U.S Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos decided late this summer to allow schools to use taxpayer dollars to buy guns for teachers. Senator Chris Murphy responded with an amendment to the 2019 appropriations bill to halt DeVos’ idea.
“I have offered an amendment that will reiterate what has been the policy of this Congress, not Congress in general but this Congress, that federal funds should not be used to arm teachers,” Murphy said on the Senate floor.
Not surprisingly, the Senate passed the appropriations bill without Murphy’s amendment, and DeVos will allow schools to buy guns using Student Support and Academic Enrichment grants.
“I have no intention of taking any action concerning the purchase of firearms or firearms training for school staff under the [Elementary and Secondary Education Act],” DeVos wrote last week in a letter to the House education committee.
In effect, schools are now free to use U.S. taxpayer dollars to stock their arsenals. What better way to “support students” and “enrich academics”?
While I certainly support school safety, I condemn the purchase of guns for teachers because guns in schools actually make school buildings more dangerous, at least according to the FBI, school resource officers, and the laws of probability. But some school districts will still purchase guns, marking one more example of the swift expansion of school-safety measures across the country.
Connecticut is no exception.
As part of the national Stop The Bleed campaign, nearly 60 West Hartford school administrators attended training sessions before schools opened this year to learn “how to use different sized tourniquets — some better suited for tiny, elementary-aged students — pressure dressing, and other contents of bleeding control kits located in the lobbies of all West Hartford schools.”
Teachers and administrators in Windsor schools, meanwhile, spent two mornings learning how to identify and stop school shooters, while students were greeted in District 10 (Harwinton and Burlington) by armed security guards — the first non-police officers to carry weapons in Connecticut schools since Enfield stopped arming its security guards in 2015.
These are but a few of the many safe-school initiatives introduced across the state, a fact that is not unwarranted. Since many schools were found to be in violation last year of a 2013 law requiring them to submit safety plans, districts were no doubt eager to rectify their errors. What’s more, Safe and Sound Schools, a group founded by Sandy Hook parents, discovered that “both parent and student survey respondents ranked improved school security as the top priority for additional funding over academics, arts, and athletics.”
But arming teachers is not the answer.
Aside from the reality that more guns in schools exacerbate the problem, the decreasing frequency of school shootings themselves does not match the rising fear. Yes, you read that correctly: School shootings are actually declining.
The U.S. Department of Education — the federal agency run by DeVos — counted 235 schools that “reported at least one incident involving a school-related shooting” in the 2015-16 school year, admittedly an alarming number of violent events. But an exhaustive review of those numbers uncovered a vast discrepancy: “NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened.”
In other words, NPR successfully reached 161 schools of the total 235 named in the Department of Education report and found that just 11 of those could actually recall any incidents involving guns. As NPR notes, “This confusion comes at a time when the need for clear data on school violence has never been more pressing.”
In addition, a recent Northeastern University study found that “four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today.” Lead researcher James Alan Fox asserted, “There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” noting that more kids are killed each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents.
So while I welcome the increased focus on school safety, I worry that the qualities that define truly successful schools and teachers are getting lost amid these somber initiatives — attributes like a hopeful outlook, a deep passion for education, and fun-loving attitudes. These are the traits that most effectively support students and enrich academics.
But by all means, Betsy DeVos, let’s give teachers their guns.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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