Experts: Arming teachers not the answer to stopping active shooters

Since the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook, it seems there has been a rash of legislative efforts across the country to legalize or, at least, provide the option for school districts to allow armed employees on their campuses. Just this month, a bill was introduced in the Mississippi legislature that would authorize school superintendents to appoint trained and licensed school employees to carry firearms for security. A bill was also recently introduced in Nebraska that would allow teachers and other employees to carry concealed handguns in schools.

While most everyone would like to have an armed school resource officer on their campus, the fact remains that many school districts simply do not have the financial resources to do so. It would seem logical then that the next best thing would be to allow a limited number of trained staff members to carry firearms with them on school property, but experts say that just isn’t true.

“I’ve always said that the only people who need to be armed on school campuses are police officers. Period!” school security consultant Patrick Fiel said. Fiel formerly served as executive director of security for the Washington, D.C. Public School System. “Teachers and administrators need to focus on what they’re good at – teaching.”

Paul Timm, president of school security consulting firm RETA Security, believes that schools need to concentrate their efforts on bolstering access control measures and communications capabilities instead of arming staff members.

“The only person or persons that should be armed in schools should be police officers. Why? Because that is their job and they have all kinds of standards and training requirements that they need to follow to make sure they’re operating with that weapon as safely as possible,” explained Timm. “If we open this up to staff members, you’re going to get someone who doesn’t get the same kind of training standards and who has not been tested over and over again in situations of duress. You’ll get some who have been waiting their whole lives to wield a weapon, you’ll get others who will say, ‘I’m the designated person, but the last thing I’ll ever do is fire that (gun).’ You won’t get any real consistency like you have with local law enforcement and that’s an issue.”

For example, Timm said if a school district were to authorize one person at each of its schools to carry a firearm, what would happen when that individual is not on the premises. “We run out of balance really quick when we open the door and if we say, ‘well, everyone should be able to carry,’ then we have really wild cards going on because some people will operate quite differently from others,” he said. “We’ll regret it; I just really think we’ll regret it.”        

Although most of the legislative proposals being pushed by state politicians call for teachers or administrators having to go through some type of training or certification process, Fiel says it just doesn’t measure up to the continual training that law enforcement goes through to carry a firearm.

“The training and the procedures that police officers go through constantly with their weapon, their training and shooting… it’s just different,” said Fiel. “Plus, police are trained in the event there is a (active shooter) situation, but it’s going to be more dangerous when a teacher, who we don’t know, has a weapon on display when police and emergency responders arrive. It could be an uglier situation.”   

In addition to a lack of proper training, Fiel said another problem with arming teachers is that those that carry a weapon may fail to properly store and secure it. “Now you have more weapons on campus and this is what we don’t need. We don’t need kids having access to weapons,” he said.

Timm agrees that allowing teachers to carry guns on campus would create the risk of students gaining access to them.

“We would have to rethink everything we’re doing. Where are we keeping that weapon? Who has access to that weapon?” asked Timm. “We would have to put together such a set of standards, codes or best practices and then, after we put it all together, we would have to have some kind of a watchdog organization to make sure that it is all being complied with.”

Despite efforts by lawmakers and school districts to arm school personnel, there’s doesn’t appear to be widespread support for these measures among school teachers themselves. According to a survey conducted by School Improvement Network in the aftermath of Sandy Hook that included responses from over 10,000 teachers nationwide, only three out of 10 said that they would bring a firearm to school if they were allowed to do so and more than 90 percent indicated that they felt safe on their campus.

Fiel said one thing he’s noticed in his travels to schools across the U.S. is that many of them still haven’t had adequate physical security assessments performed. “They’re more focused on, ‘let’s have a teacher carry a gun,’ rather than locking the doors to prevent the intruder from making an effort to come in,” he added.

Rather than focus on letting teachers carry guns, Fiel said that schools need to put more emphasis on their physical security measures and being able to quickly lockdown in case they ever do have an active shooter incident.  Additionally, Fiel said that school personnel should be well-versed in their security plans, ensure that the technology they have in place, such PA systems, are working properly, and conduct drills on various types of active shooter scenarios.

Timm believes that schools also need to stop trading security for convenience. “If they begin to follow security practices like not propping exterior doors open, always carrying a two-way radio when they have students outside and if they begin to follow these practices on a consistent basis, that will make a world of difference in reducing risks that they currently face,” he said.  

Fiel believes that there is a small percentage of schools that have taken the right steps when it comes to securing their facilities, but that there is room for improvement on the vast majority of campuses. “We have to be able to secure these campuses better than what we’re doing today,” Fiel said. 

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