A shooting is coming soon to a school near you.
Every time a school shooting happens, people assume that the world has been taught a lesson. No more parents will have to experience the horror of sending their kids off to school only to pick up a corpse a few hours later. However, in 2014, Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit based in New York, found that there have been nearly 100 school shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook tragedy. That’s an average of one school shooting per week. Four years later, not much has changed. There have already been about 20 school shootings in the U.S this year.
As school shootings continue to frequent news headlines, lawmakers across the country continue their efforts to pass useful legislation and implement new safety measures. Recently, in Connecticut, Governor Dannel Malloy asked Connecticut legislators for $10 million in grants to help improve school security. This grant is part of the School Security Grant Program, a Connecticut program created in 2013 to prevent gun violence, increase school safety, and combat mental health. Since 2013 and over three separate rounds of funding, the Connecticut government has allocated $53 million in grants to over 1,200 schools in the state. The additional $10 million will go towards another 182 schools.
Schools generally use the grant money to enhance security infrastructure, which involves adding door locks, security cameras, fencing, reinforced entryways, and panic buttons. At the same time, Connecticut schools have also hired more security staff and mental health professionals. In return for a grant, schools must submit their security plans and information about lockdown drills to the state government.
At a recent roundtable discussion on school safety at Silver Lane Elementary School in East Hartford, Connecticut, Malloy explained why there is so much flexibility in how the grant money can be spent. He believes that gun violence is a complex problem with no simple solution, and there are multiple areas in need of improvement. According to Malloy, “it’s not just mental health, it’s not just guns, it’s not just the school buildings…it’s the comprehensive approach that needs to be taken.”
Some legislators have also suggested another approach to school safety: arming teachers. Following the shooting at Majory Stoneman Douglas High School in February, which left 17 people dead, State Representative Will Ainsworth of Alabama expressed his support for this idea. “Our students do not need to be sitting ducks. Our teachers do not need to be defending themselves with a No. 2 pencil”, he said.
It is unlikely that Connecticut will use this method anytime soon. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), who attended the roundtable with Malloy, told the audience that he personally disagrees with this proposal. “In the long term we will prevail on making our schools safer and our communities safer, not by turning them into militarized fortresses,” Blumenthal said. “The Connecticut model of school safety is a national model for how we can make schools safer without weaponizing our educators and undermining the sense of trust and safety that students feel.”
Nevertheless, the discussion regarding whether teachers should have access to firearms, in order to protect their students, is an incredibly contentious topic. What Blumenthal considers to be a “militarized fortress” is what some state governments view as a safe haven. Even within a state, there are differing views, and educators or school boards may disagree with the opinions of their elected government officials.
There are currently eight states that have passed laws which allow faculty to carry a concealed firearm on school grounds. For example, in Texas, under the Guardian Plan, school boards in each district have the power to decide whether or not they want to arm their teachers, how much training a teacher must have, and what types of guns are allowed. As of March 2018, in Texas, 172 of 1,023 schools districts have consented to arming staff members. Some districts only permit these “guardians” or teachers to have handguns in classrooms while other districts have expanded the approved weapons list to include tactical rifles, carbines, and shotguns.
In Kansas, the Chief Administrative Officer of a school district can allow a teacher to have a gun at school, as long as he or she has an official gun permit and meets the requirements set by the school. However, the Kansas state government is taking this strategy one step further by proposing a new bill that would hold schools liable for a shooting if that school did not arm its teachers. House Bill 2789 states that choosing to not arm teachers will result in a “rebuttable presumption of negligence on the part of such school district.” There are clearly some state legislators who are adamant about giving schools the power to fight back against a shooter, not just defend.
Although lawmakers have their own strong opinions on how to prevent school shootings, many states are also divided over the best course of action. For example, Democratic Washington Governor Jay Inslee disapproves of letting teachers carry guns at school. At a meeting with President Trump and other U.S. state governors, Inslee confronted Trump when Trump suggested that more schools should arm teachers. “I have listened to the first-grade teachers, who don’t want to be pistol-packing first-grade teachers” Inslee said. “I have listened to law enforcement, who have said they don’t want to have to train teachers as law enforcement agencies, which takes about six months…educators should educate, and they should not be foisted upon this responsibility of packing heat in first-grade classes.”
However, in Toppenish, Washington, the actions of John Cerna, the superintendent of the Toppenish School District, contradict Inslee’s beliefs. Since 2014, Cerna has allowed school administrators and directors to carry weapons. Currently, there are 19 employees with firearms in 8 schools. Although Washington is not one of the 8 states that allows schools to arm teachers, there is no law that bans trained employees from having a gun on school grounds. Washington is a blue state–Hillary Clinton received 54.3% of votes–so one would think that Washington government officials would likely support gun control. Yet, the safety of children is so crucial, the world is desperate for change, and different people will have different ideas about how to handle the problem.
Ultimately, there is no easy way to analyze whether strengthening school security and infrastructure or arming teachers is the most effective solution. Seeing how a school fares in the face of a shooting is not an experiment that can be conducted. However, regardless whether the approach is more defensive or aggressive, it is important to note that both strategies are reactive, not proactive.
Arming teachers is not preventative. The recent laws that have been proposed prepare schools to respond to shootings. When a shooter attempts to terrorize a campus, the panic buttons and security cameras will be able to alert the staff and prevent the shooter from entering. If the shooter does break through the reinforced security infrastructure, teachers, with guns in their hands, may potentially eliminate the threat themselves before the police arrive.
It seems illogical to put all of one’s efforts and resources into safeguarding oneself from a problem when there are also ways to dispose of the problem itself. Simply transforming schools into protected fortresses and arming staff members almost embodies a sigh of defeat; school shootings are inevitable, someone is bound to get hurt, and schools should just try to defend themselves as best as they can.
In addition to increasing school security, lawmakers must continue fighting against the culture of gun violence in the U.S. Without a shooter, there is no need for bulletproof doors or a locked box with a handgun inside, sitting on top of a classroom bookshelf. The country must also put its attention on preventative measures, such as conducting more thorough background checks for those who want to purchase a gun, making gun owners undergo routine training, and improving mental health care.
2018 started out with an average of one shooting per week. Hopefully, within another four years, the statistic will finally change. Lawmakers may disagree on how to protect students, but another consensus is clear: school shootings should not be the new normal.