Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be Security Officers

Ivanka Trump doesn’t necessarily support the idea of teachers bringing guns to school, but she thinks it needs to be discussed. That might be a diplomatic way to avoid outright disagreeing with her father, but she’s right that people should talk about it. They should talk about it not because it’s a sane or practical way to stop school shootings, but because it makes intuitive sense to a lot of people.

From the perspective of a would-be gunman, the more weapons in the schools, the more difficult their task. If they’re suicidal, which they usually are, then they won’t be worried about dying. But they might be worried about getting killed before they can carry out their plan. Would this ever be enough to make them choose the movie theater, outside concert, or shopping mall instead of a school? I think, conceivably, the answer to that is ‘yes.’ From the perspective of school safety, those other venues can work on their own plans for deterrence. Any plan that shifts shooters away from schools needs to be considered even if it has zero effect on the overall societal problem.

So, even if the deterrent effect is pretty weak, I can see how some would see it as better than the status quo. But making yourself a modestly less attractive target to a suicidal gunman has no necessary connection to making our kids safer on school grounds. Even if school shootings are increasingly common, they are still statistically rare. Someone bringing a gun to school is mostly a theoretical problem, which is how we should want things to remain. A solution that guarantees that multiple guns are brought to every school, every day, is going to ramp up the odds that a shooting will occur. Teachers can suffer from mental illness, too. They can have fits of rage. They can make mistakes and misplace a gun or fail to keep the storage site secure.

Another consideration is that many students, parents, and teachers would feel like this solution creates an unsafe learning or working environment. To implement this policy in the face of those concerns would be disrespectful and cause a large backlash. Irate parents would flood school board meetings, kids would be pulled out of public schools, and good teachers and administrators would retire.

Finally, teachers shouldn’t be hired or fired based on their ability to double as security officers. They would become primary targets for any shooters, and they’d still be individually outgunned in any likely firefight. Whether proficient with a weapon or not, they shouldn’t be diverted from their teaching duties to worrying about how to defend against an assault with a high-powered semiautomatic rifle. They shouldn’t be judged by their willingness or ability to confront someone who brings vastly more firepower to the confrontation. In military terms, this is no way to actually secure a campus.

I’ll admit that there’s a surface-level attractiveness to the idea. But the attraction vanishes once you scratch the surface a bit. We should discuss this idea, but only to make it clear why it’s a lazy, unworkable plan based on magical thinking.

We can and should make our schools more secure, but this isn’t the way to do that.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.