Friday, December 28, 2012

Questions That Need To Be Asked

I consider Facebook magic. Magic in the deepest sense of the word, though. It addresses powers both good and evil so you have to be careful how you use it. I've been lucky that this form of social media has brought back to me some great friends from my childhood. When one of those friends, Julie Leavitt, posted some incisive questions following the Newtown killings I asked if she would care to share them here and she agreed. We waited until we got through Christmas before posting and I wondered if we'd missed the window of relevance to this conversation. Now some teachers in Utah are being offered free gun training. We've come right back around to being timely again.  - Kizz

We’ve by now heard the calls, from politicians as well as private citizens, to prevent future school massacres by "simply" "arming the teachers." Governor Bob McDonnell (he of "trans-vaginal ultrasound infamy) says it's time to have "a reasonable discussion" about this.

So, fine; let’s discuss. I have a few questions we could address at this "reasonable discussion." They are as follows:

  • To whom would these guns be registered? Are they the teachers' personal property, or property of the school? How would this impact the hiring of teachers? “Wanted: kindergarten teacher, Must have BA in elementary education, a love of children, a commitment to educational excellence, and Colt .45 or similar”?
  • Who will pay for the guns and ammunition? (The teachers themselves, the BoE, the local police?) Will this be a line-item on the annual school budget? What will it feel like to cut teacher salaries or position, to cut programs, supplies, capital improvements, to pay for guns? What does that say about our educational philosophy?
  • Where will these guns be stored during school? Loaded, on the teachers’ persons? Loaded, but in a locked desk drawer? Unloaded? What’s the sweet spot between “have gun at the ready to combat armed intruder” and “do not accidentally discharge weapon during circle time”?
  • How will these guns and the ammunition for them be secured when school is not in session (after class, on weekends, over the summer)? What security measures would need to be put in place to prevent theft? What procedures would need to be in place to track the guns and ammunition on a daily basis?
  • How can we ensure teachers are adequately trained to use these guns properly? Teachers, like police, would need to be trained in the proper use and care of firearms. Not a one-time crash course, but a recurring workshop. Will this be the responsibility of the local BoE, the state, the local police departments? Part of college teacher training and certification? Does that become part of professional development curriculum? (Imagine kids having the day off from school so their teacher can go to target practice.) How would teachers be compensated for this extra training time?
  • How will a school's insurance be impacted by the presence of firearms in a school building? With the school becoming an armory, there is increased for theft, fire and explosion, not to mention the inherent risk to life and health of the staff and students.
  • What do we do about the children who are anxious or traumatized sitting in class, knowing there is a loaded weapon at the teacher's desk? Do we set up "gun-free" classrooms for the squeamish? Insist they be home-schooled?
  • What do we do with teachers who can't, or won't, participate in this de-facto draft? (My ancient history teacher from junior high comes to mind. I was convinced she’d lived through the Civil War; I doubt she could have lifted a gun, let alone shot it with any accuracy). Fire them, refuse to hire them, deny them promotion or tenure? Pay them less than their armed colleagues? How does this gun-toting policy intersect with academic freedom? Or our country’s policy regarding conscription?
  • How do we monitor the mental health of the teachers and staff, some of who might be otherwise disqualified from obtaining a gun permit, without running afoul of HIPPA? How do we ensure that an overworked teacher or faculty member, or a faculty member with a personal problem, doesn't simply use the weapon on other adults or students?
  • What happens when the student becomes the threat? The student may be unarmed (or not, I mean, we can hardly impose metal detector monitoring if the faculty is packing heat), but might threaten violence (happens all the time in confrontations with armed police officers). How do we prevent "stand-your-ground" shootings of violent or menacing students by a teacher? Would the school district pay for the legal fees incurred by a criminal investigation, trial or civil lawsuit?
  • How do we prevent, say, a distraught or violent high school student from overpowering a teacher, taking their gun, and turning it on the class? (And before you say, "That could never happen!" I refer you to Nancy Lanza, who bought several guns for her own protection.)
  • What do we tell our children when, despite all these precautions, someone enters a school with the intent to do harm and unarmed students die in great numbers? Arm the students? Remember, there was an armed police officer on campus at Columbine High School. (He shot at the 2 shooters, but failed to take them out.) Remember, an armed police officer was shot 15 times by the shooter at the Sikh temple last summer. (He was on the scene less than 3 minutes after the attack began, and he was prepared to deal with a killer). Remember, Fort Hood had not only armed civilian police in the immediate area (one of whom was seriously wounded while attempting to shoot the suspect) but trained, military professionals on hand (many of whom had seen combat), a huge armory, and sophisticated surveillance.
Does any of this sound “reasonable?”

I see nothing “reasonable” in turning our schools into armed camps. I see more potential for mayhem and less time, money or energy for the teaching of children. I see an additional burden placed on our teachers at a time when we already ask too much of them. I see children made anxious and stressed in a place where they should be relaxed and focused on learning.

I also see a huge financial investment at a time when education budgets have been cut to the bone, and taxpayers have insisted they can't be squeezed for a penny more. That money, of course, would go to gun manufacturers. That money would then be spent in part on lobbying efforts to promote a pro-gun agenda and pro-gun elected officials. Like ….. Bob McDonnell.

Now, I doubt Bob McDonnell has spent the time it takes to read this post in thinking about any of these issues. But I can’t help but see how this scheme of his does ensure more money for his campaign backers.

I think, frankly, it’s more “reasonable” for McDonnell, or the gun lobbyists who helped elect him, to simply rob us all at gunpoint. There’s a refreshing honesty in “Stick ‘em up!” that this “more guns for safe schools” philosophy sorely lacks.

About Julie: I'm a mom, a costume designer, a college prof, and a PTO member who has volunteer-taught science experiments in elementary school classrooms for the last 3 years. I'm also a vocal supporter of public education, a denouncer of standardized tests, and a detester of No Child Left Behind. I live 2 towns over from Newtown and, while I didn't know any of the victims personally, many of my friends and colleagues do. I'm not pro-gun, but I grew up among hunters and veterans. I respect the Second Amendment, but think the NRA is not an honest broker on responsible gun ownership in this country. 


  1. my opinion:

    at most, i think there should be a cabinet in the principal's office, locked, and maybe two people should have access to it. every adult in the building should know how to properly handle and accurately fire whatever's in the cabinet. there should be regular, possibly monthly or better, practice bouts at a local range. this way no one is forced to own a gun if they don't want it. and i'm not sure if this is the right solution, either.

    that said...forcing teachers to own a gun if they don't want to is wrong. and i'd also like to bring up the fact that in many areas, marksmanship used to be taught to students in their own schools. it's not completely unheard-of to have firearms in schools, but i think people are so revved up about this that any solution will be problematic.

  2. The single most problematic issue here is, I think, the economics of it. All that training, the gun cabinet, the insurance costs money and we're already woefully underfunded for the actual education for kids. I just don't see how we find that money or, hell, even the money to debate this, when we're not paying for everything for their core classes much less things like music and art and fucking special education. Adding another expense (and having the suggestion made by politicians who have routinely voted to underfund and underpay in the education sector) seems like a bunch of opportunistic bullshitting by people who think constituents are stupid.

  3. oh, i agree completely. like i said, i don't think it's the right solution.

    however, i am left wondering what the government's been doing while people are babbling about this. they seem to enjoy hotbutton issues when other major things are going of those HEY LOOK OVER THERE while we do stuff over here situations. they're avoiding the fiscal cliff discussion to talk about gun issues, and the latter isn't quite as important at this point in time.