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Arming teachers is outrageous — and it won't make schools safer

Many children and young adults were among the thousands of people who marched through downtown Seattle on March 24, 2018, as part of the March for Our Lives protest. The worldwide event called for gun control reforms in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead. (Photos by Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

Pretend for a moment you are a school administrator. You want to support your students and your staff. You want to make your school a safe and welcoming environment for your students and their families.

Now imagine you are asked to carry a gun to work every day and to be prepared to stop an armed attacker.

This will mean additional training and certification. It will also mean being forced to consider that each student and faculty member could be a potential threat. And it will mean surrendering to the fact that gun violence is inevitable when you go to school in America.

Our young people deserve to be safe from gun violence in their schools. Arming school officials is not the answer.

Although there is no evidence suggesting that arming school personnel will help protect students, proposals to arm teachers, administrators and other school employees have gained steam since the February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 dead.

Earlier this month, Florida became the latest state to pass legislation allowing for armed teachers. Texas is poised to allow unlimited armed marshals in schools. And closer to home, some administrators in the Toppenish School District are armed and theoretically trained to stop a potential attacker.

The theory behind these measures is that armed personnel will be able to intervene in an active shooter situation. But it is outrageous to assume teachers or any school employee should be prepared to neutralize a shooter.

That's not just because teachers should focus on teaching, but also because armed civilians are almost never successful at stopping shootings. According to the FBI, in 50 active shooter situations between 2016 and 2017, an armed civilian successfully intervened in just 4 percent of cases. Unarmed civilians, by comparison, successfully intervened in 12 percent of the incidents. 

Additionally, armed civilians interfere with law enforcement’s ability to effectively respond to active shooter incidents by making it much more difficult to identify the suspect. This confusion puts innocent bystanders and law enforcement at risk.  

Calls to arm school personnel also ignore that many schools already have armed police or guards on campus, and they have not increased school safety.

Nearly 40 percent of public schools in the United States have at least one “school resource officer,” a law enforcement official assigned to patrol a given school. Marjory Stoneman Douglas is one of them.

School resource officers (SROs) have not proved to be a successful deterrent for gun violence or other types of violence in schools. Most SROs are not trained to work with children; there is no required training in Washington state. Unfortunately, untrained SROs sometimes become involved in violent confrontations with students when enforcing school policies.

For students of color, arming school officials — a majority of whom are white — would do little to increase their sense of safety. Schools across the country and here in Washington state disproportionately discipline students of color. And schools with higher percentages of minority populations see more disciplinary measures, from suspensions and expulsions to police referrals and arrests. All of these factors lead students, teachers and parents of color to fear that arming school officials will serve only to endanger, rather than protect, them.

And while there is no research to suggest that arming school personnel will make students safer, there is research to suggest it will do the opposite.

You don’t have to look hard to find incidents of guns being mishandled at schools. There was the teacher and reserve police officer who unintentionally fired his gun during a safety demonstration, injuring three students. There was the teacher who left a loaded gun on the back of a toilet where a group of 6- and 8-year-olds discovered it. And there was the child who fired a school resource officer’s gun while it was in its holster. There have been at least 65 reported incidents like this in the past five years.

Keeping gun violence out of our schools will take a comprehensive approach that addresses the root causes of this crisis — namely, easy access to firearms in volatile circumstances. Washington has taken several positive steps in that direction, first with the passage of Initiative 1639 last November, and then with a series of bill this legislative session that will give families and schools the tools to help prevent gun violence before it happens.

Arming school personnel will not stop school shootings. It will only make our schools less safe.

Updated at 5:55 pm on May 30: Editor's note: Jim Pugel is a candidate for Seattle City Council. It's our policy to avoid publishing articles by candidates during a campaign, and we regret the oversight of his candidacy before publication of this article.

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Arming teachers is outrageous — and it won't make schools safer

About the Authors & Contributors

Nyla Fritz

Nyla Fritz is a middle school principal in the Seattle area.

Jim Pugel

Jim Pugel is the former Chief of Seattle Police.