Thomas Gabor: It’s A Folly To Arm Teachers.

Since the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has been promoting the idea that arming instructors, or at least some of them, would have prevented the carnage.  The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has weighed in predictably with the tired slogan he created following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”   States like Florida are considering adopting some version of this approach in lieu of significant changes in firearm policy.

teachThe recitation of LaPierre’s slogan in the aftermath of these slaughters of our young is, in my view, cynical, offensive, and unsupported by empirical evidence.  It is also as illogical to suggest that increasing the volume of guns will reduce gun violence as it is to make opiates more accessible as a way of addressing the opioid crisis.  The solution of arming teachers is also highly cynical as this measure often depicts teachers as the last line of defense preventing our schools from descending into complete chaos.  Arming teachers or school staff does nothing to address the reasons why so many young men in America, relative to other countries, wish to murder as many of their peers as possible and nor does this proposal address the accessibility of weapons that enable these massacres.

Surveys show that neither teachers nor the public like the idea.  Like their college and university counterparts, most educators are not interested in doubling as security guards and students would feel less safe with schools awash in guns.  Teachers worry about undermining their special role as educators and mentors, which consists of a different skill set from that of security staff.  School teachers are usually women and women tend to have low gun ownership levels.  Schools would likely lose valuable talent.  Even if just some teachers were armed, incentives would likely be required to recruit and retain teachers with armed training, creating a preference for those prepared to undergo the necessary training over talent in the classroom.  In addition, scarce educational resources will be diverted from the classroom to firearms training.

The cost of training teachers and/or other school staff willing to serve as armed marshalls would be prohibitive and ongoing training and recertification would require time out of class, with its associated costs.  Kansas gave school districts the prerogative of arming teachers and the state’s largest insurer of schools refused to cover schools with armed instructors, deeming the situation as unduly risky.

In general, across the US, the training required of those with permits to carry guns, in states where a permit is required, is woefully inadequate.  Rigorous training ought to include instruction in the law pertaining to the use of force, gun safety and handling, judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), awareness of the possibility of friendly fire incidents, and marksmanship under stress.  Even trained police officers miss their targets about 80% of the time in combat situations.  Deployment of a gun in a crowded school being attacked by a shooter requires exceptional skill, judgment, and composure.

While there are far too many school shootings in the US relative to other countries, there are about 60 per year in about 150,000 public and private schools or 1 in every 3000 schools.  Just as in the case of firearms kept in the home, arming teachers in every school may well result in many more unforeseen misuses of firearms, including  unauthorized uses of force, accidental shootings and discharges, and thefts of guns.  Teachers may over-react in dealing with unruly students and use deadly force to control them, a departure from the intent of arming them.  Issues relating to the disproportionate use of firearms against minority students may arise, as it is an issue with full-time, professionally trained law enforcement officers.[1]

Also, arming at least some teachers will create a new market for the gun industry, one reason the gun lobby supports this initiative.  The industry is currently experiencing a major downturn in sales.  In addition to helping deal with slumping sales in the industry, the entire idea is not just dangerous and harmful to the mission of schools but a huge distraction from what we ought to focus on:  The community and societal issues that produce school shooters and the weapons that enable them.


Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist, sociologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.


15 thoughts on “Thomas Gabor: It’s A Folly To Arm Teachers.

    • Michael, The research supports your statement. Regions with higher gun ownership levels tend to have more, not fewer, gun deaths.

  1. It’s a folly to arm teachers. So lets blame the the gun industry.

    The news that keeps coming out of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida is just mind-boggling. All of the prevention that was in place and none of it was used.

    Years ago the administration in Washington D.C. put together a plan whereby school districts would receive money for—not reporting criminal activity because of a decree from the administration for a need to change the prison population. It is now reported that Broward County and Miami-Dade had this kind of plan in place. Since Broward County School system enacted the plan (policy) the 1,000 average annual arrest became less than 400. Deputy Scot Peterson, Coward County Sheriff’s Office, I believe was not really a law enforcement officer but a political officer. He made certain crimes were not reported, and certain crimes were overlooked, in order to maintain a balance.

