President Donald Trump believes arming teachers could prevent shooting massacres on school campuses, and he has found a fellow believer in Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones.
Trump offered the idea following last week’s killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., the latest in a mind-numbing spate of school shootings across America.
On Thursday morning, Amy Lewis of NewsRadio KFBK asked Jones about the issue and he said: “There are probably a lot of teachers that recreationally shoot on the weekends that are very proficient with firearms. I think (arming teachers) could certainly help.”
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Arming teachers is a moot point in California, where it’s against state law for anyone but cops, security guards, members of the military or armored vehicle guards to bring guns on campuses.
But is Trump right? Is Jones right? Have we reached the point in the epidemic of school shootings that we need to reconsider state law and arm teachers so they can wound or kill schoolyard assassins before they harm students and faculty?
It’s a provocative idea, but why stop there?
What about arming parents? Shouldn’t those of us who feel a twinge of anxiety every time we drop our kids off at school be able to carry guns on campus, so long as Jones approves our concealed weapons permit requests?
Instead of making guacamole for classroom parties or securing items for the silent auction fundraiser, maybe I could better serve my home school by walking the perimeter of campus with my gun during recess?
It’s obviously never going to happen here in California, which has the strictest gun laws in the nation. But should it happen at all?
By suggesting teachers be armed, Trump is employing long-standing NRA talking points. The powerful lobbying group’s grip on politicians is so strong that Florida legislators this week voted down a motion to consider a ban on assault weapons like the one used in the Parkland shooting, despite the presence of Douglas students in the audience.
A central idea promoted by the NRA goes like this: The best deterrent for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.
Jones believes this to be true. This principle has guided him as he has approved more concealed weapons permits than any of his predecessors by far.
His belief is that people in Sacramento have “felt safer” because they had permits to legally carry firearms. He thinks having more upright citizens carrying guns makes communities more secure. “I believe people (who are granted CCWs) are among the most law abiding, contemplative folks with that privilege and power,” he has said.
Given these comments, it’s not surprising that Jones supports districts and schools allowing teachers to pack weapons if they wish to do so.
But let’s be clear. Jones – like Trump – is promoting a personal and political belief. Science does not corroborate the idea that more guns make people safer on school campuses or anywhere else.
In fact, the opposite seems to be true. A 2015 study by Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard University found that firearm assaults were nearly seven times more likely in the states with the most guns.
Garen Wintemute, an emergency room doctor and director of the Violence Prevention Research Project at UC Davis, offered a similar assessment relating to guns in the home.
“There is a substantial body of evidence that, after adjusting for lots of factors, having a gun in the home increases the risk of a homicide by two,” he said. “The risk of a suicide quadruples or quintuples.”
Wintemute said there is no legitimate study showing that schools would be safer with armed teachers. In fact, Wintemute said it would be close to impossible to even conduct such a study. “There would need to be thousands of schools followed for years,” he said. “And the problem with putting guns in schools is that there would always be guns in schools.”
There is a body of data showing that African American male students are suspended and expelled from schools at higher rates than other groups. It’s a controversial topic roiling school districts across the country.
It’s not far-fetched to worry that in teacher-armed schools, African American students might get shot at higher numbers than other groups. It’s not far-fetched to worry about kids with developmental disabilities or mental illness on armed campuses. What about immigrant kids, Muslim kids or transgender kids?
On Thursday, it came to light that the only armed security guard on campus during the Parkland shooting, a Broward County sheriff’s deputy serving as a school resource officer, never went into a building to confront the suspect, Nikolas Cruz – a reminder that a gap often remains between arming people and having them prevent tragedies.
“He should have went in. Addressed the killer. Killed the killer,” said Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel of Deputy Scot Peterson, who resigned Thursday after Israel suspended him for not entering the school to stop the suspect.
This is a trained, veteran officer. And we think a schoolteacher can do better?
Daniel Hahn, Sacramento’s chief of police, said he has concerns about putting guns in the hands of people who are trained to instruct, not protect and serve.
“Police officers get a ton of firearms training,” he said “We have to qualify multiple times a year. You don’t want to put that responsibility on teachers who have a tough job already. I can only see the potential of problems by (arming) people with minimal training.”
Where would guns be stored on campus? How secure would the weapons be, and how easily might they be stolen by students or intruders?
“There are a lot of things we could be doing instead of arming teachers,” Hahn said. “Background checks, making it harder for people with mental health issues to get guns. It’s our obligation to make it harder for people we know should not have access to guns.”
Hahn rejects the idea that gun control laws shouldn’t be enacted because they won’t totally eliminate gun violence. He draws a comparison with how he raises his own children. “As a parent, I know my kids will do things I don’t want when they get older,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I should make it easy for them. I should make it hard.”
Confronting gun violence is hard. There is no one answer and no one solution that will stop a person from killing others. But the next time you hear the president, the sheriff or anyone else suggesting the answer is more guns, know that’s just an opinion. It’s a political view, a talking point. And it’s not supported by science.