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POV: Guns “Have No Place in Our Classrooms”

Arming teachers is not the way to go

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Every semester I ask the students in my School of Education course Introduction to Research to describe the characteristics of an important, trusted adult at the schools where they work. Consistently, their answers describe people who are approachable, caring, respectful, compassionate, patient, engaged, and even somewhat strict when it comes to performance standards.

Never have I heard a student cite “ability in target practice,” or any other characteristic remotely evocative of an armed school staff person, when conducting this exercise.

As the public debate about arming our teachers persists in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting February 14, the voices of students in my courses that help train future educators are united against such a notion. Educators-in-training don’t want guns in school, and many feel that such conditions would force them to leave the profession or alter their current path towards it. Start arming teachers, and our best and brightest young educators will start looking elsewhere.

Outside of the classroom, I’m an education and psychology researcher. As such, I am particularly distressed that in lieu of actual data and analysis, we’re relying on opinion and emotion for policy decisions. I give credit to the current movements—from Ferguson to Florida—for attention to gun violence, to the experiences of students and families directly affected, and to the statistics that we are able to compile through public records. We need to eliminate federal restrictions on funding for much needed research designed to understand how to maintain safe storage and usage of guns for those who choose to own them. We also need to gather evidence that more reliably guides us in developing restrictions for ownership. In the meantime, we need to remember that there is no evidence to support the suggestion that arming teachers will make us safer.

The very idea of “good guys with guns” vs “bad guys with guns” reflects a misguided heroic revenge fantasy that exists in the movies and is unlikely to happen in real life. Unless you are trained military or a law enforcement officer, you do not actually know what you would do if you were to come face-to-face with an armed assailant who has on their side the element of surprise. Research on police accuracy in the use of firearms when responding to emergency calls ranges between 17 percent and 48 percent, depending on distance. Even well-trained individuals may become frozen in their response or be overpowered. I can say from my own experience, having been the victim of an armed robbery while working in a record store as a teenager, simply staying alive overtakes the inclination for heroism.

We need to remember that guns are simply dangerous, and assault-style weapons to an even greater degree. They are meant to be so—their purpose is to kill. There’s something perverse about introducing, via armed staff, the possibility of taking the life of a student one has made a commitment to teach. As teachers, coaches, counselors, administrative and support staff, our goal is to support student achievement and holistic well-being. The success of that goal depends on strong, positive relationships between educators and students. Those relationships are even more vital to students who may be struggling for a variety of reasons, visibly or invisibly. Arming staff necessarily creates barriers and stunts these connections by changing the very nature of the school setting. This is especially dangerous for students of color, who are three times as likely to face suspension or expulsion for school infractions compared to white peers and who are already targeted by police presence in our nation’s schools.

Problematic, too, is how we are addressing and including mental illness in this debate. By isolating mental illness as the culprit in many of these school shootings, we add to the stigmas surrounding mental illness while taking attention away from the toxic presence of guns in schools. Arming teachers will further jeopardize students’ willingness to access mental health services and will do little to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety that may already interfere with learning. There is an imbalance at work here—a willingness to blame mental illness while ignoring the fact that less than 5 percent of cases of mental illness are associated with violent behavior, as well as to further ignore the impact that armed staff would have on children whose learning, achievement, and well-being may already be threatened by exposure to trauma and violence (about half of children have experienced an adverse event) and who may have related diagnoses of post-traumatic stress disorder (estimates of 5 percent of adolescents), depression (estimates of 9 percent of children), or an anxiety disorder (estimates of up to a third of all students).

The shock of an event like the Parkland shooting bends the focus of the larger gun control debate toward the school setting in ways that can become myopic. Just as focusing blame for these shootings singularly on mental illness takes attention away from the guns themselves, zeroing in on solutions designed for the school setting bypasses the fact that over 90 individuals a day are killed by gun violence, whether intentional or accidental, self-inflicted or other-directed, regardless of setting. We have yet to establish systematic protections around gun storage, and this is reflected in the tragic shootings of thousands of children each year. Toddlers alone were responsible for over 40 accidental shootings in 2017. What is the likelihood that more guns on campus will also increase the prevalence of accidental death even in the best intentioned circumstances?

