Teachers with guns is a crazy idea
— February 18, 2014
I went to college with a strong law enforcement program, so there were always a lot of cops on campus. Not all of them carried guns, but some did.
It did not make me feel safer. One day in the cafeteria, an officer who was more Barney Fife than Wyatt Earp dropped his gun in the middle of a group of students enjoying lunch. It didn’t go off, but it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario where the incident might be repeated with disastrous results.
Several of us on the staff of the college paper began a campaign to ban anyone, including student law enforcement officers, from carrying guns on campus. We weren’t anti-cop, just pro-safety. It didn’t make sense to us to have a lot of people carrying weapons among us, no matter how well trained, because accidents happen and we didn’t want anyone shot because of a stupid policy.
We didn’t get anywhere trying to convince the college administration, which apparently didn’t want to upset the local police, sheriff’s deputies and highway patrolmen who were students. They trusted them to conduct themselves in a safe manner. But eventually, views about guns at colleges and schools changed, and gun-free zones were created.
For the first time in years I thought about this last week when the Wyoming House overwhelmingly approved a bill to allow school employees and volunteers with concealed weapons permits to possess guns in schools. As in several other states, it was a reaction to the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, where 20 children and six adults were gunned down by a mentally unstable young man who was armed to the teeth.
This was the same answer the National Rifle Association came up with after Sandy Hook: arm the teachers and principals. It was as simple as the good guys taking out the bad guys, according to NRA leaders, who make the same pronouncement after every massacre: If everyone had a gun, some hero would expertly shoot the gunman no matter how panicked everyone was at the scene.
It was the same argument that gun advocates made after the shootings at an Aurora, Colo., theater: If many in the audience that night were armed, there would have been instant justice for the killer. Never mind that smoke bombs were set off and scores of terrified people of all ages were running in different directions to save their lives, someone in the audience would pull out the weapon they’ve been carrying just for this purpose and dispatch the evil-doer.
Yes, the NRA fantasy goes, we can all be Wyatt Earp.
I can’t imagine how much higher the body count would have been in Aurora if everyone just opened fire, but I think it’s safe to say that even more innocent people would have been killed or wounded.
It boggles my mind when the NRA responds to these tragedies by railing against any type of gun restriction or background check, because everyone supposedly has the right to carry military-type weapons that can shoot hundreds of rounds in an extremely short period of time. When someone takes those weapons that the government makes so easy to possess and kills a large number of people, the NRA says you can’t stop the crazies, you can only try to mow them down before they inflict more damage. Eliminating or restricting weapons used to kill victims isn’t the answer, according to the organization, just put more guns in the hands of the right people and everything will turn out fine.
It reminds me of when Archie Bunker came up with his famous solution to end hijacking: arm all the passengers. It was a funny line in the ’70s, but when it’s proposed as a real answer, it’s shows how scary life in the 21st century has become.
House Bill 111 passed introduction 54-6, and was approved 6-3 by the House Education Committee. I have no doubt it will pass by a wide margin this week and move on to the Senate, which will likely take the same action because in this gun culture, weapons are seen as the only way to handle things. Legislators won’t listen to one of their own, Rep. Cathy Connolly (D-Laramie), who told her colleagues she’s heard from teachers who say they will quit if guns are allowed in their schools, and parents who say they will take their kids out of public schools.
They won’t listen to Kathy Vetter, head of the Wyoming Education Association, who reminded the committee even school employees who have gone through the firearms training required under the bill won’t know exactly how to respond to a shooting situation in their schools.
And they won’t even listen to Anthony Bouchard, executive director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, who says if the decision about who can carry weapons is left up to school boards, it will create a crazy patchwork of rules in different school districts that will be difficult to enforce. His opposition to HB 111 is based on his belief everyone who wants to should be allowed to carry guns anywhere.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. John Eklund (R-Cheyenne), said, “I think in a classroom situation, a teacher with a sidearm strapped might be intimidating.” Yes, indeed it would. Does anyone care about how the students feel, and that this is teaching them the only answer to violence is more violence?
Connecticut Gov. Daniel Malloy, after the Sandy Hook murders in his state, emphatically said guns don’t belong in schools. “More guns are not the answer,” the governor said. “Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom.”
As all parents know, kids are curious. How long will it be before a teacher leaves a loaded weapon where a student will find it and accidentally injure or kill a classmate?
“We’ve had people people drop their guns right here in Cheyenne in businesses and people have been hurt,” Vetter said.
What happens when 9-year-old Johnny brings a gun to school and, since he’s having a bad day, pulls it on his fellow students? Does the teacher just whip out his or her pistol and shoot to kill? What if the “weapon” being brandished is actually a toy gun, but a school employee or volunteer with an itchy trigger finger can’t tell if it’s real?
Many states are responding differently to mass shootings at schools. South Dakota became the first state in the nation last year to allow teachers to have guns, but Colorado lawmakers killed a similar bill earlier this month. Denver’s Channel 7 News reported the victim of a 2010 drive-by shooting in front of Aurora Central High testified against the measure.
“One moment I was standing there talking to my friends, the next moment I was unable to move,” she recalled. “If a teacher was there with a gun not knowing who was responsible for the shooting, there easily could have been more injuries or fatalities.”
A majority of teachers don’t even want to carry guns. A January poll by the National Education Association found more than two-thirds of teachers opposed the idea. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan called such state bills just “a marketing opportunity” for the gun industry.
Since Wyoming is now actively recruiting gun manufacturers to set up shop here, HB 111 means they won’t even have to market their wares out of state. Maybe they will just go to Parent-Teacher Night and pass them out like cupcakes.
Here’s an idea: If Wyoming lawmakers approve this bill, they should pass a companion measure that says guns are allowed at the Legislature, where they are currently banned. Yes, what could be a better recognition of how guns protect us than to see every lawmaker, lobbyist, journalist and visitor in the gallery packing heat?
— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is editor-in-chief of the nonprofit, online community newspaper, The Casper Citizen. He also moderates the WyPols blog.
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