Starting this fall, more than 20 teachers and staff members will roam the halls and classrooms of Clarksville public schools with concealed handguns every day.
In the small city of Clarksville, Arkansas, this is superintendent David Hopkins’ response to the tragic school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, which has heightened Clarksville parents’ concern about their own children’s safety. As Hopkins explains, "The plan we’ve been given in the past is 'Well, lock your doors, turn off your lights and hope for the best.'" But in light of recent horrific shootings on school grounds, the district has decided, "That’s not a plan."
So what is the plan? Allowing educators to double time as security guards. The district is spending around $50,000 to train and arm volunteers. After 53 hours of training, the educator will be allowed to carry a concealed weapon and assume the responsibility of armed guards. Voilà! Problem fixed.
Not so fast.
First, it’s easy to look back on Sandy Hook and say we could’ve prevented a tragedy if only the teachers were armed. I won’t say this isn’t true; a teacher very well could have shot Adam Lanza early into the shooting spree and stopped the massacre. However, this scenario overlooks all the other days in which the gun could have been used to unintentionally injure or kill a student. Statistically speaking, between 1999 and 2010, the Center for Disease Control recorded 1,880 accidental firearm deaths of youth between the ages of 1-19. During that same period, CDC noted 215 homicides of youths ages 5-18 on school grounds or on the way to and from school. While the two sets of data cover different age ranges, it suggests that even if a teacher was successful at stopping a perpetrator 100% of the time, for every child saved, almost nine others will have died from the pure risk of accidental death resulting from the presence of the gun.
Second, this policy brings up the issue of accessibility. For students who intend to commit suicide, homicide, or both, the school becomes one more venue to acquire the weapon. Let’s be honest, we’ve all lost, misplaced, or had our precious possessions stolen, whether it be a wallet, passport, or maybe even a child. As human beings, things will inevitably slip through the cracks of our attention. Of course, I’m not insinuating this will be a regular occurrence, but even well-trained, long time police chiefs and police officers are susceptible to these occasional errors. It only takes a moment of absentmindedness to spur a crime of opportunity.
Lastly, it’s difficult to imagine that after simply 53 hours of training, the educators can become prepared to engage with active shooters effectively. This isn’t simply about learning how to handle a gun or fire with precision. It is also about being mentally and emotionally prepared to react calmly, quickly, and precisely in high pressure situations. It’s one thing to say you’re willing and able to shoot someone if he or she presents to be a threat; it’s another to change in a split second from being a nurturing, supportive teacher to a disciplined armed guard ready to fire at someone without hesitation. To say that educators can master this mindset and control in merely 53 hours what takes police officers an entire career is not only naïve but also reckless.
Simply put, we need to keep our children safe, but arming teachers and staff members will neither be an effective nor responsible approach.