Educators are already doing so much more than instruction, as they often provide supplemental school supplies and food—particularly in under-resourced schools—and attend to the social and emotional care of students. From our extensive research and practice, we do actually know a great deal about creating optimal environments for learning and academic success. Guns are not part of that equation and have no place in our classrooms. So I’ll be following the lead of our remarkable students in the National School Walk Out today and the March for Our Lives on March 24 to support initiatives to end gun violence.

Michelle Porche, a School of Education clinical associate professor of applied human development, can be reached at mporche@bu.edu. In collaboration with researchers at America’s Promise Alliance, she coauthored a recent analysis of the impact of adversity on young people, titled “Barriers to Success.”  

“POV” is an opinion page that provides timely commentaries from students, faculty, and staff on a variety of issues: on-campus, local, state, national, or international. Anyone interested in submitting a piece, which should be about 700 words long, should contact Rich Barlow at barlowr@bu.edu. BU Today reserves the right to reject or edit submissions. The views expressed are solely those of the author and are not intended to represent the views of Boston University.

31 Comments

31 Comments on POV: Guns “Have No Place in Our Classrooms”

  • Rachel Cane on 03.14.2018 at 9:07 am

    We are at a terrifying crossroads. The risks of arming teachers are numerous, chief among those the possibility of educators shooting Black students out of unfounded fear. Thank you for this thoughtful and reasoned piece.

  • Bob on 03.14.2018 at 9:17 am

    In Sandy Hook and in Parkland and individual attacked a school that was defenseless. I agree that teachers should not be required to carry a weapon. However, a properly trained and licensed teacher should have the option to carry a weapon to defend the his students, themselves and others in the school, in the case of a Sandy Hook or a Parkland. You propose denying them that option.

    If you could somehow make all of the assault style rifles disappear tomorrow, do you think that would stop this senseless violence? I believe the weapon would change to something else (like the two handguns used in the Virginia Tech shooting) and the results would be the same.

    • Jon on 03.14.2018 at 10:10 am

      Exactly, the liberals just want to ban the symptoms without trying to cure the disease (too many with mental health issues that have available access to weapons). I’ve owned a few firearms over the years and definitely support raising the age to buy guns to 21. But the #1 thing that could be done is to reopen more mental health clinics. Someone who is violent will try to kill with whatever weapons they can get, reopen mental health facilities and remove them from society.

      • Vicky on 03.14.2018 at 11:20 am

        I agree with you both. And Jon, I highly recommend what you’re saying here. The problem is not the gun itself, but it’s the people that have access to them. I remember I had to appointed by the chief of police in my town in order to get a license. Also, a health and mental health status needs to be attched with the application as well. I ran across a patient of mine bringing a gun into a community health clinic. While he is licensed to carry, I’m questioning his mental status because the man in seeking marijuana license. Whether he’s seeking marijuana license for medical reasons or not, his gun privilege should be taken away because marijuana alters the abilities to think clearly. There are plenty of community health centers in Boston that I’m pretty sure can accommodate this request if the government will take this measure to ensure their citizens have the appropriate requirements for owning guns.

      • Jose Artigas on 03.16.2018 at 5:11 pm

        “ban the symptoms without trying to cure the disease”

        The REAL disease is too many guns & too much gun violence. The proof is that for years the CDC have sought to conduct research on gun violence as a public health threat. But the NRA & its flunkies in Congress successfully prohibit such research. Yet gun-rights folks apparently don’t want that essential information discovered or disseminated.

        “I’ve owned a few firearms over the years”

        Given the attitudes on display here, Jon & his guns are also a threat to public safety.

    • Tom on 03.14.2018 at 10:47 am

      “If you could somehow make all of the assault style rifles disappear tomorrow, do you think that would stop this senseless violence?” is a Fake argument we hear all the time. It actually could be applied to all law. Of course removing all the mil-style weapons would not stop all the violence. NO law stops all the crime it targets. The idea is to deter crime and make it harder. If there were no mil-style weapons, or it was simply harder to get them with jail time for the criminal to think about if caught, there would be less mass murder, and that’s enough.

  • Bob on 03.14.2018 at 9:20 am

    What Changed?

