Archive for February, 2018


The Folly of Arming Teachers

February 26, 2018

The idea of arming teachers to prevent mass shootings in American schools springs more from romanticized fancy than reality. The John Wayne/Rambo fantasy of stopping the bad guys with gun blazing is still alive and well in the American psyche. However, I find it hard to believe that armed teachers with minimal training at random locations in a school building during a high stress active shooter scenario would be an effective measure to solve the problem.

Though I have no doubt that there are some teachers in some schools who would be willing to carry guns on the job, that does not mean that they would be able to successfully intervene in school shootings. Take a look at statistics concerning firearm use by trained police both on the target range and on duty.

In a study published in the International Journal of Police Science & Management (2015, Vol. 17(2) 117 – 127), shooting accuracy was compared between expert (completed law enforcement firearms course), intermediate (recreational experience), and novice (minimal experience) level shooters. The accuracy percent overall from a variety of distances was 48.73% for the experts and intermediates, and 39.91% for the novices. However, at a distance of 18 to 45 feet which more realistically reflects an active school shooter situation, the accuracy percent falls to 39.4% for experts and intermediates and only 27.6% for novices. Remember that this is in a target range situation, not a real life one in which the research shows that an officer’s performance is greatly affected.

John C. Cerar, a retired commander of the New York Police Department’s firearms training section, aptly put it this way: “You take Olympic shooters, and they practice all the time, and they can hit a fly off a cow’s nose from 100 yards. But if you put a gun in that cow’s hand, you will get a different reaction from the Olympic shooter.”

This reaction is readily seen in the 2008 RAND Corporation study which evaluated the New York City Police Department. Examination of statistics from the years 1998 through 2006 shows that in cases of shootings when the suspect did not return fire, officers had a 30% accuracy rate. When fire was returned, the accuracy rate dropped to just 18%. Just how well could we expect teachers whose main job is not law enforcement to fare?

Another aspect not given enough consideration is an unfortunate byproduct of gunfire — the shooting of innocent bystanders — something even well-trained police officers fear. In real-life situations filled with movement and chaos — especially in a school filled with children — the chances of this are dangerously increased.

As appealing as it might sound to some, it is simplistic to think that merely arming members of a school staff would provide an adequate resolution to the dilemma. The idea is fraught with complications.  Exactly how much and what kind of training could be given to teachers who are already burdened with myriad responsibilities? How many teachers would actually agree to be armed? Some schools may have a large number of willing participants but others few or none.  Schools are generally organized by grade level. How then can those who volunteer to bear arms be placed in the building to provide feasible security? How would carrying a gun affect the students’ relationships with their teachers? How would it affect the teacher psychologically and emotionally?

Furthermore, armed teachers would most likely not serve as a deterrent. Those who have been responsible for these shootings have not been mentally stable people. The shootings are fueled by irrational emotion to which the logic of deterrence doesn’t adhere.

Schools are only one of many vulnerable sites in our society. Exactly where would the arming of “soft targets” stop? Ministers packing heat to protect their parishioners? Secretaries and managers with Glocks to safeguard offices? Ushers with pieces to secure movie theaters? No, the answer is not to turn the country into an armed camp. Rather, what we need to do is eliminate as best we can the problem at its source. Put teeth in the mandatory background checks for gun ownership including the presently exempt gun shows. Have an adequate waiting period so that a thorough check can be done. Connect law enforcement and mental health agencies so that swift and accurate communication between them is possible. Pass and enforce a ban on those weapons that can fire many shots in a short period of time, notably the current mass murder weapon of choice, the AR 15 (which, despite being “only” semi automatic, can fire 90 rounds in a minute). If there must be an armed presence, provide funds for well-trained armed security outside the school to prevent any potential shooter from entering. But to think that arming teachers is a solution to this terrible problem is a foolhardy idea.