Arming teachers in schools: Why police should be involved in vetting, training

The majority of mass murder attacks occur at gun free zones and these soft targets are precisely what killers want — arming teachers may help end violence in schools


According to the Associated Press, a rural Colorado school district decided in 2016 to allow its teachers and other school staff to carry guns on campus to protect students.

“The district’s two schools serve about 270 students about 30 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, and it takes law enforcement an average of 20 minutes to get there. The district currently shares an armed school resource officer with four other school districts,” according to the AP. 

As the saying goes, “When seconds count, the cops are moments away.” In cases where a gunman may go unchallenged by “a good guy with a gun” for 20 minutes or more is tantamount to asking for disaster. 

In notifying the community that the school district was allowing teachers and staff to be armed, a school in Texas took a straightforward approach with a giant sign reading, “Attention, please be aware that the staff at Medina ISD may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” (AP Image)
In notifying the community that the school district was allowing teachers and staff to be armed, a school in Texas took a straightforward approach with a giant sign reading, “Attention, please be aware that the staff at Medina ISD may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” (AP Image)

The AP noted that the Hanover School District 28 in Colorado joined school districts in Texas, Oklahoma, and California that “have also backed allowing teachers to carry weapons following the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.”

In fact, according to an article in US News & World Report, at least seven states have armed guards in schools: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington. More states are almost certain to follow. 

Vetting, training, and other key considerations

As early reports about the Newtown shooting were pouring in, I was writing that teachers and other school staff in every school in America should be allowed to be trained, armed, annually qualified, and ready to end a deadly threat in their facility.

I wrote that the selection process should be rigorous and ongoing (the adage “selection is a never-ending process” applies here). And in the same way we arm our airline pilots, those involved in any such program would have to be carefully vetted volunteers. Criminal background checks and psychological exams along the same lines of those conducted for new police recruits should be minimum requirements. 

Training teachers and school staff should be conducted in conjunction with that jurisdiction’s local law enforcement agency. Requiring that school staff be trained by the police academy and/or in-service firearms training cadre accomplishes a couple of desirable objectives. 

For starters, law enforcement would have the opportunity to document who on campus is legally packing, and who they may encounter during a call for service at the school. Secondly, police trainers can work to ensure that any armed teacher or staff member fully understands how to quickly stop a deadly threat, as well as what the aftermath of that action holds (legally and psychologically, for example). 

These carefully selected teachers and school staff would also have to learn and demonstrate proficiency in other skills such as weapons retention and de-escalation techniques. In essence, those teachers would need to meet (or exceed) the same minimum standards for firearms proficiency and legal knowledge as the local police. 

In addition to the marksmanship and other mechanics of operating a firearm, schools with armed teachers and staff would also have to ensure that some other considerations are taken into account. For example, the school district will need to address insurance coverage and potential legal liability. 

The district will also have to address how they will manage publicizing the change in policy — a school in Texas took a straightforward approach with a giant sign reading, “Attention, please be aware that the staff at Medina ISD may be armed and will use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.”

Selecting only the very best candidates

In an ideal world, we would have a full-time sworn school resource officer in every school. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Many agencies are struggling to maintain enough staffing to handle all the calls for service every day. Expecting those resource-strapped agencies to take cops off of other enforcement duties to work as SROs is probably asking too much. So it’s reasonable to give serious consideration to allowing educators to go to school armed. 

That is not to say that every teacher should be armed. Only a handful of highly trained, disciplined and dedicated individuals should be allowed this additional responsibility on top of teaching our youth. This group of volunteers would need to be fully (and repeatedly) vetted and evaluated. 

The fact is, carrying a gun — and being prepared mentally, morally, and physically— is not for everybody. In fact, it might be correctly assumed that a very small percentage of American educators are up for that challenge. 

That’s OK, because if even just one percent of teachers were armed, it would put just enough doubt into the minds of would-be attackers to potentially prevent an attack in the first place. Those who would bring havoc on unarmed kids in the classroom may not want to quickly find themselves receiving return fire. 

In the event that a gunman does attempt to commit mass murder at a school, there will be at least person on hand to stop the slaughter. As long as the armed teachers and school staff are up to law enforcement standards, schools should be “gun free zones” no more. 

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