The Undercurrent: Do we really want Dirty Harry and Harriet in classrooms?

After every major shooting incident, the predictable chorus begins: We must “do something” to stop this kind of senseless violence from happening again. Do something, do something.

In the wake of the Newtown, Conn., elementary school carnage, some people are suggesting that teachers and school personnel be armed. Legislators in several states have filed bills that would allow teachers with concealed weapon permits to carry guns in school.

The National Rifle Association’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, last Friday weighed in on the issue after the Connecticut shootings. He blamed video games and the media for such violence while calling for an armed officer to be placed in every school in America.

As an adjunct instructor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, the call to arms hits home. I asked myself what I would do if someone walked into my classroom with a gun or one of my students or someone else on campus began displaying violent behavior or tendencies. Yes, such things CAN happen here or near here – at Tarleton’s December graduation ceremonies, someone scrawled a bomb threat note on a gym restroom wall, forcing some of the commencement exercises to be moved.

Every violent or potentially violent situation is unique, so it’s difficult to come up with a one-size-fits-all contingency plan. Glen Rose veterinarian, veteran and former Republican candidate for state representative Mike Jones last week went before the Glen Rose Independent School Board of Trustees to suggest they consider making an exception to state law and allow school personnel to be armed.

I respectfully disagree, Dr. Mike. Arming teachers and other school employees is not the answer. I foresee more problems than solutions if teachers start carrying firearms.

For one thing, so many school districts have worked hard to keep all guns OUT of schools. Some urban districts even require students to go through metal detectors before entering their school. So it’s not OK for the students, but it’s OK for the teachers? That sends a mixed message.

Second, the highly publicized shootings are relatively rare when you consider the number of kindergarten, elementary, intermediate, junior high, high school, junior college and college campuses in this country. Even one life lost is way too many, but could those deaths have been prevented if the teacher in the Newtown, Conn., classroom had had a gun in her desk? Would armed teachers at Columbine High School in Colorado have been able to stop the massacre there or at least bring it to a faster end?

My husband and I have had guns in our homes since we were married in 1981. In our former home in Fort Worth, we had several for defense. In our current home on a ranch between Glen Rose and Walnut Springs, we have them for hunting, to protect ourselves against poisonous snakes and other natural dangers and to defend ourselves and our property.

But just owning them and even knowing how to use them does not mean guns can save you from all the bad things that might happen to you and your loved ones or others, such as someone else’s children, in your care.

In 1991 I was robbed at gunpoint in my home in Fort Worth. I never had a chance to go for the guns stashed around the house. And if the robber’s gun wasn’t loaded, he found one that was and stole it. That handgun likely ended up in a pawnshop or on the street where somebody could use it to commit another crime.

So when I hear the old argument that if we just had guns, we could defend ourselves, I roll my eyes and start going through the scenarios:

If someone comes into my classroom with a gun and starts shooting, let’s say I have time to pull a gun out of my purse and fire.  I’d better be a darn good shot to hit a moving target in the midst of chaos and not hurt one of my students in the crossfire.

The potential for harming students becomes even greater with younger kids. What’s to stop a kid from finding the teacher’s gun and playing with it?  We hear even more frequently about tragic accidents involving a child and a gun than we do about mass murders involving firearms.

If those with violent intent know that teachers are armed, I envision more hostage situations occurring. Teachers themselves could become targets. A disgruntled, disturbed student may decide that a gunfight with the teacher who stopped the student from graduating or passing a class may be just the ticket for getting even.

If someone does get hurt from a teacher carrying a gun, is the teacher liable or school district? Who gets the permit, the teacher or the school district? What if a teacher does not want to be armed? And so on and so on with the questions.

Of course, we can “what if” all day about possible scenarios. But I, as a teacher, do not want to be put in the position of playing Dirty Harriet in my classrooms when I don’t have the training, the experience or the knowledge to size up dangerous situations in a matter of seconds. I also don’t want to draw and fire on a suspect and risk hurting one of my students and likely be shot in response and then not be in a position to help my students at all.

As I learned when I was tied up and robbed in my own home, the likelihood of being able to stop a bad situation from happening just because you have a gun at hand is pretty remote. The circumstances have to be just right.

Certainly, more can be done to enhance school safety. We should all be on high alert with people who make violent statements in writing or verbally, report them to the authorities and try to get help for mentally ill people before they get their hands on guns. That’s a tall order and easy to say but hard to do.  But time and time again, we learn that killers gave hints of their violent tendencies and no one acted on them or felt compelled to mention them until it was too late.

Be aware of your surroundings and who is around you, and be aware of anyone you suspect might want to hurt someone. Get involved. Report them to the police or sheriff’s department and let the professionals handle it.

We need to try other options before we find ourselves with a finger on a trigger, forced to decide, in a matter of seconds, whether to squeeze or not.

Kathryn Jones is editor of the Glen Rose Current. 

