Embarrassing incidents at schools are more proof that arming teachers is bad idea

What happens when a good guy with a gun misplaces the gun?

DAYTON, OH - A Glock 19 9mm handgun is displayed for a photo in the office of Mad River School District Superintendent Chad Wyen in Dayton, Ohio. on Thursday, March 1, 2017. CREDIT: Luke Sharrett /For The Washington Post via Getty Images
DAYTON, OH - A Glock 19 9mm handgun is displayed for a photo in the office of Mad River School District Superintendent Chad Wyen in Dayton, Ohio. on Thursday, March 1, 2017. CREDIT: Luke Sharrett /For The Washington Post via Getty Images

The president thinks it’s a good idea. The secretary of education thinks it should be an option. But 56 percent of Americans say that arming teachers is a bad idea.

The proposal to arm educators as a deterrent to school shootings has been gaining steam in the wake of a mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida last month that left 17 dead. Florida’s state legislature passed such a proposal in recent days, and Alabama and Mississippi are taking up their own bills that go further than Florida’s in many respects. Michigan, Maryland, and New York have all considered passing similar bills as well.

But as incidents involving firearms being lost or mishandled on school grounds continue, the concept of increasing the number of weapons on campus becomes more difficult to defend. Tuesday alone, for instance, saw a pair of embarrassing scenarios play out in Virginia and Michigan:

  • On Tuesday morning, in Alexandria, Virginia, a school resource officer accidentally fired his gun in his office. The incident, at George Washington Middle School, resulted in no injuries. The officer, a five-year veteran of the Alexandria Police Department, notified school staff and his superiors, and has been placed on routine administrative leave.
  • Also on Tuesday, a county sheriff in Michigan apologized for leaving his weapon in a school locker room. Isabella County Sheriff Michael Main said that he used a locker room over the weekend to change into his uniform and left his backup weapon there, where it was later discovered by a student. No one was injured. Main said he was “devastated with my lack of accountability in this matter.”

Such incidents have hardly deterred politicians from supporting measures that would increase the number of firearms in schools. President Donald Trump, who claimed this month that the NRA had “less power over [him]” than it did over lawmakers, caved to the gun lobbying group this weekend, signing onto its agenda of fighting gun control measures and arming teachers.

Last week, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) also signed a gun safety bill into law that, among other things, establishes a school “marshal” or “guardian” program. Named after Aaron Feis, the assistant football coach killed in the Parkland attack, it would order each public school campus to have either a sheriff deputy or a school “guardian” on campus. A new voluntary school guardian program would train and arm school staff to respond to potential threats and would apply to staff who have other campus responsibilities apart from teaching.

The program offers participants a meager 132 hours of firearms training — less than half of what a basic police recruit receives. There is currently not enough funding in the bill to pay for a sheriff deputy to be present on each campus, so the guardian program may be many schools’ only affordable option. It’s still unclear who will be training the “guardians.”

Accidents involving firearms on school grounds are a common occurrence across the country. Last week, a high school student in Lexington, Kentucky injured his hand after accidentally firing a gun his classmate had brought to school. No other injuries were reported. In a separate incident on March 1, a teacher in Georgia was arrested after barricading himself in a classroom and firing his weapon through a window. No one was injured except for a student who sprained their ankle running away from the chaos. On February 2, two students at a Los Angeles middle school were injured when a gun in a 12-year-old student’s backpack accidentally discharged. Both students have since recovered from hand and head injuries. According to an analysis of all incidents where a gun was fired on a school campus since 2013, there have been 29 guns fired in the vicinity of schools in 2018 thus far, not counting Tuesday’s incident in Alexandria.

Experts say such occurrences will become even more commonplace if measures arming school staffers are enacted. Some authorities have proposed arming only law enforcement officers as a way to remedy that.

“If you are going to have a gun on one of our campuses then you are going to have a badge as well,” Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna told the Tallahassee Democrat.

He added, “The odds of something going terribly wrong with this [arming staff] far outnumber anything going right.”