Opinion: I’ll pass on the gun safe and politely request more mental health support for my students

A gun safe in a classroom is an unlikely solution to school shootings and certainly not an enticing educator incentive.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, during the start of the 2024 legislative session at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, Jan. 16, 2024.

Kindergarten Cop” was a 1990 comedy starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. The comedy accurately portrayed the sweetness of kindergartners and the ridiculousness of cops acting as teachers.

Rep. Tim Jimenez, R-Tooele, recently decided to incentivize Utah teachers to take on the responsibility of police officers with the installation of the “Educator Protector Program” which includes free “classroom threat response training” and gun safe installation in classrooms through HB119.

The bill has now been signed by Gov. Spencer Cox, and it seems a fair time to point out the ridiculousness of teachers acting as cops.

Will legislation such as the “Educator Protection Plan” reduce potential gun violence in our schools? Will states offering incentives to teachers to carry or store on-site and privately owned weapons be the answer to school threats? This elementary teacher isn’t betting on it.

When a school shooting occurs in America, the educators — who are also victims — are quickly called “heroes” for hiding students in supply closets, barricading doors and standing between shooters and their students. Educators, armed or unarmed, would struggle to stop a shooter carrying military artillery. Some educators have died for or with their students, as if in a war zone, but without an honorable military funeral or “line of duty” death benefits.

Newtown, Parkland and Uvalde are cities now synonymous with school shootings. With each school tragedy, political leaders around the country appear shocked by the violence and then pass laws such as those allowing teachers to come to work armed. Unfortunately, these token efforts have not prevented more violence. In May of 2022, teachers in Uvalde had the right to carry concealed weapons in their classrooms and, still, Robb Elementary students were not protected from artillery. Why not? The right to carry was given, but the practicality or even the desire to carry while performing the duties of teaching, was and still is grossly overestimated.

As a career educator in Utah, I expect more from our legislators than the incentive to store and potentially use my own weapon — or count on a coworker’s personal firearm — to deter school threats. I expect more than a couple of free combat courses and a biometric safe. None of these offerings are incentivizing my desire to remain an educator in Utah, nor are they addressing the prevention of gun violence. While the majority of nationally polled voters are in favor of stricter gun control, including background checks and increased age requirements, many elected officials instead suggest educators purchase their own guns, conceal them in their classrooms and carry the additional responsibility of an armed employee in the event of a school shooting.

Unfortunately, there are assumptions at play with the “Educator Protection Program.” First, lawmakers assume that educators want the additional responsibility of bringing their own weapons into their classrooms, and second, that the safe will be an incentive to do so. As gun safes start to appear in Utah classrooms, their presence won’t go unnoticed. The installation of a gun safe will cause inquiry, anxiety or expectations for the educator to be the anticipated security on top of all other educator duties.

Those who pass laws for teachers to carry concealed weapons, and now suggest weapon storage in biometric gun safes as an incentive, are sending the wrong message to educators and the public.

Still, nobody disagrees that vigilance is required. We already know to be observant and on alert in schools, at church, at the grocery store, in movie theaters, at music festivals and at parades.

Let’s not make potential school shootings a problem fixed with teachers incentivized to keep weapons in gun safes in their classrooms. Unfortunately, a gun safe in a classroom is an unlikely solution to school shootings and certainly not an enticing educator incentive. Instead, let’s put effort into supporting students that are suffering with mental health issues. Let’s increase our efforts in recognizing and helping the sad, lonely and excluded students who desperately need to see schools as safe spaces for all.

(Photo courtesy of Megan Mace) Megan Mace

Megan Mace has been teaching in Utah for 22 years. Her opinions do not represent any particular school or district.

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