    The recent school shooting made me stop and think, “what changed”? When I look at something that worked yesterday or last week and doesn’t work now, I ask “What changed to cause the problem”. Twenty or thirty years ago school shootings didn’t happen like they do today. Many things have changed since then.

    Social media now allows for good and bad to be accessible 24/7 by our children. In many cases of bullying it is in the center of it.

    If a teacher called a parent about a behavior issue with a student, the teacher was believed (they were in the classroom when it happened). And the child was disciplined at home. Today many times, parents side with the child and not the teacher. Yes, there are some bad teachers, but, most are good.

    Texting and posting are not the best way to communicate at times. When we talk to someone, in person and they say “everything is fine” but, their finger is tapping the table 50 times a second, you can see that no, everything is not fine.
    Many of us are focused smart-phones now, and not conversation with those around us.

    We all have seen adults at restaurants staring at phones and not interacting with others sitting next to them. For children, this is modeling that the phone is more important than the person sitting right next to them.

    Growing up I knew people with guns, but the thought of shooting anyone was never a consideration. The only change in guns I have seen is the availability of high capacity magazines.

    I do not know how to fix the problem of school shootings, but we should be asking “what changed”. Then we can start to find solutions.

    • Jack on 03.14.2018 at 11:22 am

      Statistically you aren’t correct. Twenty years ago was columbine, and in 1989 there was a shooting of the same scale at an elementary school. In 1966 there was a university shooting larger than columbine. If you look at the actual data there have been school shootings for decades preceding current time. Really what has changed is that there is a greater news cycle, so everything is immediately published across the entire country, and the events of 20-50 years ago have faded from memory due to rose tinted glasses.

    • Jack on 03.14.2018 at 11:25 am

      Wikipedia compiled a list of school shootings
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States#1970s

  • Mike on 03.14.2018 at 10:20 am

    “The very idea of “good guys with guns” vs “bad guys with guns” reflects a misguided heroic revenge fantasy that exists in the movies and is unlikely to happen in real life…” Why don’t you tell that to the guy who jumped in his truck and went after the maniac who shot up the church in TX and who ultimately put him down with his own weapon.

    Look no one is saying we need to arm every teacher, especially the ultra sensitive left wing professor who wrote this piece. They’re just saying there should be an option for those teachers who are trained, certified, and pass mental health evaluation.

    The thing about a weapon is no one really ever needs one until you do, when something horrible like Sandy Hook is happening right in front of you, then you wish you had a weapon to protect the innocent around you.

  • Joe on 03.14.2018 at 10:41 am

    “The very idea of “good guys with guns” vs “bad guys with guns” reflects a misguided heroic revenge fantasy”

    What an insulting statement to make. There is nothing “fantasy” like about the thought of having to kill another person to protect myself or others. It is incredibly insulting to the hundreds of thousands of lives saved by guns in the US each year to insinuate that good people with guns other than military or law enforcement don’t exist. Here’s a point of view for you. I carry a gun everywhere I legally can every day, yet you wouldn’t know that standing next to me or talking to me in a classroom setting. I don’t want you to be forced to carry a gun if you don’t want to. But I do want you to let me exercise my right to protect myself however I seem fit as long as I don’t put you at risk. So don’t insult me and the millions who carry a gun daily by saying we live in a good guy revenge fantasy. You want to know how to protect your students if someone is shooting at them? SHOOT BACK and stop forcing the rest of us to be victims because you’re afraid of guns and end the gun free zones act. Think about being in a scenario like those children in Florida were and imagine being locked down in a room hoping and praying you aren’t next: would you rather be armed and shoot back or unarmed and be at the shooter’ s mercy? I respect your decision either way but don’t force your decision on me.

  • Borja on 03.14.2018 at 12:09 pm

    I teach here at BU. I ask that whoever reads this post does it respectfully and understanding that this is my personal opinion.

    I, like the rest of my colleagues, want the very best for our students. Their success and well-being is our number one goal. To an outsider, it might look like we just go into a classroom and talk, but the reality is that during those 50 minutes, our mind is on a million things. Things that are necessary for our impact to be meaningful: are students feeling ok? is today’s activity too challenging? is that student in the back simply tired, or is there anything else going on? how can I connect with this other student who simply won’t talk? The list goes on an on.

