Picture it, senior Calculus Seminar, 2019, Any High School, USA. It’s April, the warm breeze is blowing through an open window, and your teacher is explaining a type of integral you know you’re going to use in real life because you just got accepted to the College of Engineering at the State U. As you fantasize about the labs you’ll be working in next year and how beautiful the people there with you will be, your teacher reaches up to write something on the Smart Board, and her blazer moves just slightly, revealing the handle of her Glock 19, lovingly carried in a purple shoulder holster that matches her blouse. Without a moment’s hesitation, you continue taking notes, and she continues teaching. It’s just another day in America. “I’m glad she’s armed. Nothing can happen to us like this.”, you think to yourself.
OK, enough. Apparently, there are a lot of people in this country who think like this. I know a bunch of them personally, and apparently, people elected quite a few to public office. I keep hearing these ideas discussed, and subsequently denied on Twitter by a certain 45th president, and I have no idea why people can’t see what an objectively horrible idea it would be to arm teachers. Leaving aside our ideals about schools being safe places, and any emotional reaction we may have to guns, there are multiple practical reasons we should take this idea off the table for good, and instead focus on legislation that will help in other ways.
First, let’s think about equipment and its capabilities. This is the one that really jumps out at me. Even if you love guns, this idea makes no sense. Actually, anyone who loves guns and knows anything about them, and still proposes this is being deliberately disingenuous because they know damned well that it won’t work. Mass shooters in recent years tend to use AR-15 rifles, as we have established. One reason they tend to prefer these is because they’re accurate from a long distance. In the Army, we qualified on targets up to 300 Meters with our M-4’s, which are a military grade AR-15 equivalent. If you have good vision, it’s not even difficult to hit those long targets. This rifle is fantastic for picking off targets at a distance. That’s exactly how mass shooters use them, and why they’re so deadly. Nobody can get close. The most recent shooter didn’t even get taken down. He stopped shooting when he decided he was done, and walked away. That’s the kind of prerogative a long range rifle buys a person in that situation. Every proposition I’ve seen has suggested that teachers be armed with handguns as concealed carry permit holders, and right there is where you should stop and declare this idea ineffective and tactically unsound.
In addition to other weapons, I had the opportunity to qualify a couple times with the 9 mm Beretta when I was in the Army, and the first thing I noticed was that the targets were much closer than what I was used to seeing on the M-4 and M-249 ranges! Instead of the closest target being 75 M away, it was more like 5 M, and part of qualifying was firing while walking toward the targets. The reason many staff officers carry 9 mm’s rather than M-4’s, is because they don’t do patrols, and if they need to shoot an enemy, it’s because the wire got breached, a lot of enlisted soldiers with M-4’s got taken out, and they’re going to be in close contact with those combatants. Handguns are for close range. That is what they’re designed for. They are extremely inaccurate at long distances. Arming a teacher with a concealed handgun against a shooter with a long range rifle would not achieve the desired results even if they were an expert marksman, which the majority of teachers are not. It is a gross imbalance in equipment capabilities.
Speaking of accuracy, I read a statistic yesterday that didn’t surprise me a bit. The NYPD has a hit rate of 18% of their targets in live fire situations (the streets, not the range). This doesn’t mean they’re bad shots. They aren’t. They’re well trained professionals who visit the range on a regular basis. As far as accuracy goes, they’re pretty much the best case scenario. They hit 18% of their real world targets because live fire situations are always messy. A suspect doesn’t stay still and wait for the police to shoot them. They run around erratically, seek cover, and you can bet they return fire, necessitating that the officer seek cover as well. The odds of getting a good shot are slim.
Let’s also acknowledge the obvious byproduct of the above situation. 18% of rounds fired by NYPD officers hit their mark. What do you think the other 82% do? They don’t just disappear into thin air. They hit something. With luck, that’s a building, or a tree, or something else inanimate, but in these situations, people are afraid and act unpredictably. If it’s a crowded area (as schools are), then you can just about guarantee that a certain percentage of those rounds are going to hit innocent people. Fortunately, a majority of people who get shot in error don’t die, but they do suffer injuries, sometimes severe, sometimes life limiting. This isn’t a small risk. It’s a reality of gun use in public.
The risks to bystanders drastically outweigh the slim chance an armed teacher could actually get close enough to the shooter to be in range with their sidearm, and get that 18 in 100 shot that takes them down. Chances are, the shooter would take them out before they could get close enough for those 18% odds to even come into play, and that’s assuming the teacher in question is as well trained as an NYPD officer. Since they probably would not be, because they’re teachers, not police officers, the odds are actually much worse.
Next, let’s look at the tactics of an active shooter situation. Anyone who’s ever had training in military or law enforcement knows what a combatant is. Basically, it’s someone with a weapon who looks like they might use it. When you are clearing a room, you take down all combatants you come into contact with. You don’t ask them a bunch of questions about whose side they’re on, and then deliberate on what you should do about it, because if they’re not on your side, they’re going to shoot you while you sit there trying to figure out if you should shoot them. You have to make a one second decision on whether that person is a combatant or not, and then act. In an active shooter situation, when law enforcement enters the building, they are looking for someone with a gun. If you have a gun in that situation, you are going to get shot because you look like a combatant. The only good guys with guns in this scenario are the police. Armed civilians just end up dead. This is a recipe for more dead teachers. Who would actually advocate for that?
There are numerous other reasons this is a bad idea, including cost, training, freak accidents, and it simply not being the job of teachers to take something like this on. We could talk about these aspects of the issue for a week given the chance, but at the end of the day, this is a practical and tactical disaster waiting to happen, and we need to put it out of our minds immediately. I’m disappointed that so many people in this country value guns over human life to such an extent that they would actually propose an idea that would cause more death, and not address the issue at hand in any respect, rather than taking the hard step and coming to the table to create common sense bipartisan legislation to keep our youngest citizens safe in school. We have to demand better than this.