The Tennessee State Assembly is advancing a bill that would allow certain teachers on campuses across the state to carry firearms. In the wake of the Parkland shooting, our representatives think that the solution to our mass shooting problem is to flood our schools with guns. We at the Hustler think that’s a bad idea.
Armed teachers would pose problems to schools’ learning environment. In the past month, two teachers have discharged firearms during classes. Additionally, a HuffPost/YouGov poll indicated that more people oppose arming teachers than support arming them and more people would either feel less safe or neutral with armed teachers than would feel safer. It’s reasonable to feel anxious about the prospect of the deadly weapons sharing the same space as the classrooms your children go to everyday. Even teachers who are longtime gun owners, the kind that President Trump says would be the perfect candidates to be armed in schools, recognize that having a weapon in a classroom is not conducive to a productive learning environment. If the goal of the bill is to make us feel like our schools are safer, it fails in that domain, too.
We all know what it’s like to have a close, trusting relationship with a teacher. Chances are, the reason why each and every one of us has made it to Vanderbilt is because along the way, at least one of those teachers believed in us—took us under their wing and convinced us we could always trust them. Now let’s reflect on whether that experience would have been the same if that teacher, whoever it was for you, had been armed. Would that teacher have the emotional bandwidth to take us under their wing if they had the additional responsibility of protecting the security of their classroom? Would that teacher have ended up becoming a teacher in the first place if they thought they would have to be required to carry a gun and face an active shooter?
The Peabody school of education is one of the best education schools in the country. It is our responsibility to assure that our classmates studying to become teachers are fully equipped to become that teacher to future generations. And according to our conversations with them, that isn’t going to happen if teachers are put under pressure to carry a gun, and to compromise the authenticity and intimacy of their relationships with their students by being armed in the classroom. Our peers are training to address the socialemotional needs of students from diverse backgrounds, to teach creatively within the standards the state sets and act as role models for the next generation of children. We need to listen to them and protect their right to become the teacher they’ve always wanted to be, the teacher that we have all needed and will always need on our sides.
Fewer teachers are signing up for education-preparation programs than in the past, resulting in gaps in key areas like special education and multilingual education, not to mention the ongoing struggle to curate teaching staffs that reflect the diversity of the classrooms. Things like high stakes testing, low pay, stringent state standards with no money for meaningful implementation and the tendency of politicians and the media to blame teachers for societal problems are all unfortunate parts of a teaching job and may be the reason many college students are deciding against pursuing a career in education. Throw in the added responsibility of defending the lives of students against an armed gunman, or sharing a breakroom with an armed colleague and it stands to reason that many potential educators might reconsider a career in the classroom.
Arming teachers won’t do anything to stop mass shootings. At Parkland, a sheriff’s deputy was armed to protect the school. When Nikolas Cruz entered the freshman building and attacked students with an AR-15, the deputy remained outside. At Columbine, an armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to the high school spotted one of the shooters before he entered the school. He fired several rounds and missed. Armed professionals, who have had extensive training with firearms and whose only job is to protect students, have failed to stop mass shootings. What makes us think that a teacher, someone we already expect to do so much, could do a better job?
Ironically, fiscal conservatives are the ones peddling these armed schools proposals; the costs of enacting such legislation are astronomical. If you just consider a bill like the one in the Tennessee legislature, which involves training but not physically giving teachers guns, there is a hefty price tag. Estimates of the cost of training that would satisfy the Tennessee bill put the figure at $718 million nationally. If we include actually giving out guns, which Trump’s NRA-backed plan does for 20 percent of teachers, in the calculations, the national total would increase by as much $359 million. This is a significant increase from the federal school security funding that we have in place, which, in 1999, allocated $750 million to hire 6,900 school resource officers. If the $718 million and $359 million price tags sound like a lot, it’s because they are.
All of this money would go towards making students feel less safe and not towards stopping our mass shooting epidemic. No, we need our tax dollars to go towards common sense, effective solutions that make our communities safer. We need funding for textbooks, not glocks. Our lawmakers need to listen to the broadly supported calls for universal background checks, an increased minimum age of purchase and limiting magazine capacity if they want to truly represent us.