    Every time there’s a school shooting, some individuals propose arming us, teachers. It’s like we could be the solution to an irrational problem that shouldn’t exist in the first place. After 10 years teaching in American classrooms, I have thought about the possibility of being armed while teaching. Where would I carry my gun? with me while I write something on the board? or attached to my belt while I walk around providing feedback? Or should I put it on top of my table, so that everybody feels safe? And, what if I’m unlucky enough to have a gunned intruder in my classroom? Am I supposed to turn into a professional shooter in a second, while my mind was busy taking care of all the things I mentioned above? Am I going to be held accountable for any lives lost?
    People: wake up. This so called solution is a business strategy. I invite you to inform yourselves, forget politics, and be pragmatic.

    The “gun world” is the only one proposing to arm teachers. How coincidental. A multibillion dollar industry using the Second Amendment to justify the unjustifiable yet skyrocketing the balance on their bank accounts. Countless politicians lobbied in the name of the Second Amendment, that would not be so fiercely defended by the NRA if it didn’t bring substantial financial benefits. According to the Department of Education, there are over 3 million teachers in the US. Training, arming, and licensing each one of us, would mean enormous revenue for the gun industry. They don’t care about the Second Amendment, for them it’s just a means to an end.

    Let us teachers be teachers. We can’t do that carrying a gun. Seriously.

    • Mike on 03.15.2018 at 9:07 am

      It’s not about arming all teachers and creating some weird liberal militia that can solve math equations and double as security guards. It’s simply about giving the option to exercise their 2nd amendment to those teachers that do not want to be a victim. It’s all fine and good to talk about helping students learn, but when that first shot goes off all those feelings go out the door and you’re just trying to survive. I’m sure plenty if teachers down in FL were opposed to carrying guns, I wonder how many of them may have changed their minds after what they witnessed, or how many of them wonder if they could have stopped it somehow especially since the local police didn’t even enter the building until 11 minutes after arriving.

    • Jose Artigas on 03.16.2018 at 5:32 pm

      Borja, thank you for this healthy dose of compassion & common sense. More BU students should want to take a course with you.

    • rolland w amos on 05.22.2018 at 2:11 am

      Dear Gun Lovers: In 2016 some 38,000 Americans died as the result of gunshot wounds. Another 80,000 were shot, but survived. These numbers have been rising steadily in recent years and there is no reason that won’t continue. Only two other countries on the entire globe (Thailand and The Philippines) have higher rates of violent gun deaths. These numbers prove conclusively, my view, that too many Americans are too immature to own guns. Therefore, gun owners should by law be compelled to immediately surrender their guns (they can be owned, warehoused and ‘played with’ somewhere, but only under official supervision – which should sufficiently satisfy 2nd Amendment promises). People subsequently caught using or possessing a gun should automatically (no trial!) go to jail for 2 years and for 5 years for each subsequent violation. This policy would end the gun-produced carnage in this country in short order. Police would rarely be shooting people they suspected of being armed, because only a very few stupid Americans would still be in possession of a gun. Consequently, there would be no more shootings like we’ve seen in Columbine, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs Church and most recently in Parkland FL and Santa Fe TX. Americans would again actually be safe in their homes, in their schools and in their streets, like the citizens of England, Germany, Australia, Canada, etc. – i.e., like in other more civilized countries. The problem that I foresee? We Americans are also probably too immature to implement such an enlightened course of action. Alas, we will be compelled to continue to suffer the NRA’s warped version of personal safety and protection. Ergo: sometimes you get what you deserve!

  • Logic Rules on 03.14.2018 at 1:29 pm

    All what a school has to do is recruit a couple of old Catholic nuns. No one…..absolutely no one has a ghost of chance(or should I say a prayer) of taking a school over if the school has a nun armed with a ruler or a paddle. She would make short work of any culprit….and the kids in the classroom would actually learn more! After 12 years of parochial education, nothing in Vietnam or Cambodia scared me like a nun with a ruler!

  • Paul on 03.14.2018 at 2:15 pm

    Based on previous articles from BU regarding guns, it seems like BU Today only ever shows the perspective of the left. In the future, could we see more articles about guns written from a different perspective?

    • In Agreement on 03.14.2018 at 10:49 pm

      You are absolutely right! BU Today seems to primarily show the perspective of the left. If we want a true movement towards discussion and understanding, both sides of the argument need to be presented!

