By Chaitram Aklu
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida shooting on February 14, which left 17 students and teachers dead and more than 15 wounded, once again has everyone talking about school shootings in the US.
There have been 18 since January and 238 since the Newtown CT shooting. More than 150,000 students in (K-12) schools have experienced a shooting on campus since the massacre at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Now the President of the United States has recommended arming teachers and giving them a bonus as a solution to this national emergency. This a ‘bad’ idea.
President Trump held a “listening” session at the White House in which survivors made statements and appealed to the president to pass laws to stop the carnage. Trump said, “If the coach had a firearm in his locker when he ran at this guy, that (football) coach (Aaron Feis) was very brave, saved a lot of lives I suspect.” Trump further stated, “A teacher would have a concealed gun on them and they’d go for special training and they would be there and you would no longer have a gun-free zone,” — “Gun-free zone to a maniac, because they’re all cowards, a gun-free zone is, ‘Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us.” He added,” They’re not going to walk into a school if 20-percent of the teachers have guns, or maybe 10-percent, or maybe 40-percent; and what I recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus,”
For President Trump, the solution is simple, once everyone knows that teachers are armed, no one will even think about going into a school to massacre helpless individuals. He is wrong. It is not even a guarantee that fewer lives will be lost. Think of the scenario where teacher and shooter are firing and students and adults, hundreds of them, can’t distinguish between armed teacher and shooter or the direction to escape.
The solution is less guns – not more. More Americans than ever now want gun control. NEA president Lily Eskelsen García said in a statement on February 21, “We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators. Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.” And a recent survey of American voters published by the Network for Public Education (NPE) revealed 66 percent want stricter gun control laws, 83 percent favor mandatory waiting period for all gun purchases, 97 percent support universal background checks, 67 percent support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons, and 75 percent agree Congress needs to do more to reduce gun violence.
At Stoneman High the trained and armed personnel with the authority to use deadly force did not go in the line of fire. The fire bells rang and everyone thought that it was a fire drill. So they filed out of their classrooms into the hallways, which is exactly where the gunman wanted them to be, so he could take out as many as possible. He had studied mistakes made by other mass shooters. After firing off 150 rounds, he put his gun down and left the building along with the student body, undetected.
Teachers are hired to teach in a safe and secure public school and are held accountable for the welfare of their students while student are under their care. They bond with their students whom they interact with over a period of years. The troubled ones always seem to get more empathy than the well behaved. They spend so much time with their students that they become parent-like figures and also role models inculcating moral values in them. Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services said “it is short-sighted for those supporting the idea (of arming teachers) to believe that educators who enter a profession to teach and serve a supportive, nurturing role with children could abruptly kick into the mindset to kill someone in a second’s notice. –The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not guns.”
It was reported that the armed Deputy took up a defensive position during the shooting but never entered the school while the shooting was taking place. A psychological evaluation to determine mental stability of a person is not by itself a guarantee of a person’s ability to perform in a high-stressed situation. The deputy later stated that he did exactly what he was trained to do.
This is not surprising. The fact is that not everyone is capable of shooting another person but there are instances where it could happen and that would be equally disastrous. After the Sandy Hook shooting a group of students in a middle school in NYC were discussing the massacre and they were suggesting ways to prevent such things from happening in schools. They suggested arming school safety agents, but saw that as somewhat ineffective because their school building had too many exits, too few agents, and sometimes students would open a side door to let in their friends. Then one came up with exactly what President Trump suggested. Let teachers carry guns. It was immediately rejected. Why? They were afraid that “some teachers will shoot their students if they get angry and had a gun.” Recent incidents involving teachers and guns suggest they had a point.
Of grave concern also is, innocent people being caught in the line of fire. The Stoneman shooter was among other students. He blended in with the crowd and made his exit with ease. Those who work in a school especially in a ‘uniform’ school, would know how difficult it is to single out an individual who is violating a rule, such as pulling a fire alarm. Remember that teachers for most of the day are in classrooms doing what they are trained to do.
When physical, mental, and abnormally social behavior are observed in children, they should be addressed early by the relevant institutions and professionals. Nikolas Cruz, is a former student of the school with a known (to authorities) history of mental and emotional problems. Yet his problems were ignored. This is where mental health care is most inadequate. States have cut some $4.5 billion in public mental health spending between 2009 and 2012. But immediately after the tragedy the Governor of Florida announced a $500 Million Investment in School Safety and Mental Health and to keep students safe. It does not include arming teachers.
Gun control is necessary nationwide and a huge part of the solution. No one with mental health issues should ever own a gun. However, there must be increased funding for mental health services, prevention of bullying, training in the identification of students and other persons who make threats (through any means) to massacre innocent children and teachers, and reward people who make the call that help save lives. Cruz’s dangerous behavior was reported by his neighbor but was ignored.
Finally, President Trump makes the claim that flying is safer now because there are armed air marshals and pilots who carry guns. He is wrong. More rigid screening for weapons on the ground at the airports is responsible for fewer terrorist attacks on planes. Such rigid screening is urgently required at all schools. There is an urgent need to develop and implement a rigid comprehensive security plan enforced by highly trained personnel, which would be a deterrent to bringing weapons, (of any kind) into a school building. At the same time provide educators with the resources (academic and nonacademic) they need to create and maintain a safe environment that is conducive learning. Arming teachers is not a solution to the problem.
The views expressed in this column are solely those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the THE WEST INDIAN.