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Unions lambaste proposal to arm more teachers

Call idea in massacre’s wake ‘astounding and disturbing’

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The nation's leading teachers unions Thursday slammed the idea of arming more teachers, a proposal floated in the wake of last week's Sandy Hook school shooting by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and others and already in place in some Texas schools.

"Guns have no place in our schools. Period," reads a rare joint statement from the presidents of the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers.

In their letter, Dennis Van Roekel of the NEA and Randi Weingarten of the AFT called the idea of arming teachers "astounding and disturbing," saying it runs counter to educators' vow to provide safe and secure public schools for American students.

In the days since the massacre at the Newtown, Conn., elementary school, Mr. McDonnell and other high-profile political figures have suggested that instructors, principals or other school personnel have access to firearms. The guns, they argue, would be kept in secure locations and used only in the event a gunman enters the building or some other extreme threat to students.

Such a system already is in place in Texas, which allows school districts to have armed-teacher policies. The small Harrold Independent School District, west of Wichita Falls on the Oklahoma border, voted in 2007 to give teachers the authority to carry guns to protect themselves and their students.

"We don't have money for a security guard, but this is a better solution," district Superintendent David Thweatt told reporters. "A shooter could take out a guard or officer with a visible, holstered weapon, but our teachers have masters degrees, are older and have had extensive training. And their guns are hidden. We can protect our children."

The idea of arming educators comes amid a larger national debate over gun violence, again thrust into the spotlight after Adam Lanza's murder spree at Sandy Hook.

While most of the conversation has centered on larger gun control issues — such as a reinstatement of the federal assault-weapons ban — school security also is under the microscope.

Over the past several days, lawmakers in Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, Oregon and elsewhere have said they will introduce legislation allowing teachers and other school leaders to carry firearms at school.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder this week vetoed a bill that would've allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons into class, arguing that a more "thoughtful review" is needed.

Former Education Secretary Bill Bennett, however, argues that the Harrold approach, had it been in place at Sandy Hook, could have saved at least a few of the 26 lives taken there.

"Suppose the principal at Sandy Hook Elementary who was killed lunging at the gunman was instead holding a firearm and was well-trained to use it. Would the result have been different? Or suppose you had been in that school when the killer entered, would you have preferred to be armed?" he said in a recent piece for CNN.com. "Evidence and common sense suggest yes."

Mr. McDonnell, Mr. Bennett and other advocates of arming teachers largely have been overshadowed by the anti-gun lobby, which now has the support of President Obama and many lawmakers in the effort to enact harsher firearms laws.

Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign, said the notion of giving teachers guns "furthers a dangerous conversation that only talks about guns as protection without a discussion about the serious risks they present."
Rather than talk about introducing firepower to the school building, teachers unions remain focused on other ways to prevent another Sandy Hook-type tragedy.

"Greater access to mental health services, bullying prevention and meaningful action on gun control — this is where we need to focus our efforts, not on staggeringly misguided ideas about filling our schools with firearms," Mr. Van Roekel and Ms. Weingarten said. "Lawmakers at every level of government should dismiss this dangerous idea."

• This article was based in part on wire-service reports.

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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