    • Jose Artigas on 03.19.2018 at 1:39 pm

      Dear Paul & IA,

      Please define your terms: what do you mean by “the left?” This is a sincere question. No doubt your definition differs significantly from what people say who you consider “leftists.” In the US the genuine political left wing is small, weak & not much of a factor. So if you’re worrying about its very limited influence, rest easy. But we suspect that to you, “the left” is anyone who’s not a Republican or conservative. Or maybe you think it’s anyone who’s to the left of Genghis Khan, or Attila the Hun? Tossing around “the left” without clarifying helps no one.

      • Paul on 03.20.2018 at 10:08 pm

        Jose,

        You bring up a good point.

        I guess what I mean by “the left” is the group of people who tend to favor socialistic and more extreme liberal views. I know that not all people who vote democrat fit this category, however I do think our school only shows the extreme left side of the gun debate, and misrepresents the more conservative side.

  • Ollie on 03.14.2018 at 3:47 pm

    Articles like this are always flooded by angry commenters that can’t stand anti-gun messages. The fact is they are wrong. There is a reason for to have armed security but this delusion that everyone should have a gun is a direct cause of all these shootings.
    This lame argument that if we could just simply solve the problem of mental health we would be rid of the problem and could continue arming people in peace is dangerously stupid and disingenuous. The rest of the developed world hasn’t by any means solved the issue of mental health to any appreciable extent relative to us. The reason they don’t have mass shootings is simple: thay don’t make guns readily available.

  • Ken on 03.14.2018 at 5:18 pm

    So gun advocates, a teacher is teaching his or her class or is somewhere in a school and somewhere else in a school, could be anywhere, a gunman enters and by your scenario, the teacher miraculously locates the gunman in minutes, sneaks up behind them and takes them out. Do you realize how small the chance is of it happening that way? Do you realize you are watching too many movies and tv shows to actually think a teacher, not a trained military or police in that situation would subdue the assailant??!!! These gunman usually carry automatic weapons, because they can get them legally. So your teacher with their handgun is going to take out a gunman with an automatic weapon?? The second amendment is outdated. Technology has changed. You can defend yourself with one hand gun in your home. It should end there. Of course the NRA and President Trump want you to focus on mental illness. Where is the proof of the mental capacity or decision making of gun violence attackers. Show me evidence and studies. Don’t just tell me “mental illness” is the issue. And what if a teacher becomes mentally ill and prone to attacking someone once he/she has been approved for a gun? A bigger issue is that families of the killers don’t contact police. Another problem is that people aren’t limited in how many guns they can own. Why do you need more than one? And please explain why anybody needs an automatic weapon to defend themselves??? They should be banned immediately. Please explain why they should not. The second amendment should be revised.

    • Joe on 03.15.2018 at 12:21 pm

      “So gun advocates, a teacher is teaching his or her class or is somewhere in a school and somewhere else in a school, could be anywhere, a gunman enters and by your scenario, the teacher miraculously locates the gunman in minutes, sneaks up behind them and takes them out.”

      Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Nobody is asking to forcibly arm teachers and turn them into Jason Bourne. We are simply saying that the Gun Free Zone sign OBVIOUSLY doesn’t do enough to deter a shooter hellbent on killing as many people as possible. So it’s our opinion that teachers who can and want to legally carry a concealed weapon (the process by which is determined by every state individually) be allowed to do so. Follow the same process as you’re trained to follow when faced with an active shooter: seek help, run, or fight if you must. The “fight if you must” part is what we want to emphasize: if you can’t run away from the shooter or he kicks down the door to your classroom, you should be allowed to shoot back.

      “These gunman usually carry automatic weapons, because they can get them legally. So your teacher with their handgun is going to take out a gunman with an automatic weapon??”

      Wrong again. Automatic weapons are outlawed and are pretty much impossible to get without a seriously expensive (over $10,000) application process. They’re pretty much never used in a mass shooting. And yes, a handgun can take out any shooter regardless of what he’s using. In fact, a handgun probably has more stopping power than the typical AR-15 depending on the caliber you use and in that kind of close quarters scenario the gun will be just as deadly as the rifle. Ask the Virginia Tech shooter.