    Coward County Sheriff’s Office was notified more than a dozen times about Cruz, including one tip that he was going to “shoot up his school.”

    Scot Peterson and three other Coward County deputies were in the vicinity of the school and did nothing.

    Florida Department of Children and Families said Cruz was not a threat to himself or others despite reports to the contrary.

    The FBI (you know the one who say…see something, say something) had at least 2 reports about Cruz and they did nothing.

    As many believe government’s first duty is protecting its citizens. So what does the State of Florida do when the government fails…make government bigger.

    Many think that Florida just past a law to arm the teachers (custodians, cooks, maintenance workers, etc) and it has. The “arming of teacher” was what took up most of the 8 hour debate yesterday in Tallahassee. However, just a small part of the 105 page bill gives the authority to school districts, if they so chose, to have school employee’s carry a concealed firearm. (It is my understanding that the governor of Florida has “line item veto” authority and if this is true, maybe some parts of the bill will be vetoed) There are reports that Governor Rick Scott does not want teachers to be armed.

    But wait, people living in Florida (if the Governor signs the bill) will also see $400 million dollars out of their General Fund go to build more government. There will be $200 million of the $400 million continue every year to pay for this bigger government.

    From Washington D.C. to Scot Peterson, government failed. So with all that prevention in place what is the solution for Florida? Make government BIGGER.

    • Yes, agencies failed in relation to prevent the massacre in Parkland. I’m curious how failing to regulate guns at all is going to prevent these incidents. I would like to see your solution to close to 40,000 gun deaths a year in the US. Arming more people is certainly not a solution as we are already the most armed population in the world and the least safe among high-income countries.

      • I believe a good start is not with the “gun” but with mental illness. In the early 60’s the number of patients in state mental hospitals started to reach a peak. It was around this time that people needing help started to be shifted out of mental hospitals into community centers. I believe psychiatrists saw too much of the old snake pit, they saw too many people who shouldn’t have been there and they overreacted. Maybe they didn’t ask the questions that should have been asked when they started to develop new concepts in treating these people. Or maybe the development of penicillin’s to cure psychoses in the 50’s and 60’s thinking they had revolutionized the treatment of some mental illness. I don’t know. However, I do suspect it had more to do with the growing economic and political liability faced by state legislators. I remember in the late 60’s and 70’s about the enormous amount of tax revenues that were being used to support the state mental hospitals. Tranquilizers became the panacea.
        The policy that led to the release of most of the nation’s mentally ill patients from the hospitals into community centers is now widely regarded as a major failure. And to one degree or another the $400,000,000 Florida bill that was singed by Governor Scott the other day, I believe, is a good starting point.
        If you have read the 105 page Florida bill you will see that there is a big emphasis on mental health. The bill gives an OPTION to school districts to arm employees. However, there is no option in school district and charter school to establish or expand comprehensive school-base mental health programs. Every educator will receive training in detecting and responding to mental health issues. So…teachers can do more than just teach.
        Remember in January, 2013 — via executive action — President Obama signed a measure to address what he called “the epidemic of gun violence.” In that measure there was $10 million given to the CDC for a “gun violence” study. In that study the CDC said that “Evidence was insufficient to determine the effectiveness of any of these laws.” Bans on specified firearms or ammunition, Restrictions of firearms acquisition, Waiting periods for firearm acquisition, Firearm registration and licensing of owners, and….Zero tolerance for firearms in schools.

        This is not my solution to close to 40,000 gun deaths a year in the US. But I think Florida may have started

      • What is it with the ‘Gun Violence Prevention’ movement? Since when are we ‘Failing to regulate guns at all’ any sort of reality? Some 2/3’s of your gun deaths are suicide; is it okay for people to kill themselves via other methods? We are the most armed country in the world and that, therefore, we should be the most violent(yet, you know that’s not true). Again, your deliberate language to mask your obvious deception is rather obvious. I will ask you again: You cannot fathom why police are pro 2nd Amendment. You are a researcher. If you were really interested in research maybe you could actually conduct something that might lead to actually understanding the problems rather than merely using your work to promote Gun Control. So please, maybe you could be honest and call your crusade what it is. Gun Control.
        Why is it that Gun Violence researchers are so biased when it comes to the topic of gun control?

