Are Gun-Toting Teachers an Answer?
UPDATE: President Trump talks with senators about background checks, raising the age of gun purchasing to 21 and not fearing the NRA.
In the aftermath of yet another tragedy, many are calling for reforms in response to the shooting at a Broward County high school that killed 17 people.
One approach may be a program created by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. Educators who want to be armed receive specialized training, also becoming partially deputized by the Polk sheriff’s office. A second university agreed Feb. 22 to be trained and deputized under Judd’s Sentinel program in Polk County, which is east of Tampa.
Whatever the lawmakers in Tallahassee and Washington decide — and the choice ultimately should be left to each school district and college — the training had better be pretty damn good.
This would be a very serious step on a road to good intentions that’s potentially paved with disaster. No matter how much teachers want to keep their students safe, they’re not undercover air marshals; they’re teachers.
No reasonable person is saying that this shouldn’t be considered as one of several possible reforms. But it should not be implemented without rigorous testing and training before enabling teachers and other school employees to carry concealed weapons around unpredictable kids and teenagers.
If educators are permitted to carry firearms, such laws should be well conceived instead of just opting for a quick fix to a complex problem:
A. That means serious and even annoyingly stringent training, including self-defense instructions in case a student (or a school employee) goes off the deep end and tries to take away their weapon. It’s a certainty that students will eventually figure out who’s carrying a gun and word will get around.
B. The mental-health exam for gun-toting teachers also should be tough. Let’s face it, teaching is a very challenging profession requiring the patience of Job (and similar suffering). Each educator has their own breaking point.
C. Such mental-health evaluations for school employees willing to carry concealed weapons also need frequent auditing. This would include periodic searches of court, criminal and financial records (performed by law enforcement, not school administrators) to ensure that the personal life of a teacher carrying a firearm to school remain well grounded.
D. And in a nod to Barney Fife, the fictional and comically inept TV deputy, teachers also should be required to carry unloaded guns to minimize accidental shootings.
Teachers are not police officers and likely won’t have to make a split-second decision. If they need to load up, they can carry a clip full of bullets that can be quickly popped in when needed.
Besides, some schools are pretty wild places today. Disrespectful students with problems at home or their lives are more the norm than the exception.
OTHER STEPS, SOME UNCONVENTIONAL, MAY BE NECESSARY
Florida also may want to consider becoming some type of trailblazer among other states by figuring out HOW to actually ban excessively violent video games.
Evaluating popular culture — from movies to music — and their impact on spurring violence isn’t necessarily easy. But there can be little doubt that pre-teen children, teen-agers and young adults have been COMPLETELY desensitized by the popularization of violence.
But Hollywood can’t be tamed in a day. It may be easier to simply go after the worst offender, and horrific, blood-spattered video games should probably be nominated for creating such ugly infestations of inhumanity.
Rating systems have proven ineffective thus far. Perhaps Florida can lead the way by simply banning sales of video games it deems too violent. Both civil and criminal penalties could be imposed on Florida retailers and individual state residents who violate such a law. For those residing outside of Florida who violate the ban, the federal courts may be an avenue to at least pursuing civil damages.
Ultimately, if the state legislature and governor really care about chipping away at this situation, it’s going to take a helluva LOT more than gun-toting teachers:
1. All school perimeters (public and private) would need upgraded security. There are many ways to do it and, hopefully, states won’t just create unfunded mandates. Local schools are going to need state and federal aid and the question, as always, revolves around the willingness to back up decrees with cold, hard cash.
2. Florida also needs better counseling/mental health services for anyone in K-12 schools AND tech schools/colleges. See №1 about how to pay for this.
3. The Sunshine State also must upgrade the Baker Act to give law enforcement and other institutions more leeway in holding someone. Often, in cases where the Baker act is utilized, people can be released within 24 hours instead of even the law’s current limit of three days.
4. Of course, there also needs to be better information exchange among law enforcement, schools and others.
But what about shooters who do NOT show up in any significant way on early-warning radar? There’s data that indicates a LOT of these shooters aren’t necessarily mentally ill.
That answer isn’t easy. Perhaps we need significantly better background checks? A case certainly can be made that past behavior at least increases the chance for someone to act out with a firearm.
Moreover, it’s also important to remember with younger people that judgment and impulse control vary according to the maturity and daily pressures on individual teenagers. The challenge is to be able to recognize the difference between a teen’s pursuit of novelty vs. a potentially serious problem.
Regardless of the science, it may be simple common sense that prompts legislators to ban the purchase and/or use of any type of semi-automatic weapon until age 21. That said, there probably still needs to be some type of exception for younger people who can demonstrate — either through training or experience — that they’re mature enough to assume such a responsibility.
Besides, as far as hunting is concerned, you don’t need anything more than a single-shot shotgun or single-shot rifle anyway.
It may be a pain in the ass to reload. But odds are the ducks or deer or whatever you’re shooting at will be long gone after the first miss.
So, whatever changes are made by state legislatures in Florida and elsewhere — including the federal level — we need an adult discussion to find a balance between the rights of law-abiding gun owners and meaningful reform to ensure safety for everyone.
Mike Kersmarki is an author in Tampa, Fla. He currently is writing a domestic policy book: “Worker’s Party: How Republicans Can Help ALL Americans Achieve Their Full Economic Potential.”