A disarming notion

I didn’t want to write this particular column. Frankly, I’m not worthy, not in the face of the sacrifices made by my fellow educators Rachel D’Avino, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, and Victoria Soto last month during the Newtown tragedy. Unfortunately, with so many politicians discussing the idea of arming teachers, it seems worse to write nothing.

Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst wants his state to train teachers to carry concealed guns because, “We must do everything we can to protect the safety and well-being of our most precious possession — our children.”

Orlando school board member Bill Mathias wants to “deputize” teachers and administrators, providing them actual law enforcement training.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Greg Lucas wants to make it legal for teachers to have guns in the classroom because, “We have to consider trusting school personnel to serve as the first line of defense. We trust them to protect our children every single day … we need to offer them the tools to carry out that sacred trust.”

Texas Rep. Louie Gohmert advocates arming schoolteachers because he believes killers choose schools “because they know no one will be armed.”

The logical extension of this argument is that shooters will move on to other sites if we stock our schools with guns. What about those other areas without weaponry? Will we ask ushers to pack heat at theaters, or ask priests to strap a Glock underneath their robes for Mass? Will nurses need to add target practice to their duties at the nursing home? How many guns will we need at the Boys & Girls Club as opposed to the day care center?

I have no bright ideas to truly protect every child in school. I’m an eighth grade English teacher; counter-insurgence is out of my depth. I don’t know whether we need more gun legislation or less, armed guards or metal detectors at school doors, increased funding for mental health or zero tolerance for those deemed unstable. Instead, I’ll write about what I do know: Teachers like me should not be the armed deterrent at schools.

Outsourcing the security of our children to teachers provides an illusion of safety while ensuring the opposite. In the interest of brevity, I’ll leave out the obvious danger of kids getting their hands on teacher guns, the accidental discharge of weaponry when handled by relative amateurs, or the discomforting effect a teacher’s holstered gun might have on a shy student in class. Instead, I’ll focus on the fact that I’m an idiot. Nobody wants me with a gun in my hand. There are days I can barely handle a protractor, much less a .44-caliber Smith & Wesson. Alas, many of my colleagues are equally ill-equipped to serve in a teacher militia. We are a profession known for leaving coffee stains on student work; some of us shouldn’t be asked to multitask on anything more complicated than choosing which color ink we’ll use while correcting.

Those who ask teachers to carry firearms in school misunderstand the fragile school environment. Clearly, we already protect students on a daily basis: We stop the bullies, heal the rifts in social circles, and salve the wounds after a bad test. We comfort them when Grandpa dies, introduce them to deodorant or dandruff shampoo as needed, and sometimes give them the unconditional love and support they might be missing at home. We’re not soldiers.

Teachers are helpers by nature; done right, teaching is more of a calling than a profession. We become teachers because we care about kids and want to help, neither of which provides the skill set to effectively shoot intruders. No amount of training would overcome the fact that I need two cups of coffee just to take attendance in the morning, much less tag a killer at distance.

There are some who might welcome the opportunity to carry a gun in school; cafeteria workers and school bus drivers might have trouble hiding their elation. However, they’d be of little use. In lockdown training, we close our blinds, lock our doors, and huddle away from doors and windows until help comes. Do I feel helpless? Yes. However, if I open my door to help others because I’m armed, I risk not only my life but also those of my students who now cower in an unlocked room should I go down. Rambo moments have consequences even in skilled hands.

Even with a gun I wouldn’t know when to fire or even whether I’d be firing at the right person. Trusting the guy drawing smiley-faces on essays to dispatch the people threatening your child’s life makes as much sense as having lifeguards serve double-duty as Navy SEALs. That “we’re already there” doesn’t qualify us for the job. It’s all I can do to remember to change my car’s oil every 20,000 miles. (It is every 20,000 miles, right?)

I point out these absurdities with humor because it’s the only weapon at my disposal, but the fact is that humor has no place in this discussion. When I first heard about arming schoolteachers, I assumed it was a bad joke. It’s worse. It’s a naked attempt to mollify a shocked nation, to provide the illusion of safety and control where none currently exists. The danger of this illusion is that it stunts the rational search for answers in the interest of political expediency. The heroes that died in Newtown deserve better.

We shouldn’t settle for easy answers because they don’t exist. There are only hard choices ahead of us, assuming we have the courage to make them. I wish I had answers, but all I have is this: Arming teachers is the wrong choice, and it’s too late to shoot first and ask questions later.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at rob@RobertFWalsh.net or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.