    • I don’t believe the crusade is “gun control” it’s to remove the 2nd Amendment from the Constitution. Some may think that I’m being flippant…I’m not, I do believe this.

  2. Just to put numbers on it. The MAG 40 class is 800 bucks . Plus, salary, travel, etc. And as a high school earth science teacher, were I to do that, do I get hazardous duty pay while my colleagues are running bake sales to keep chalk and paper in the classroom? I would suggest Mas Ayoob’s class or equivalent as a minimum training requirement, with recurrent training. Still, that leaves me as a teacher with a sidearm facing a surprise assault from someone who is probably suicidal and possibly armed with a rapid firing rifle. Not a good situation.

    I said before that this scenerio is a little like smoking in bed but keeping a fire extinguisher handy. Lousy solution to a vexing problem, whether gun violence or nicotine addiction. Doing nothing is worse. But having worked my way through college as a campus security aide (where the med school faculty at the U of R looked at me like a lower form of life) and taught at UH, all I can say is that they are different skill sets and I had plenty to do as a faculty member without worrying about defending my students with a handgun against a crazed lunatic with an AR.

    We need to find out why this social disease of school shooters is spreading, rather than engaging in shootouts at the More Science High Corral.

    • I agree and I don’t think you will get hazardous duty pay. However, I do believe that if a teacher has the desire he/she should be allowed to get that training and arm themselves. It is reported that the Assistant football coach, Arron Feis, was a concealed weapon permit holder. I can just imagine how he might have thought, even though the shooter had a semi-automatic rifle, at least a handgun would have given him a fighting chance. Look at Garland, Texas…two armed men with semi-automatic rifles and a cop took them out with a handgun. I do agree, many teachers should not carry a concealed gun at school. But, give them a choice. Now, in some Florida school districts teachers will have that choice.

    • Here might be some early research about why the ‘social disease’ mentioned above is spreading:

      When after a shooting you hear how only a very small number of the total number of guns are used for horrible things, how there is no link between computer games and violence and how people on the autism spectrum are more likely to be victims than bad people but then you read about people like the Newtown shooter and Anders Brevik in Norway killing lots of people and seemingly being on the autism spectrum, spending many hours with video games and able to get .223 rifles the study above makes me wonder even more about what the connection can be. Now this is only one type of shooting but the one getting most of the TV time.

    • Agreed Khal. There is more than one reason why more young men in America are intent on slaughtering their peers. I recommend Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone which documents the increasing isolation and civic disengagement of young people and this was published before smartphones, social media, etc.

  3. Mr.. Gabor, along with the rest of the Floridians, should be happy with their legislature. To pass the “guns in school bill” they went to their General Fund to find the $400,000,000 for the first year. Keeping in mind that there will be $200,000,000 every year there after to pay for this bill. (All this money was found in 18 days of the session)
    I once lived in Florida and I know Florida has a lot of money but I would still be concern with, or if this will increase my taxes. But in the last days of their session the legislature past HJR 7001: Supermajority Vote for State Taxes or Fees. Now before the Legislature can increase taxes or fees they will need a supermajority vote. This will make those elected to state office more transparent in how they are spending constituents tax dollars. Remember…Government has no money.

  4. Now what will St. Petersburg do? Mayor Rick Kriseman the other day made an announcement that the city will no longer take police officers off the streets to serve in elementary schools.
    The rooster is coming home…
    With the passage of the new State law that requires armed guards in every public school it appears the city has now realized what this cost will be. St. Petersburg is now aligning with Pinellas County and Largo and place that responsibility on the school district.
    So now the schools need to come up with armed security BY LAW and come up with solutions that won’t affect their budgets…much.
    Who said something about raising taxes?
    Now the districts have made their beds and the tax paying citizens are going to have to sleep on them.

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