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Want to Prevent the Next School Shooting? Arm Educators With More Resources to Do Their Jobs

"When a student shows up with the intention of shooting fellow classmates, the system has already failed."

Jo Coles

Published on: March 05, 2018


Editor's note: ParentMap publishes articles, op-eds and essays by people of all experiences and from all walks of life. The opinions expressed in their articles are their own and are not endorsed by ParentMap.

I am a school psychologist, a former Marine, a survivor of gun violence and I have a concealed carry permit. I am also one of the professionals called when students experience a mental health crisis.

I believe that guns should only be carried by qualified police officers in our schools. Teachers are already assigned to gather, shelter and protect students in a crisis situation. We are qualified to provide first aid and emotional support for students in well-rehearsed lockdown situations.

When a student shows up in school with the intention of shooting fellow classmates, the system has already failed that student.

Picture this: You are a first-grade student. You are told to hide under your desk, to be quiet, as your teacher covers the windows with paper, as she turns the lights off and locks the door. No one says exactly what these drills are for, but you know. You see the pictures on the magazines and newspapers at the store, you hear the people talking on the news about school shootings. 

For today’s high school students, these active shooter drills have been a part of life since they first began attending school. It’s no wonder that, in the wake of yet another mass shooting, students are the ones leading a new wave of protests against government inaction on this issue. Schoolchildren have been bearing the brunt of the inaction of our nation’s politicians throughout their lives. 

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We should do everything we can to keep our children safe. Some well-intentioned people are proposing that we train teachers to carry firearms on campus, so that educators may hunt an active shooter if needed. This idea, if implemented, could have disastrous consequences. 

An experienced shooter can sometimes fire multiple shots per second, usually when a firearm is enhanced with a bump stock. At that rate, skilled marksmanship isn’t required to hit a moving target. There is no outrunning this kind of firepower. There isn’t time to shoot back. Simply put: These are weapons of war, and they are being used to target our children, often by other students.

This proposal to arm tens of thousands of teachers will only benefit gun manufacturers and will likely result in more accidents, injuries and deaths. I fear it will also make what is sometimes the only safe space in a child’s life a more hostile environment, as it changes the dynamics of the relationship between teachers and their students. We tell children to “use your words” to solve playground disputes. We want to show them a better way to problem solve than the use of force. 

For some children, school is the only place where they will receive regular meals, where the heat is turned on, where there are trusted adults to talk to. Schools are frequently the only place where students receive mental health interventions. There is so much stigma regarding mental illness in our culture, and the debate around gun violence has only added to that stigma. Statistically, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence rather than the perpetrators of it.

A growing body of research suggests students of color and students with disabilities face significant disparities in discipline and suspensions in public schools. I fear that arming teachers will only make school an even more hostile place for these children who are already marginalized.  

I work with students in crisis, who are struggling with mental health challenges or a lack of self-regulation skills. What they need is more help from those professionals trained to provide it — from the mental health professionals and their teachers, whom they see five days each week. They need curriculum that provides coping and social-emotional skills. 

Rather than arming educators and school psychologists with guns, arm us with more resources to do our jobs.

I’m tired of the political gridlock around an issue that isn’t political — gun violence is a public health threat. This year, in the wake of the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, everyone from Walmart to Dick’s Sporting Goods to the Florida Legislature came to realize that there’s no reason that people under age 21 should be able to purchase semi-automatic rifles.

But not the Washington State Legislature. Our elected officials failed to take even a single floor vote on Substitute Senate Bill 6620, which would’ve raised the age to purchase semi-automatic rifles to 21 and strengthened the background check on those rifles — that’s already the law for handguns in our state. The school safety bill also would have added school safety measures, like funding for more campus resource officers.

If Washington’s legislators can’t muster the same moral courage that major corporations are showing — to say nothing of our students — then it’s time for new legislators.

Let the police and SWAT teams handle the tactical approach for disarming a student with a gun on campus. Don’t complicate it with even more firearms in our currently gun-free zoned schools. Let’s not act like an active shooting is the best place for an intervention to begin.

Preventing school shootings starts long before a troubled student fires a gun. It starts before a student accesses a firearm. It starts with educators, counselors, school psychologists, peers and parents. It starts with adults who vote for reasonable, common-sense restrictions to address the easy access of these lethal assault weapons to teens and people in crisis.

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