Utah teacher Kasey Hansen says carrying a concealed weapon in school is “more of a solution” than hiding in a corner and waiting if an armed intruder enters the classroom. But Texas teacher Tara Bordeaux worries that she lacks “the instincts” of a law enforcement officer and can’t easily see herself carrying a gun in class.
Both say carrying a gun in school is a matter of personal preference. But in the aftermath of yet another mass school shooting, there are deep divisions, from President Donald Trump to educators, parents and school security officers, about whether teachers should be armed.
Lawmakers in several states are wrestling with the contentious idea, including Florida, where the 17 victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are being mourned.
Trump said during a listening session Wednesday with parents and survivors of school shootings that a teacher adept at firearms “could very well end the attack very quickly.” He followed that up with a tweet Thursday that “highly trained teachers would act as a deterrent to the cowards that do this” and later suggested they receive bonuses for the added responsibility.
The president of the 1.7 million-member American Federation of Teachers, Randi Weingarten, called arming teachers a horrible idea and said an educator’s handgun would be no match for the assault-style weapons often wielded by attackers.
“The solution is to ban these military weapons from people who shouldn’t have them,” Weingarten said.
The National Association of School Resource Officers, which provides training to school-based law enforcement officers, said it opposes arming teacher. “Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant,” it said in a statement Thursday.
Wayne LaPierre, vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, said Thursday that reactions like Weingarten’s are expected after mass shootings.
“The whole idea from some of our opponents that armed security makes us less safe is completely ridiculous,” he told a conference of conservatives in Washington.
Calling schools “virtually wide-open soft targets,” LaPierre added, “It should not be easier for a mad man to shoot up a school than a bank or a jewelry store.”
In Florida, Republican state Sen. Greg Steube has proposed allowing specially trained educators with military or law enforcement backgrounds to be armed.
“Our most valuable, most precious resources are our children. Why in the world are we going to put them in a circumstance where there is nobody that is armed and trained at any of our schools to be able to respond quickly to an active shooter situation?” Steube told The Associated Press.
Similar discussions have taken place in Kentucky, Colorado, North Carolina and Alabama in recent days. In Wisconsin, the attorney general said he’s open to the idea.
“Our students do not need to be sitting ducks. Our teachers do not need to be defending themselves with a No. 2 pencil,” Alabama state Rep. Will Ainsworth, a Republican, said in proposing a bill days after the Valentine’s Day shooting in Florida.
In contrast, a California law that took effect Jan. 1 halted the ability of school districts to allow non-security employees to carry guns on campus.
The debate breaches statehouse walls. A poll released this week by ABC News/Washington post says 42 percent of Americans believe teachers with guns could have prevented the Florida shooting.
“I’m not here to tell all teachers that they have to carry a gun,” said Hansen, the Utah teacher, who’s from Salt Lake City. She said the idea to arm herself in school began with the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults died.
“It just really hit home that these teachers, all they could do was pile those kids in a corner and stand in front of them and hope for the best,” she said. “For me personally, I felt that it was more of a solution than just hiding in a corner and waiting.”
In 2014, a Utah teacher who was carrying a concealed firearm accidently dropped her weapon in an elementary school bathroom and it fired. The teacher was injured when the bullet struck a toilet and caused it to explode. No faculty or students were around, but the teacher resigned from her job and was charged with a misdemeanor. She paid a fine and took a firearm-safety class as part of a plea deal.
Bordeaux, in Austin, Texas, is comfortable with guns. But she wonders whether she could pull the trigger on a student, even one who is armed.
“Would I get the same training and would I have the same type of instinct of when and how to use it?” asked Bordeaux, her state’s 2018 teacher of the year. “I don’t have any instincts in me to be an officer of the law. My instincts are to be a teacher.”
At least eight states allow, or don’t specifically prohibit, concealed weapons in K-12 schools, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Brock Cartwright, the superintendent in Claude, Texas, won’t reveal how many or who among his teachers is armed, but the district’s message to potential intruders blares in capital letters in three signs: “Please be aware that the staff at Claude ISD is armed and may use whatever force necessary to protect our students.”
Like other administrators, Cartwright said armed teachers are just one part of safety plans that include drilling for emergencies and shoring up buildings. The small town east of Amarillo doesn’t have a police department, raising concerns about the potential response time for law enforcement.
“Hopefully, we never have to use it,” Cartwright said, “but if we do, our thought is we’re going to hold off until help arrives.”
When asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt about arming teachers, the U.S. education secretary, Betsy DeVos, said states “clearly have the opportunity and the option to do that.”
Robert Morphew, a parent from Magnolia, Texas, would want strict guidelines, including for teachers to be trained and licensed, to support guns in his son’s high school.
“I do think it would be a deterrent, there’s no doubt,” he said.
In Buffalo, New York, parent Wendy Diina disagreed.
“Why am I trying to prevent someone from having a gun by giving a gun to someone else?” the mother of two asked.
The National Association of School Resource Officers favors hiring more trained law enforcement officers, in part to ensure a teacher’s gun won’t mistakenly wind up in a student’s hands.
Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco; Mallory Moench in Montgomery, Alabama; Ken Thomas, Nancy Benac and Jill Colvin in Washington; and Kantele Franko in Columbus, Ohio, contributed to this report.