When Donald Trump called for arming teachers in 2015, he was met with the expected derision from gun control advocates and other progressives. All proposals to arm teachers are met with similar derision by liberals who warn of the dangers of “militarizing” schools. While this chin dribbling continues, school shootings have increased to a point where 150,000 of our nation’s students have now experienced a school shooting or the threat of one.
In the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida, the gunman actually used a school emergency action fire drill to lure his victims into the kill zone. It is time not only to permit teachers to be armed, but for the federal government to mandate that school districts take such actions in order to qualify for federal funding.
People opposed to arming teachers such as Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services, argues that having police and school resource officers is preferable to arming teachers. In fact, the Stoneman school security officer was one of the first fatalities. The reality is that most shooters plan their actions moths in advance and figure out how to avoid or neutralize school security.
Schools that arm teachers should advertise that some of the faculty are armed, but the identities of the teachers should not be revealed lest the potential shooter plans to avoid or neutralize them as well. Armed teachers should be a deterrent, and the best kind of deterrent is one that includes studied ambiguity.
The argument about militarizing schools is a red herring. Since the Federal Air Marshal program was beefed up post 9/11, there has not been a single successful hijacking aboard a U.S. airliner and no one has claimed that the airlines have been militarized.
The first few minutes of a school shooting are critical. Having one armed teacher on each floor or in each wing of a school would greatly help in mitigating an incident if it does occur. When, confronted with armed force unexpectedly one of two things usually occurs in a school shooting. Either the shooter surrenders or commits suicide; either of those is an acceptable outcome.
Following the Stoneman incident Nikolas Cruz quietly surrendered but not before the damage was done. Shoot-outs in such incidents are very rare. Is it possible that an innocent student could be caught in a crossfire if a gunfight broke out? It is possible, but the alternative at Stoneman was 17 students massacred like fish in a barrel.
How would a federally mandated program work? Teachers to be armed should be volunteers. If enough volunteers cannot be found at a given school, former service members or retired cops should be hired as uniformed armed teachers’ aids. Training and qualification criteria should be standardized.
To date, nine states have passed laws authorizing teachers to be armed, and several school districts in other states have independently authorized arming some teachers. So far, there has not been a reported incident of a successful shooting in schools where teachers have been armed; although in 1997 an armed teacher forced the surrender of a shooter before he could do any damage.
Passive measures like active shooter drills may make teachers and students feel safer, but when the shooting starts they are about as useful as a Cold War duck and cover drill would have been in an actual nuclear attack.
To date, since Sandy Hook in 2012, school shootings have risen exponentially despite calls for gun control, early identification of potential shooters and anti-bullying campaigns. Young Mr. Cruz was identified as a potential threat years ago, and he even underwent counseling for a while. None of those efforts prevented a massacre.
This is a chance for President Trump to show real leadership in proposing a legislative initiative to require the arming of selective teachers nationwide. If there is a time to take a positive initiative on this subject, it is now. Republicans control the White House, both houses of Congress, and the Supreme Court would not likely block such legislation. Failing that, we will suffer through weeks of Obama-like hand wringing and calls for more gun control, background checks, as well as pleas for the identification and counseling of troubled individuals.
Our nation’s schools should be safe places for students to learn and grow and parents should not put their kids on the school bus in the morning hoping that they are not sending their children into a combat zone. After all, the only people who have guns in “gun free zones” are the active shooters.
• Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, lectures at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs.