Wharton: Should teachers pack heat?
I am the son of a teacher-turned-principal. My late wife was an elementary school teacher. My sister currently teaches. I've been in dozens of Utah schools over the years as a parent and a journalist. That doesn't make me an education expert, but I've spent much of my life talking to teachers and principals.
I am also familiar with guns. My dad let me fire his shotgun and deer hunting rifles when I was very young. I passed hunter safety. I've hunted deer, waterfowl and upland game birds. In 21 years in the military, I qualified to fire and carry an M-16 and then a .45 caliber pistol. I still enjoy target practice and trap, skeet and sporting clays shooting. There are many who know more than I, but I have a working knowledge of firearms.
With that background and after spending hours watching news reports and reading about the recent shootings in a Newtown, Conn., elementary school, I remain as confused as ever as to what exactly society can do to stop these horrific mass killings. We seek instant answers to solve complex problems that defy easy solutions.
Thus, I read with interest the story about the Utah Shooting Sports Council recently offering classes at Salt Lake County's Maverik Center to teachers that included concealed carry and mass violent response training. I get that we want to do everything possible to protect our kids. But I'm not certain that training educators to carry guns into school is the answer.
We already ask our teachers to do so much. In Utah, they endure some of the highest class sizes in the nation. Society expects them not only to educate students, but also to serve as mental health counselors, surrogate parents, babysitters, lunch room and recess monitors, parental advisors, enforcers, bully eliminators and confidants to dozens, if not hundreds, of kids.
So on top of all that we already ask, are we as a society ready to now expect our teachers to become gun-carrying security guards?
How will concealed weapons in classrooms be secured? Will they be locked in a drawer, stored in a purse or briefcase, or actually carried on a holster? What assurances do parents have that a teacher carrying a weapon will make their kids more and not less safe?
Second, in a chaotic situation involving a mass shooting, what should the proper role of a teacher be? Should educators leave scared children alone in a classroom while pursuing a shooter who more than likely is carrying more firepower? Or would it be better for instructors to do everything they can to secure their classrooms while waiting for the authorities? Should we require educators to wear bulletproof vests to school each day?
In an actual shooting situation, will gun-carrying teachers be an asset? Can you imagine the guilt a teacher might feel if, in a difficult situation, a shot fired from his or her pistol accidently killed a student rather than a bad guy?
Finally, as someone trained in the military to shoot and kill the enemy, I always wondered if I could actually kill another human being, even one that was trying to do me harm. I suspect I could have, but I also know that I would have needed some serious mental health counseling afterwards. Do teachers who will receive far less training than soldiers or law enforcement officers really feel qualified to begin trying to kill an intruder in a chaotic situation?
I asked my sister the elementary school teacher what she thought.
"I would quit before I would carry a gun," she said. "Teachers are nurturers, not killers."
I don't know the answer to what we do about the recent spate of mass killings. But my gut tells me that our time and efforts would be better spent identifying and dealing with mental health issues early than arming our educators.