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Arming classroom teachers: A personal perspective

Of course, it’s something, at least. But it’s not the answer. And we shouldn’t let Trump or the NRA convince us that it is.

Students at Roosevelt High School in Seattle take

Students at Roosevelt High School in Seattle take part in a protest against gun violence March 14, 2018. Politicians in Washington state are joining students who walked out of class to protest against gun violence. Photo Credit: AP / Manuel Valdes

I had been thinking about the idea of arming classroom teachers well before President Trump suggested the measure as a response to the terrible murders of 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month.

In fact, last fall it became personal. My home state, Texas, legalized concealed handgun carry on all public college campuses, meaning that the formerly gun-free classrooms in which I had labored for the preceding 29 years may now be populated by concealed carriers, including teachers.

I wasn’t enthusiastic about this notion, and when the legislation was under development several years ago, neither were the Austin police chief, a number of state law enforcement agencies and the administration at the University of Texas at Austin.

The chancellor of the U.T. system, former Navy SEAL William McRaven, pushed back hard, arguing that the presence of more guns on public campuses would actually make them “less safe.” His chief concern was that whatever righteous use - by students or teachers - might be made of weapons on campus would be outweighed by the increased accidents and suicides that often accompany ready access to guns.

I shared some of these same objections, but I was just as concerned about the cultural “normalizing” that concealed carry on campus would imply: Have we truly reached the point in our society where you have to carry a gun in order to be safe? And, besides, what dampening effect might the presence of guns in the classroom - concealed or not - has on the sort of free expression that colleges exist to encourage?

But when I expressed these misgivings in writing, I invariably heard from readers who argued, often passionately: “Well, if you had been at Virginia Tech, wouldn’t you have wanted to have a gun when the shooting started?”

Or at Columbine? Or Sandy Hook? Or, now, Parkland, Fla.?

The readers’ points are well taken. In the case of a shooter, indeed, I would want to have a gun. And since our culture has been extraordinarily ineffective in dealing with our unique brand of American gun violence, I wondered whether I had any responsibility to protect not only myself but my students, as well.

So maybe I should have dusted off the .357 magnum that’s resided in my desk drawer, unfired, for more than a couple of decades and carried it into the classroom.

I’m no great fan of guns, but I’m not afraid of them or intimidated by them. My family goes back at least five generations in Texas, and even though I don’t come from a long line of enthusiastic hunters, this being Texas, I had an occasional chance to plink targets with a .22 when I was a kid.

In the Navy we practiced firing a couple of clips from a .45. I went dove hunting once: one shot, one dove. And once I killed a young buck with a clean, early-morning shot from a couple hundred yards. He was delicious.

So maybe I was the kind of teacher that President Trump had in mind when he called for arming teachers after Parkland.

But I suspect that arming teachers will merely give us a false sense of having taken some action, without really doing anything effective to solve the problem of school shootings.

Trump, better known for impulse than for careful, analytical thinking, readily accepts the N.R.A.’s mantra: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.” (He also accepted $30 million from them.)

But there are guns, and then there are guns. My .357 magnum is a powerful weapon. But it’s a five-round revolver, not even close to a match to the semiautomatic, high-capacity-magazine AR-15 that Nikolas Cruz used to take 17 lives in Parkland. And, in fact, no weapon that can be concealed will put a teacher on anything close to even terms with a determined shooter.

Of course, it’s something, at least. But it’s not the answer. And we shouldn’t let Trump or the NRA convince us that it is.

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas, and can be reached at jcrispcolumns@gmail.com.

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