Sandy Hook and the Arming Teachers Debate

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.’ ]

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