one policy can credibly deter school shooters, will cost little or nothing, and will provide the maximum chance to limit — or even to eliminate — the loss of life when an attack on a school occurs: arming school staff.

When school design, security cameras, hardened doors and glass, magnetic door locks, and every other security measure have failed — as they did at Sandy Hook — and when a killer is seconds from firing, what is that school prepared to do at that moment to prevent any loss of life? Unless they are taking affirmative steps to arm staff so multiple people will always be present and prepared to immediately engage an armed attacker, the schools tacitly admit they are willing to accept a death toll of some size. This, in exchange for “feeling safe” rather than being safe.

NRA chief Wayne LaPierre and Czajkowski’s approach — using trained, armed personnel focused on school security — is not unreasonable, but it is impractical and embraces several faulty assumptions.

La Pierre would even demand federal funds for the purpose. Even so, some schools — usually larger high schools and some middle schools — do have school “resource” or “liaison” officers, who are usually certified law enforcement officers provided by local agencies.  Some schools share an officer from time to time, but most schools have none. This is so for practical and insurmountable reasons. Moreover, those few officers do not function as most of those supporting this concept believe.

These officers are essentially small-town police, responsible for all law enforcement functions in and around their assigned schools. They are generally present only during normal school hours, but must be absent for a wide variety of reasons: court, job-related errands, transporting arrestees, mandatory training, medical appointments, and vacation. At those times, they are virtually never replaced, and they are seldom present for extracurricular activities.

Further, it is not their job to principally focus on building security. And because there is only one of them per school — if that — the chance they will be present at the time and place an attack occurs is small. If no one else is armed, they are better than nothing, but are not the answer.

Most schools don’t have these liaison officers and never will; it’s too expensive. Their salaries, whether paid by their agency, their school, or some combination, come from the taxpayers, an increasingly scarce funding source. Affordably putting more of them in schools is wishful thinking.

As an educator, I deal with colleagues who recoil at the idea of armed police officers in school, as though the mere presence of authority, particularly armed authority, somehow poisons a mystically pristine educational atmosphere. I have heard others argue that teachers are untrained and unqualified to carry firearms, and as such would be tempted to misuse them, or would be more likely to harm themselves, or others, or to be shot by the police in a school attack. I have heard some argue that students will steal teachers’ guns.

However, the most fervent argument I’ve encountered — and only after the Newtown shooting — suggests that teachers must focus 100% of their energy and attention exclusively on teaching. Therefore, they cannot be expected to assume the same duties as school liaison officers, including engaging and stopping school shooters.

Some have gone so far as to suggest that teachers would be particularly bad at even recognizing that a shooting was happening, so oblivious to their surroundings does teaching make them.

This misconception is a related to the idea that anyone carrying a gun on school grounds must be trained to the same level — and must assume the same focus and duties — as a certified police officer, or else they are a tragedy waiting to happen.

No. Armed school staff should have precisely the same duties and responsibilities as any citizen with a concealed carry permit.

They are responsible for keeping their weapon safe, secure, and concealed, and on their person at all times. A handgun locked in a desk or in an armory in a principal’s office suite is of no use to a teacher meeting an armed killer in a hallway or on a playground.

Above all, they will know to use their handgun only in circumstances where it is necessary to stop the imminent threat of serious bodily harm or death to themselves or others. And that is all.

Police officers undergo lengthy and rigorous training because their jobs encompass far more than this simple directive, whereas armed citizens and teachers need know only two primary things: the law relating to the possession and use of deadly force, and how to shoot straight.

Additional training along these lines is desirable, but if required, will prevent some teachers from being able to save their lives and the lives of students.

The entry qualification should be precisely the same as for any concealed carry license holder. Teachers should in fact be already almost entirely qualified, for like license holders, they have been fingerprinted, photographed, and undergone extensive background checks.

Unlike license holders, they must have at minimum a bachelor’s degree, and must undergo additional extensive testing. The only qualification most teachers lack would be any state-required training course or shooting qualification.

A cornerstone of this policy must be correct publicity. Making the public aware a given school district allows and encourages its staff to carry concealed weapons confers on every school, whether anyone is carrying or not, the benefits of deterrence.

Properly chosen by and for individuals, concealed handguns are quite invisible: this is another strength of concealed carry. Because no criminal can know who is carrying a handgun, they must assume that everyone could be. Just about anywhere in America except schools, this is also the case.

Consider the cognitive dissonance of those who argue that teachers can’t be expected to take extra time to qualify for concealed carry: recall that they already spend hours on “run and hide” drills, hiding students behind locked and easily breached doors to fearfully wait and hope that a killer will not find them. This dependence on the lack of competence and marksmanship of madmen (as well as their mercy) is not a strategy.

