Saturday, August 3, 2013

Shot for Teacher

Imagine that your kids go to a school where a number of the teachers are armed and trained to respond with deadly force in the event of a school shooting.  I don't mean that they carry concealed handguns; we're talking about a week and a half's worth of training, shoot-or-don't-shoot scenarios, the whole bit.  They're even licensed as security guards by the state.

Would you want your kids there?

An Arkansas school superintendent thought he'd give it a try, but the program was shut down by the state's Attorney General.  HLNTv says the following about the program:
The "emergency response team," which was scheduled to debut during the fall 2013 semester, put more than 20 teachers and staff through 53 hours of training where they learned how to shoot guns and sweep rooms for bad guys. The program, which was budgeted at $50,000, also included a $1,100 stipend per volunteer for teachers to purchase their own 9mm handguns. 
Hopkins said he developed the idea when parents, grandparents and concerned community members flooded his office in the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six adults were killed by a gunman. 
"They all wanted to know, what were our plans? Were we able to take care of our kids?" Hopkins said. "When you call the police, you're not calling them because they wear blue uniforms... you're calling them because they have a firearm and they're going to use it to stop this madmen with his firearm."

It's a subtle and nuanced problem.  To be clear, the training sounds commendable and I'd love to see that level of instruction required elsewhere that private citizens would seek to substitute themselves for trained law enforcement professionals.  Here in Virginia the laws that govern concealed carry are laughable - a person can be licensed to carry a concealed weapon without ever actually discharging a firearm.  That said, there's more to being a cop than carrying a gun and being trained in its use.

Police wear a uniform for a reason and there is a social norm that goes along with that uniform.  They are the front line of the power of the State to do violence to its own citizens if need be.  The uniform signals this.  We recognize its military appearance and the way their firearm is displayed as signals of an officer's sanction to use violence when necessary.  As such, commands from a police officer carry with them the implication of deadly force.  That implication colors every interaction that we have with police officers.  The badge, the gun, and the uniform all seek to ensure that this is the case and that we are well aware that when conversing with an officer we are speaking with both the hand and fist of government.

How will arming teachers alter the way they interact with students and how education happens in the classroom?  Upon whom does the responsibility fall when or if something goes out of control?  Police forces have lengthy and established precedents to protect them and to clearly indicate when and were deadly force is justified as well as strict and military style discipline regarding the control and unholstering of their firearm but that raises the question: how will educators deal with these concerns?

How can we presume to state categorically if teachers should or shouldn't be armed if we have yet to determine under what circumstances they can loose their firearm, under what circumstances they can discharge it, and upon whom the legal and perhaps criminal responsibility falls if they misuse or misplace their firearms?  Accidents do happen and when guns are involved those accidents have extraordinarily final consequences.  Those consequences are, in large part, why so much goes into the micromanagement of police forces and in particular their sidearms.

This then must be the crux of the issue: police are full time law enforcement professionals; teachers are full time education professionals.  Are we really so dismissive of the professionalism of our police forces that we believe that a week's worth of training qualifies someone to the same extent as a full-time career in law enforcement and all of the training, conditioning, and experience that goes along with that?

Consider, for the sake of illustration, what comes when we turn this issue on its head. Should police officers be allowed to teach elementary school after a week's worth of training?  Like a shoot-or-don't-shoot scenario there's no significant call for higher education in the subject matter taught in elementary school - a basic level of literacy and mathematical proficiency puts most law enforcement officers well beyond the capabilities of a 5th grader.  If we are willing to let a teacher act in the capacity of a law enforcement officer after scarcely a week-and-a-half of training, why not let law enforcement officers educate children after a similar interval.  After all, in elementary school all we're talking about is a child's education; when firearms are involved we may be talking about a child's life.

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