In the blog published on the 30th April 2014, the impact of the Sandy Hook school shooting (2012) on provoking calls to tighten up gun legislation in the United States was deliberated. On the other hand, it also led to legislative proposals in twelve states to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons in elementary, middle and high schools. The rationale behind this ‘arming teachers’ movement by those promoting it is that it would allow teachers to defend against future school shooters, preventing one occurring through deterrence or limiting the death toll if one should transpire. A small town in Texas, Harrold, trained a number of teachers and allow them to carry concealed weapons, purporting that this will be a safer solution than a uniformed security guard, given the identities of the armed teachers will be hidden.
Markedly, the emergence of this is relative to a particular social and historical context. Following the Columbine school shooting, there were only sporadic mentions of arming teachers, which were quickly dismissed. Following the Sandy Hook shooting, however, it seems this issue has begun to be accepted as a viable solution to the problem of school shootings. Analysing YouTube videos on this topic finds that some users blamed the high death toll of the Sandy Hook shooting (six educators and twenty children) on the ban on concealed carry at the elementary school, claiming that an armed teacher could have neutralised the shooter; and, henceforth, that allowing teachers to be armed in schools would negate any future school shootings. This policy response is part of the legacy of fear discussed in an earlier blog and draws upon a neoliberal interpretation of self-defence, where ‘individual responsibility,’ as encompassed by the armed teachers, is paramount.
Despite its straightforward premise of armed teachers prevent school shootings, this issue is a bit more complicated in reality and likely to polarise the American public. Although some parents may feel safer knowing teachers at their children’s schools are armed, it could have the opposite effect on others. There may be teachers, who will feel safer knowing they are carrying weapons; whilst others could be overwhelmed at the onus for saving students and possibly having to shoot one (most school shooters are internal attackers) being put on them. Additionally, an insurance attorney speaking at ‘The Briefings’ in summer 2013, outlined the possible general liability insurance problems associated with arming teachers, due to the possibility of accidental discharge or students stealing the guns. He also maintained that the parameters for self-defence need to be clarified for armed teachers: should teachers use guns to break up physical fights between students or would it be limited to incidents involving weapons; would it also apply off school grounds, such as field trips, sports games at neighbouring schools; is there a possibility the teacher would be held liable if they failed to act in a situation and someone was wounded or killed. There is also the issue of the Heller (2008) and McDonald (2010) Supreme Court rulings, which stipulated restrictions on concealed carry of firearms should still apply to ‘sensitive places’ like schools. Any future Supreme Court rulings centring on this issue should define the parameters of ‘sensitive places,’ so the issue is clear for both supporters and opponents of arming teachers.
[The findings for this blog were taken from research conducted on social media, background reading and the insurance attorney’s presentation at ‘The Briefings.’ Special thanks go to the organisers of ‘The Briefings.’ ]
Bulletproof backpacks, reinforced glass doors, metal detectors: these are all part of an industry centred on averting and negating school shootings. The climate of fear around the possibility of future attacks occurring —discussed in the blog ‘15 Years Since Columbine: A Legacy of Fear,’ published on the 15th April 2014 — creates demand for these products. This is even more likely with knowledge that outside perpetrators (those who are not current or former students or staff) were able to enter schools through the front door: the 2006 Platte Canyon High hostage situation (Bailey, Colorado) involved an outsider entering the school and holding a number of female students at gunpoint for hours and eventually killing one of the young girls and himself; the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting (Newtown, Connecticut), where an external attacker shot his way through the front door and killed twenty children and six members of staff.
The most immediate response is to ‘target-harden’ educational institutions through renovation or reinforcement of the property’s infrastructure in an attempt to secure it from external attackers and prevent insiders from bringing weapons into the school. When it comes to external attackers, responses tend to centre on obtaining bullet-proof glass doors or adding additional locks and alarms to entrances and classrooms. At the ‘Briefings’ event in summer 2013, a stall had been set up for a company selling reinforced glass and a demonstrator video was shown of multiple rounds being fired into a glass door, until eventually a baseball bat and sledgehammer were used to break through. Something like a door which takes multiple bullets, a baseball and a sledgehammer to enter is an axiomatic choice for target-hardening: it would slow down the attacker and alert people inside to the intrusion. The problem lies in the fact that most school shootings are perpetrated by students or staff. In terms of more school homicides more generally, as explained by the director of the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence at ‘The Briefings’ event, fewer than one in five deaths occurred inside the building, with the majority taking place in the school parking lot.
In relation to stopping students and staff bringing weapons into schools, metal detectors and handheld wands and x-ray baggage machines are the obvious security choices. The usefulness of such security devices, however, in reducing school violence in general, never mind school shootings, is unclear. There is, firstly, the issue of such expensive equipment only being as effective as the people operating them. Furthermore, experts presenting at a school safety event in 2006, ordered by then-president, George W. Bush, concluded that students would always find a way to circumvent metal detectors. More worryingly, there is the possibility that metal detectors might aid an attack: any internal attacker would know about this daily routine and be able to use it to their advantage to gun down a large number of victims. Risk management must always consider how security mechanisms could go awry or be used to the advantage of attackers.
The final option is perhaps the most disquieting one, for it has a direct link to the danger children will face from gunfire. The Sandy Hook school shooting provoked a 300-400% increase in sales for ‘Bullet Blocker,’ a site which sells bulletproof backpacks and inserts to go in existing backpacks to act as shields for schoolchildren. This business was founded after the Columbine shooting in 1999, when the creator sought a way to protect his own children. The fact that a market exists for these types of products speaks volumes about the legacy of fear originating in the 1999 Columbine attack and further exacerbated by later horrendous shootings at schools. The fact that students themselves are feeling vulnerable (see earlier blog ‘15 Years Since Columbine: A Legacy of Fear’) means that commerical products like bulletproof backpacks are likely to become another commonplace strategy to deal with the threat of potential school shootings.
[Findings for this blog come from presentations at ‘The Briefings,’ literature reviewed and other studies. Special thanks go to my friend, BL, for giving me the idea for this blog and the organisers and presenters of ‘The Briefings.’]