In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump and the National Rifle Association pushed arming teachers as the best way to save lives. Trump reiterated that idea when he spoke at the NRA’s annual convention last week. It remains an awful proposal.
Californians overwhelmingly oppose arming teachers. A recent UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll found that California voters oppose arming teachers by nearly a 2-1 margin.
The poll showed that state residents were far more supportive of gun restrictions than of arming teachers. Two-thirds want to ban assault weapons nationwide, and 60 percent believe stronger laws restricting the sale and possession of guns would reduce violent crime in their communities.
The poll did not ask respondents about improving background checks — but that simple and overdue step has polled well in other surveys, both in California and around the nation.
According to the NRA, a “good guy with a gun” is the best solution to mass shootings at schools and other locations. A recent investigation by the Associated Press, however, backs up the misgivings many have about bringing more guns into schools — even if carried by teachers who go through extensive training.
The AP reviewed news reports and found more than 30 publicly reported accidents since 2014 involving firearms brought onto school grounds by law enforcement officers, teachers or administrators. Schools aren’t required to report such incidents, so the actual number is probably far higher.
Just one 48-hour span in March saw three incidents:
“The school police officer accidentally fired his gun in his Virginia office, sending a bullet through a wall into a middle school classroom. The teacher was demonstrating firearm safety in California when he mistakenly put a round in the ceiling, injuring three students who were hit by falling debris. And the sheriff left a loaded service weapon in a locker room at a Michigan middle school, where a sixth-grader found it,” according to the AP report.
These were all highly trained individuals who nonetheless made gross errors with deadly weapons that could have easily resulted in the loss of life. Arming tens of thousands of teachers across the nation would certainly result in far more tragic incidents.
There’s also reason to question whether armed teachers would even help in an active shooter situation. Though unarmed teachers have certainly showed unparalleled bravery during past incidents, anyone facing hostile fire for the first time might lack the courage and composure to run toward the gunfire.
School shootings are chaotic situations. Even trained law enforcement officers can make deadly errors in such situations. Armed teachers could just as easily shoot innocent bystanders as the perpetrator. And when the police arrive, how are they to tell the “good guy with a gun” from the “bad guy with a gun”?
Improvements could take several forms: Most urgently, federal and state agencies need to do better ensuring that information used in background checks get to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. And legislation needs to ensure that every gun purchase is run through that system to ensure the buyer isn’t legally barred.
This small step would be far more productive and less prone to unintended consequences than arming teachers.