McFeely: They are teachers, not gunslingers
There is a portion of our population that, when they're not attacking courageous Florida schoolchildren as actors or pawns, believes the best way to make our schools safe from shootings is by turning them into the Wild West. That is to say, give teachers guns and tell them to not only teach reading, writing and arithmetic but also to be Wyatt Earp.
Funny thing about the tough guys proposing this, like President Donald Trump himself, is that it's likely they haven't stepped foot in a public school in decades, if ever, and it's even less likely they've spoken to anybody connected to public education in a meaningful way.
If they did, they'd find out most educators and administrators believe putting more guns in schools — particularly in the hands of people trained to teach children, not act as SWAT team members — is a colossally bad and dangerous idea.
"I think that idea assumes school shootings are going to be inevitable, and I think that's the problem with that solution," said Denise Specht, president of the Education Minnesota teachers union. "Let's meet the mental health needs of students, reduce access to weapons of mass murder and build secure schools instead. We don't need more guns in schools. We need fewer gunmen in schools."
You get the sense those who believe in giving teachers guns believe life is like a movie. They imagine a bad guy walking onto a set with an AR-15 and shooting a few people while a teacher who looks like Bruce Willis reaches into his desk for a gun and growls, "Not on my watch." Then it's a shootout at the O.K. Corral, ending with the gunman begging for his life while Bruce stands over him with a sneer before finishing the job with a pithy one-liner like, "Class dismissed."
Real life isn't that simple. Law enforcement reports from the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School near Miami say gunman Nikolas Cruz entered the school through a side door far from the main entrance and began shooting almost immediately. The massacre lasted less than five minutes, closer to three according to some accounts, and in that time Cruz fired about 100 rounds. It was horrifying chaos, illustrated by some of the video posted on social media by students in the school.
This is the scenario in which a social studies or chemistry teacher, armed with a handgun and a rudimentary amount of training, is supposed to move toward the shooter and take him out. Good luck.
"Teachers are trained to teach. Having them become a pseudo police force tasked with taking out an armed perpetrator is an unrealistic expectation," said Jim Johnson, president of the Fargo School Board. "If you ask teachers if they think this is a good idea, I think most would tell you they want to teach and not be armed guards. And I don't think you'd find many who want to carry a firearm into a school in the first place."
Johnson isn't opposed to placing armed "school resource officers" from local police forces in every school — many local schools have SROs now — but he would like federal funding to cover the cost. He knows that with nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States the price tag would be astronomical and the chances of Congress appropriating the money minimal. Trump and his clan, after all, are in a budget-cutting mood when it comes to schools.
Nick Archuleta, president of the North Dakota United teacher association, dislikes the idea of teachers being armed, but is warmer to trained law enforcement having a presence in each school.
"But how about if we mitigate some of the problems before they ever occur?" he asked.
Archuleta means boosting the numbers of counselors and mental-health experts to offer support and help for kids in need.
That's exactly what Specht would like to see.
"Instead of arming them with guns, how about if they're armed to face the challenges they see each and every day?" Specht said. "More counselors and social workers. We need more nurses. Arm us with smaller class sizes, so we can build relationships and get to know our students and families better."
That sounds more reasonable and less dangerous than putting guns in the desks of teachers. It admittedly doesn't sound nearly as Hollywood (or Tombstone) as turning teachers into gunslingers, which means it won't be popular among the Wild West crowd.