3 Responses to The Undercurrent: Do we really want Dirty Harry and Harriet in classrooms?

  1. Mike Jones Reply

    January 30, 2013 at 11:15 am

    Yes I’m very pro-gun and would support CHL holders (teachers, admin, parents) in schools. I’ll support the Glen Rose school board in it’s recent decision to beef up security, but even this additional resource officer is going to be spread a little thin considering there are three campuses he will be covering, and with a pretty obvious vehicle, I could tell you where he is not. Realistically, the likelihood of “our” school being a victim of mass violence is pretty small, statistically speaking. Realistically again, the likelihood of any one of our teachers or visitors having a heart attack is even significantly higher. I can’t even remember a fire in our schools, but we still have fire protection systems. Just as every individual needs to be competent in CPR for immediate assistance, I would rather see 15-20 potential CHL’s on campus than a roving officer being the sole protector in those first few minutes.
    Absolutely, if you are the first person the aggressor comes across (be it civilian or armed officer), you’re also the likely first fatality. What I don’t want to be is the 2nd or 3rd, or hiding in the next classroom, or at the adjacent theater, or on the other side of Luby’s as someone is causing mayhem without opposition. That incident, at Luby’s, is what prompted Texas to allow concealed carry.
    In schools,some won’t carry, and that’s their option. They can shepherd the kids out of harm’s way. Some will carry, and they may be the shepherd that confronts the wolves. You can’t guard or secure every entrance, or cover every event outside the classroom, so let’s use the collective protective base of all the mother bears out there (and dads). A California school just made the decision to provide armed security for their schools, but they had to cut out teacher and counselor positions. Glen Rose at least has a little more latitude on financing, but statewide, it would cost close to a billion dollars to cover the 8300 campuses with just one officer each.
    Another thought, in my lifetime, I have never had to use a fire extinguisher. That doesn’t mean I want to take them out of my home or office, it just means I’ve never had a fire that needed it. Over the same period, I’ve used a firearm on numerous four legged (or legless) intruders, but never on people. Even still, I’ll keep both around so as not be the victim of either a fire, or the “second” victim in a shooting. By the historical evidence of assaults, the first victim didn’t see it coming.
    For clarification, I spoke to the school board without a prepared text, and asked them to strongly consider allowing CHL’s as an effective and immediate solution to the security concerns. It was little bit of editorial hyperbole to say that was the context of my presentation. “Arm the schools” or whatever the title.
    CHL implies handguns, concealed, on your person, at all times. Not on the hip like Dirty Harry, not in a purse, not in a desk to be found by a student. If you can’t keep it on your person, don’t carry. No one but you actually knows you would have it. Disgruntled students, if prone to violence as in Columbine, wouldn’t be stealing your weapon. If an armed assailant was in a school, absolutely you’d be in lockdown, and you would shepherd your kids into a closet or corner with you between them and the locked door. At that point, you could have been the one who chose not to have a CHL, or you could have one last step of protection. Always your choice.
    Thanks for having this forum.

  2. Mack Hargrave Reply

    January 24, 2013 at 11:42 am

    The points that you make in opposition to Dr. Mike Jones’ ideas are fine outside the context of patterns set by these school (or theater)shooters so far. But, what is missing is an acknowledgement of what has happened, what options were available for the victims, the teachers, or the other adults at the scene. What your argument lacks is credible alternatives that would have changed the outcome in these events that have already happened, and can serve as models to some extent.

    Really? You would prefer that nobody had access to one tool of defense when the shooting starts? Of course there is risk involved when a citizen steps up to stop a crazed killer with a gun. But you ignore the reasonable possibility that, at Sandy Hook for example, that brave Principle who died could have put an end to all that if only she had rushed the killer with a gun in her hand. How can you even suggest that you would not want at least a chance at defending your students when the alternative is that they would all die cowering on the floor along with you?

    Adults can be trained to be better at using a gun. Do you think that because you were ill-prepared in your home to use your gun when you needed to is any proof that you could never be properly prepared?

    And this?

    To quote you, “For one thing, so many school districts have worked hard to keep all guns OUT of schools. Some urban districts even require students to go through metal detectors before entering their school. So it’s not OK for the students, but it’s OK for the teachers? That sends a mixed message.”

    Really? Do you think our children lack so much discernment that they cannot grasp the idea that a police officer, for example, can openly display a gun on his/her hip but they cannot? Don’t students of any age already grasp that they are prevented from doing certain things that teachers, and other staff members can do? If not, “mixed messages” must be an overwhelming problem.

    It seems to me that certain volunteer staffers could be selected, trained, and armed safely. Training would be a mandatory, ongoing thing. Prepare them to act and some will summon the courage to do so. What is wrong-headed about your argument is that we, the average working citizens, cannot rise to the occasion when death is the alternative. Of course it would be a dread that someday you may have to pull the trigger on another human being, but would that not be far better than knowing that you and your kids would all be laying dead?

    You draw this picture of Dirty Harry as a bad thing to have in the classroom. Me? I would respect and appreciate a cool professional with firm resolve, who placed a few rounds in some fanatical murderer. You seem to have Dirty Harry confused with Barney Fife. What we have as a solution now, with your blessing, is Barney Fife with not even one bullet.

  3. Nancy Liscum Reply

    December 28, 2012 at 10:53 am

    I completely agree with this thoughtful editorial. As a teacher of seniors in a public high school in the Houston area, I find it unwise and impractical to arm teachers in the classrooms and hallways. In a typical class of mine there are more than thirty very grown teenagers whom I am trying to instruct. It is preposterous to imagine that I or any other educator would be prepared for an attack that suddenly occurred in the room. Instead, as school policy we practice lockdown drills in which the doors are locked, the lights are off, and all students are moved out of sight of the doorway window in the event of a wandering shooter such as the one in the Newtown tragedy. This seems much more useful to me than arming individual teachers at school.

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