Consider too those who argue that teachers aren’t smart enough to understand what is happening, and will thereby shoot innocents. When a school attack occurs, and this was very much the case at Sandy Hook Elementary, the victims knew exactly what was going on. When the killer was shooting his way into the school, if one or more staff had been armed he could have been immediately stopped. No one had to die that day; no one has to die in any school.

The idea that teachers’ guns will be stolen and misused, while possible, is hardly a reasonable argument for failing to protect lives: all of life is a matter of balancing benefits and risks.  Fortunately, there is an experience model. Utah has for many years allowed teachers to carry handguns: there has not been a single instance of such misuse. Texas also allows it, and South Dakota has recently passed a law allowing on-campus concealed carry. Other states are considering legislation.

What about the argument that teachers can’t shoot straight?  It’s not well-known, but the police are hardly firearm experts. They are required to qualify only once a year on less-than-demanding courses of fire with equally non-demanding qualifying scores. Many citizens surpass the police in shooting skill. Wearing a uniform and badge does not confer magical shooting skills beyond the capability of the private citizen.

Consider the plight of teachers holding concealed carry licenses. Off of school property, their inalienable natural right to self-defense is operative. They may protect the lives of themselves and their children, at home and anywhere they may be. But step on school property, and due to those that claim to be most concerned with protecting children, they and their children lose the affirmative means to preserve their lives. Are the lives of teachers and children worth less on school property than off?

In any school attack, two things matter most: time and distance. Armed killers have the advantage of both. Every second matters, and time is not on the side of victims or the police. At Newtown, a life was lost approximately every 11.5 seconds. From the time the killer shot his way into the school until he shot himself, only five minutes elapsed, but it took the first police officer 20 minutes to arrive. This is normal, and must be expected in the future: in virtually every school shooting, the police have had no active role in stopping the shooter.

Even if the Newtown police had arrived within five minutes, they still would have had no role in stopping the killer.

If there is no one present to immediately engage and stop a school shooter, the only factors determining the eventual body count will be the killer’s lack of marksmanship and dumb luck.  Depending on the mercy of a madman, or luck, for the lives of innocents is quite insane. Even an armed teacher running from one hallway to the next to engage a shooter is far preferable than waiting for police that will virtually never arrive in time, and will be summoned only after some children and teachers are already wounded or dead.

One may conjure any number of objections to allowing armed teachers and school staff, but every possible objection can be addressed with proper — and inexpensive — procedures and training. The undeniably positive benefits of armed teachers, people always present and always ready and able to stop armed killers, greatly outweigh any potential objection. Which possible negative consequence outweighs the preservation of innocent lives?

Consider Virginia Tech spokesman Larry Hincker, commenting on the defeat in the legislature — only a short time before the attack — of a bill that would have allowed students and faculty to carry firearms on campus. He said:

I’m sure the university community is appreciative of the General Assembly’s actions because this will help parents, students, faculty and visitors feel safe on our campus.

Signs, doors, locks, and good intentions do help some to feel safe, but teachers and staff ready and able to stop killers is actual safety.

Mike McDaniel is a former police officer, detective, and SWAT operator, and is now a high school English teacher. He blogs here.

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All Comments   (72)
All Comments   (72)
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Liberal parents will not want teachers armed, also liberal teachers would fight against this. Other than that, lets do it. Great idea.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I completely agree with your position. If anything, you overstate the effectiveness of school resource officers. If I wanted to shoot up a school that had a resource officer, I would either wait until he was out for the day or just shoot him first when his back is turned. In the Norway shooting that left 70 children dead, the police officer was the first target.

I think a lot of commenters misunderstand the argument. We don't need to arm EVERY teacher. Just those few who are competent with firearms and are willing to shoulder the responsibility. One or two armed teachers in the school are much better than a dozen armed police officers miles away, especially if the shooter doesn't know which teachers are armed or how many.

The mere possibility that armed teachers are present can be enough to deter many shooters. Research has shown that these people look for unarmed victims and will usually give up and take their own life once confronted by a credible threat. The sooner such a threat is able to respond, the more lives will be saved.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
@geoffleach below; my "reply" won't work except on the first page:

"Permit me counter example. A Lanza wannabe busts open the door to the school and your employees have been denied any opportunity to defend themselves and the children. They are all killed in the five minutes that law enforcement needed to arrive. You, being the only member of management that was not killed, are sued for every nickel you have. You are reduced to penury. We all applaud."

Now that you gave yourself a nice warm feeling by "speaking truth to power" or some such inanity; it doesn't work that way, but you can feel free to take over the government in your state and do some serious tort and public officer and employee indemnity reform.

If a public manager was acting in the scope of his duty, and most public managers with any real power are very careful to act only in the scope of their duties, the manager is indemnified for his actions in the course of those duties. The employer, in this case the school district, would insert itself as the defendant in your fantasy lawsuit and if the SD loses, a lot of the taxpayers' money has just been pi**ed away. And the SD would likely lose because it is easy to find 12 morons with drivers' licenses who think governments are rich and the money is free, so they like to give it away.

