Monday, January 7, 2013

On Guns on Teachers

Rep. Liz Pike from Camas has expressed her intent to offer bill that would allow teachers carry concealed weapons in the classroom.   In general, such a law is a bad idea because it's such a knee-jerk reaction to the recent school shooting, and, as is often the case, the knee-jerk overrides wisdom.

No gun violence has ever occurred without a gun present.  Introducing more guns (even if legally so) raises the prospect of gun activity.  And it's way too easy to imagine scenarios where a legally introduced gun ends up creating difficulties where an absence of guns would have created no such difficulty.

For instance, one likes to imagine that an adult with a gun could have made a very different at Sandy Hook.  But that situation is a real outlier.  According to Stop the Shootings, in the last 20 years there have been 386 shooting events at schools (and universities) in the US.  This includes interpersonal disputes that happened to play out at a school, accidental shootings, suicides at school, shootings near schools and events without fatalities.  Suicides are more frequent than Sandy Hooks and Columbines.  (The web site even lists as an episode a prematurely born baby dying at a hospital near a school--no gun even mentioned.  In other words, the number 386 is counting episodes very different from Sandy Hook.)

The tragedy of Sandy Hook notwithstanding, the day to day reality of school is much more complicated.  And day to day, the presence of guns creates risks that wouldn't be there without guns.

It's hard to imagine, for instance, a school creating a policy and procedure regarding a teacher's gun that would be reliably safer for the school.  Would the adult be required to have the gun in his/her possession at all time?  If so, it would not be long before someone discerned that s/he had it.  (Scuttlebutt and gossip, for which schools--students and staff alike--are notorious, will quickly override Rep. Pike’s intention that only the Superintendent will know who has a gun.)  In that case, the person would become an object of fear for some students, a target for others who might commit violence.  Not to mention, the previously non-existent risk of accidental discharge would not become a real concern.

If the adult isn't required to have it on his/her person at all times, then you've got another kind of 'control' issue.  Where is it, when not with the owner?  How is it made safe?  If kids get into their parents' guns at home, intentionally  or unintentionally, the same will happen at school.  It's far too easy to imagine the middle or high schooler planning on violence or spurred by circumstances to 'go after' a teacher's gun, or a 5 year old (as the Newtown students were) 'accidentally accessing' a gun.  Then what would happen--politically--when a teacher's gun kills or wounds a student?

And what about the Newtown-type episodes?  It's easy to hope a teacher's gun could have stopped that before it started.  But let's not forget that there are many other just as plausible scenarios that are less appealing.  The more obvious are that cross-fire from legal guns strikes other children, or more than one teacher gun gets involved thereby multiplying the shooting, or a protracted gun battle ensues (as the shooter takes a strategically defensive posture) and when the authorities arrive, they enter a much more confused--and potentially more deadly--situation.

These heightened risks are as great, or greater, than the hoped for benefits of having an adult's gun at school, especially since the type of episode that a teacher gun could really address are so few in number to begin with.  Let’s be wise, and do what we can to keep all guns out of school.

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