Overview:

Republicans are pushing proposals that would arm teachers. Putting guns in the hands of educators doesn't solve gun violence.

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After the tragic mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, Republicans are once again offering dubious legislative proposals along with impotent thoughts and prayers. The new/old proposal offered by Republicans in the wake of these shootings, in which dozens of Americans were killed, is an extension of the “good guy with a gun” narrative: Arm teachers.

Instead of being dismissed outright as the nonsense it is, the proposal has gained momentum and is now being considered in state legislatures including Ohio and Louisiana. In Ohio, the bill to arm teachers has already passed through both chambers of the state legislature and Governor DeWine has said he “looks forward to signing it.”

But what exactly do these bills propose? And why do so many teachers’ groups, children’s groups, and gun control advocates oppose them? 

Nearly 50 percent of public schools already have what are called School Resource Officers (SROs) who are sworn law enforcement officers with arrest powers. They carry handcuffs, and most also carry firearms. Despite the proliferation of SROs in school districts across the country, school shootings have continued unabated. But the new proposals gaining momentum with Republicans are not about school resource officers. They are about putting firearms in the hands of teachers, school administrators, and other school support staff.

Republican Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said that teachers need to be armed because stopping gunmen from taking action is essentially impossible. “We can’t stop bad people from doing bad things,” he said. “We can potentially arm and prepare and train teachers and other administrators to respond quickly because the reality is that we don’t have the resources to have law enforcement at every school.”

The state of Texas already allows teachers to carry weapons, and this had no effect on the mass shooting in Uvalde. But Ohio and Louisiana are taking steps to become the next states to put guns in teachers’ hands. Many Ohio teachers are opposed to the new plan, and think that it makes schools even more dangerous. “I think that the idea to arm teachers is a way for lawmakers to pass the buck on much bigger issues,” said Tate Moore, a seventh-grade English teacher in Ohio. “It seems like more things are getting added to our plate. And nothing is being taken off. I’m just not sure how much more teachers can take.” Moore went on to say that there could be “unintended consequences” of teachers carrying guns on school campuses, and that “something bad could happen.” 

Although the “good guy with a gun” narrative remains pervasive, there is no evidence that increasing the number of guns in schools will keep children safe. In fact, all of the research on firearms indicates that increasing the number of guns in a given space increases the likelihood of gun deaths. The US isn’t inherently more dangerous than other advanced countries. Rates of crime per capita are similar to other Western nations. The difference is that the US has more guns, which makes these incidents more deadly.

Recent research has also explored the likely effectiveness of arming teachers in schools. A University of Toledo/Ball State study found that adding more armed teachers to schools did not reduce overall rates of gun violence.

Criminologist Denise Gottfredson argues that providing teachers with firearms could increase risk for schools. The guns “might be fired accidentally, the teachers who carry them might deliberately use them for unintended purposes, and, even more likely, the guns might end up in the hands of students,” she said.

Other teachers and education-focused organizations continue to echo Moore, arguing that arming teachers changes nothing at best and at worst is a recipe for disaster. The ability of teachers to carry in Texas didn’t stop the Uvalde shooter. Alexis Underwood, president of the Association of Bay County Educators in Florida, said the proposal to arm teachers was “a horrible idea.” Underwood is also a retired Marine and favored working with highly trained SROs. “One of the things that my drill instructor told me is that even individuals in the military, in a moment of crisis, when the gun fires for real, are going to forget what they’ve been taught to do and they’re going to run or they’re going to make stupid mistakes,” he said.

Republicans have long ignored these calls while pushing to put weapons in the hands of educators. Even former President Trump advocated for the idea after the Parkland, Florida shooting. Referring to the shooter on campus in 2018, the former President said: “A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened.”

That isn’t what happened in Uvalde. 

The police response makes the proposals to arm teachers even harder to understand. Even trained, armed police officers hesitated at length to engage the shooter, waiting up to an hour and 15 minutes to engage the shooter because they were afraid of being shot. An investigation has been opened into the response of the Uvalde school district police chief for the delay in responding. The US Justice Department has also stepped in to review the local response, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott has said that the local officials provided him with inaccurate information about the initial police actions. 

These are police officers who go through hundreds of hours of training and are professionally expected to handle difficult, armed actors. If these officers cannot promptly respond to an armed threat at a school, how are teachers expected to do so? Teachers will have less training, and their focus is on educating children, not the prevention of potentially deadly threats. Teachers likely do not have the physical or psychological training necessary to take down school shooters. Worse, teachers may make mistakes that could harm students or other school staff members precisely because this is not their area of expertise. 

There is a way to significantly reduce mass shootings, a strategy that has had instant success in several other Western countries. Mass shootings are so deadly because they often are conducted with assault rifles that allow for faster, more extensive, more destructive attacks. President Biden correctly noted that mass shooting deaths exploded after the assault weapons ban was allowed to expire. Reinstating that ban–though currently politically impossible at the federal level–would go a long way to limiting mass shootings. 

Republicans often counter by saying that gun bans don’t work, and that bad guys will always find a way to find firearms. This is a strikingly different argument than Republicans use when moving to ban abortion, as several states have effectively done while awaiting this summer’s potential ruling striking down Roe. When banning abortion, Republicans use moral arguments and claim that their bans will effectively prevent abortions. If abortion bans prevent abortions, why wouldn’t assault weapons bans prevent assault weapon purchases, and by extension, reduce mass shootings? 

Republicans and the NRA have supported gun control in the past, when certain groups have protested for gun rights. In the late 1960s, when the Black Panthers protested at the California state house while open carrying weapons, the NRA supported the Mulford Act, which banned the open carrying of loaded firearms in the state. The Mulford Act was signed into law by Republican Governor and future US President Ronald Reagan. 

This history indicates that Republican and NRA support for gun rights is not universal, but conditional. Conditional on certain groups having the right to arm themselves, and others potentially being shut out from having this right. It also indicates a long-standing hypocrisy in the gun rights movement. The NRA has vigorously defended the gun rights of law enforcement officers while ignoring the gun rights of Black men who were legally carrying firearms before being shot and killed by police. The subtext is that Republicans and gun rights organizations aren’t out to protect universal gun rights, but the rights of a collective few to be armed. 

Which brings us back to the larger point: why should a political minority dominate the debate on guns? Most Americans support gun control. But a highly active political minority thwarts efforts to limit gun sales. “The NRA built this identity around gun ownership and then it portrayed that identity as being threatened,” said Matthew Lacombe, the author of “Firepower: How the NRA Turned Gun Owners into a Political Force.” “So the minority of Americans who oppose gun control are historically more politically active than the majority that supports.”

If America is going to stop school shootings, and prevent meaningless proposals that would arm teachers, then the political majority will have to take action and make it a top electoral priority going forward.

Marcus Johnson

Marcus Johnson is a political commentator and a political science Ph.D. candidate at American University. His primary research focus is the impact of political institutions on the racial wealth gap.