      “The second amendment is outdated. Technology has changed. You can defend yourself with one hand gun in your home. It should end there.”

      The second amendment has nothing to do with defending yourself at home, it’s about defending yourself from a tyrannical government and assuring the security of a free state. It should not and does not end at home defense, HOWEVER if you want it to end there feel free to amend the constitution and remove the second amendment the right way. See how that works for you.

      “Another problem is that people aren’t limited in how many guns they can own. Why do you need more than one? ”

      Why should they be limited? Humans don’t have 17 arms. What difference does it make how many guns they own? Why is it you or the government’s business what I legally do with my money? When did the Bill of Rights turn into the Bill of Needs?

      The second amendment does not need to be revised, frankly it doesn’t have anything to do with our right to keep and bear arms. We’re born with that right already, the second amendment just prohibits the government from infringing on that right. The day they try any of the outlandish ideas they have will be a very bad day for this country. Especially the ones doing the confiscating.

  • Jassi on 03.14.2018 at 5:26 pm

    Please install metal detectors either gate size or high tech embedded ones at every entry point in each university with security guards where required. We need to see no one gets inside universities with arms…

  • Michael on 03.14.2018 at 6:05 pm

    Before proclaiming that arming teachers who are willing to be armed is a bad idea, why not do some research and ask the schools that have had armed teachers, along with other strategies put in place at those schools, how has it worked for them these past several years? Also ask them why they implemented the policy, has it had a negative effect on the student/teacher/parent relationships, has it had a positive effect on those relationships and how the teachers and staff who chose to have guns feel about it? And, yes, the schools are out there.

    • OM on 03.15.2018 at 1:11 am

      Do some research? Wow, Michael you sound so knowledgeable. Why don’t you name names and reveal this phantom info that you’re keeping to yourself?

      Of course you have no idea what you are talking about and can only cryptically spout off nonsense and drivel.

      If armed security and police aren’t enough, why not just arm the students as well, why not just get rid of the police in favor deluded fantasy-dwelling halfwits like yourself? Sounds better than actually regulating guns instead of handing them out like candy, right?

      • Michael on 03.15.2018 at 9:51 pm

        I love it when people underestimate me. Texas. South Dakota. Four years, at least. Check CNN for a start.

    • Jose Artigas on 03.16.2018 at 5:49 pm

      Michael, here in MA we do things better than in the states you mention. We know better than to follow their lead. Remember, too many Texans still wish they were either an independent country or part of the Confederacy. Hmmm … on second thought, let them secede, taking their Repug electoral votes with them. This time we won’t drag them back into the Union!

      • Michael on 03.19.2018 at 2:03 pm

        That’s the main problem with this country. Both sides have this high siddity attitude that they’re better, smarter, wiser, more compassionate than those ig’nant heathens on the other side and neither side wants to listen to the other side. But the thing is, no school that has those highly trained teachers and staff carrying guns has ever been attacked. And despite the fact that other schools don’t have armed teachers and staff, it’s still a rare occurrence that mass shootings happen on campus. Somehow, both examples have a healthy level of rare, as well as no shootings. Yet neither side wants to admit the other side may have ideas that oils work for everyone. So we get people like OM calling me names while at the same time, not acknowledging the fact that there are schools who actually do things differently. And we wonder why we have a divided country right now. The older I get, the more I believe that Robert Heinlein was correct about the symptoms of a sick and dying society.

  • Susan Ryan on 03.14.2018 at 10:34 pm

    Guns DO NOT belong in schools. As a parent and an educator I vehemently oppose this proposal. Introducing weapons into the safe space that a school SHOULD be, raises the risk of endangerment to students, staff, and parents. Guns are being normalized and promoted with a religious zeal by wrong headed uninformed idealogues. They should have absolutely NO power to affect the protective laws that currently exist to keep guns and other weapons out of our schools.

  • rolland w amos on 06.05.2018 at 10:36 pm

    The NRA has been successful in selling their idea that more guns means greater protection. That same idea once prevailed in the Wild West – until people wised up and outlawed the right to carry a gun in public places. Now, over a hundred years later, we are again debating the same issue, because we are too stupid to learn from our own history. Don’t take my word for it. Read this: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/gun-control-old-west-180968013/

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