At a practical level, individuals are rarely worth a lawsuit unless you just want to mess with them; they don't usually have enough money to make it worthwhile to sue them. The plaintiffs bar looks for the deep pockets and the entities twelve morons with drivers' licenses are unlikely to sympathise with, e.g., governments and large corporations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Hmmm ... well, serves me right for giving a lawyer an opening. I'll remember that in the future.

Now, how's about addressing yourself to the more important point. Forget about the legalities, and answer my point on the practicality of permitting the volontary arming of school personnel.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The most logical thing to do is NOTHING.
Our schools are safe, our country is safer now than when Ozzie and Harriet were on TV.
The sensationalism of the American press is what is scaring our country into a police state. It is as safe to hitch-hike today than ever! Per 100,000 (per capita) child molesters are down. Most crime is down.
Do you want your kids going into a school with armed officers? Did you ever think of the psychological impact of teaching 5-6-7-8-9-10 year olds how to avoid a madman coming into school to slaughter them? Or that that possibility is even realistic?

Get an effing grip people!! And yes....I will tell this to one of the Newtown parents - because it is facts that matter.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
While not about arming school staff, I think a little story about Orlando Florida is in order. At the time, there was a high rate of rape happening in the area. The response to demands by the Police to "do something" was answered by the police announcing they would be holding gun classes to anyone interested. They expected a few people would turn up but were overwhelmed by the number of women that showed up with anything from pistols to rifles to shotguns to take advantage of the class. The local papers and TV stations did a big promotion of the classes and the great turn out. From that time on, not only the number of rapes but also the numbers of all other crimes dropped rapidly. Armed citizenry does work.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One teacher pulls a gun on a would be assaulter. It becomes national news for days or weeks. Nationally the number of assaults on teachers and administrators mysteriously drops. Liberals are perplexed and confused. Problem solved.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Mass public shooters are typically cowards, and will not even attempt to attack a facility where they might face armed opposition.
One can fervently wish that the beautiful and courageous young woman who placed her body between her students and the Newtown shooter had been armed and able to defend them with deadly force.
It's clear from the Utah experience that a significant subgroup of teachers accepts the responsibility for defending their students from harm, in loco parentis. Armed teachers should have specific training in combat skills, and particularly the combat mindset, for their own safety and success.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1. How many of the people advocating armed teachers are teachers themselves? People who go into teaching do so because they want to work with children or because they are intellectuals, not so they can wrestle steers, drive bulldozers or get into gunfights with madmen. Well maybe the football coach, but he is way out on the practice field. If you want someone ready and willing to pull a gun on somebody and use it, why do you think your third grade teacher is the man for the job?
2. A teacher's responsibility in an emergency is to the children in her classroom. The last thing she should do at the sound of gunfire is abandon her flock of seven year olds to themselves and run down the hall looking for action, at the very moment they need her most. The courageous teacher at Newtown who hid her children in the closet and coolly told the gunman they were in the gym, did what a teacher is supposed to do, God rest her soul. If we are not willing to pay for a security agent to protect that teacher and her children, our children, we are not worthy to be parents.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Like a security guard making 15 bucks an hour is going to do the trick. Yeah right. Do not do anything!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
1) Why do you suppose wanting to work with children and being willing and able to defend them are contradictory? Because you're a worthless idiot. Why is the third grade teacher the person for the job? Because they're the one that is there.

2) A teacher's responsibility is to the children. That's why it's imperative that they have the tools necessary to defend those children. If Victoria Soto had been armed she, and several others, might still be alive. As it is, her students were lucky the madman didn't decide to look in the closet.

We owe it to our children to make the best use of our resources. A security guard isn't that. Not only is it far more expensive, since the district must cover the costs of an additional employee, but as others have pointed out, the security guard simply becomes the #1 priority on the shooter's victim list.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I tried to post this response twice last night and couldn't; I don't know why.
A security guard at Newtown would have seen the guy before he even got to the door, because his job would have been to watch - a watchman, get it. Teachers have other things to do than watch the monitors. And they would ALL be alive today.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Oops, shop owners not shot owners.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
There are armed teachers, in NYC. They're counting on one thing: that if they use their firearms to defend the school, no jury will convict them of weapons possession. I don't think any jury will. Better tried by 12 then carried by 6.
This is quite widespread in the NYC metro area. There are many armed citizens who have simply decided, better him than me. If they're carrying in NYC, they've decided to do the urban equivalent of shoot and shovel. Shoot and scoot.
My experience in the Bronx has been that numerous shot owners "wrestle the gun out of the robbers hands" and then "shoot him with his own gun" These cases are just left alone by the cops.
It would be nice if logical, sensible things that comport with liberty were done in the Northeast. That won't happen.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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