Editorial: Arming teachers not a quick-fix for safety
Coming out of the Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the what-to-do debate is centered on whether teachers should be armed while in their classrooms. It is a fraught question, and one that is nowhere near as simple as putting a gun in the pocket of every educator willing to pack one.
In Michigan, three bills were floated last week that would lead to the arming of teachers. Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, offered legislation that would allow school districts that choose to do so let qualified teachers carry guns inside schools.
Runestad proposes adding fingerprint-activated gun safes at various points throughout the school building that can only be accessed by staffers who have volunteered for the assignment, and have completed extensive training in both how to use the weapons and how to respond in a high-pressure emergency situation.
At first glance, that proposal is preferable to bills being prepared by Rep. Gary Glenn, R-Williams Township. Glenn is offering two options. The first would allow teachers and other school employees who have a concealed pistol license and additional training to carry their guns in schools. The second would mandate districts to allow teachers with a CPL to carry if they so choose.
Permitting teachers to carry weapons while on the job is something that should not be forced by the state. Individual communities should decide whether they are comfortable with an armed school staff. And opening it up to any teacher who chooses to carry takes away local discretion to decide which employees administrators believe are qualified in the dual role of security officer.
Runestad’s bill takes a more responsible approach. Teachers would be required to get 80 hours of training that goes well beyond simply learning the mechanics of shooting. They also would be trained in how to respond in an active shooter situation and the complex decision-making required before a trigger is pulled.
As Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon said last week, throwing an armed teacher into a chaotic hallway or classroom packed with both panicked students and a gunman is not a position in which to place an amateur.
In addition to the initial training, Runestad would require monthly instruction to ensure teachers stay up-to-date on their skills.
The current situation in which most schools have no armed security presence and a relatively open campus does not work in an era when schools have become a preferred target for deranged gunmen.
The best way to improve safety for students are trained, professional security personnel whose sole focus is protecting the staff and children. Some teachers may very well prove to be adaptable to the second mission of providing security; but that seems an uneven expectation at best. What happens in those schools where no teachers are qualified or willing to take on the assignment?
Security must be a funding priority. Funds must be set aside for armed guards and other measures that make schools safer. Those may include metal detectors, ID card access and locked vestibules that stand as a buffer between classrooms and visitors.
Arming teachers may seem a simple solution to school security. But it raises a lot of concerns. A good guy with a gun may indeed be able to stop a bad guy with a gun, but the odds increase greatly if that good guy is a trained and experienced professional.