Guns on School Campuses?

I am not generally pro-gun control, more of a moderate on the issue, but the question of conceal-carry guns on college campuses is one that strikes near to me as both a teacher and a student.

Truth be told, even if concealed-carry were allowed in Texas public schools, or at my particular university, the odds are good that it wouldn’t affect me directly, nor would it affect most of my students. However, this issue is more salient at public and open-door colleges, such as community colleges, where I have taught in the past and where I and my colleagues have observed higher incidences of mental and emotional instability, some of which have led to violence (or might have led to violence, had a gun been handy). So, general gun control aside, the issue of schools and guns is one I am interested in.

Jesus Villahermosa at the Chronicle of Higher Education provides some questions school districts and colleges may need to ask themselves before considering applying for a waiver allowing faculty, staff, and student to conceal-carry on campus. A police officer of more than 26 years, Villahermosa points out that “[s]ome faculty and staff members may be capable of learning to be good shots in stressful situations, but most of them probably wouldn’t practice their firearms skills enough to become confident during an actual shooting. Unless they practiced those skills constantly, there would be a high risk that when a shooting situation actually occurred, they would miss the assailant. That would leave great potential for a bullet to strike a student or another innocent bystander. Such professors and administrators could be imprisoned for manslaughter for recklessly endangering the lives of others during a crisis.”

Villahermosa’s questions for colleges (and by extension, school districts):

* Is our institution prepared to assume the liability that accompanies the lethal threat of carrying or using weapons? Are we financially able and willing to drastically increase our liability-insurance premium to cover all of the legal ramifications involved with allowing faculty and staff members to carry firearms?

* How much time will each faculty and staff member be given each year to spend on a firing range to practice shooting skills? Will we pay them for that time?

* Will their training include exposing them to a great amount of stress in order to simulate a real-life shooting situation, like the training that police officers go through?

* Will the firearm that each one carries be on his or her person during the day? If so, will faculty and staff members be given extensive defensive-tactics training, so that they can retain their firearm if someone tries to disarm them?

* The fact that a college allows people to have firearms could be publicized and, under public-disclosure laws, the institution could be required to notify the general public which faculty or staff members are carrying them. Will those individuals accept the risk of being targeted by a violent student or adult who wants to neutralize the threat and possibly obtain their weapons?

* If the firearms are not carried by faculty and staff members every day, where and how will those weapons be secured, so that they do not fall into the wrong hands?

* If the firearms are locked up, how will faculty and staff members gain access to them in time to be effective if a shooting actually occurs?

* Will faculty and staff members who carry firearms be required to be in excellent physical shape, and stay that way, in case they need to fight someone for their gun?

* Will weapons-carrying faculty and staff members accept that they may be shot by law-enforcement officers who mistake them for the shooter? (All the responding officers see is a person with a gun. If you are even close to matching the suspect’s description, the risk is high that they may shoot you.)

* Will faculty and staff members be prepared to kill another person, someone who may be as young as a teenager?

* Will faculty and staff members be prepared for the possibility that they may miss their target (which has occurred even in police shootings) and wound or kill an innocent bystander?

* Will faculty and staff members be ready to face imprisonment for manslaughter, depending on their states’ criminal statutes, if one of their bullets does, in fact, strike an innocent person?

* Even if not criminally charged, would such faculty and staff members be prepared to be the focus of a civil lawsuit, both as a professional working for the institution and as an individual, thereby exposing their personal assets?

Most of these questions deal with the practical, legal ramifications of teachers carrying, as representatives of the public school and by extension the government. I can think of more: Would 18-year-old students in high schools be able to carry? Why not, if you allow faculty? What happens when teachers misidentify threats from their students, or the other way around? Who is liable–the institution, the individual, or the government?

As Tenured Radical observed, “teachers are not soldiers.” It is true that schools and the public education system are obligated to take all reasonable measures to protect their students, a fact that some argue should be used to support guns on campuses. Let’s say that happens: that at my public Texas university faculty, staff, and students are allowed to carry. God forbid, someone shoots up my school, and two classrooms are hit–mine and another teacher’s. Say I have elected not to carry; the other teacher has elected to carry. My students are injured; the other teacher manages to stop the shooter and neither she nor any of her students suffer (a relatively unlikely scenario, but possible). We have both exercised our rights freely. However, will the families of my injured students see it that way? (Some conservatives, I have noticed, also complain about the high litigiousness of people in our society today. I am interested to see their thoughts about the effects of that attitude on this situation.) If the other teacher carried and managed to save her students, will I be seen as neglecting a reasonable measure to protect my students? Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But maybe it will set a precedent for the future about what exactly constitutes a “reasonable measure.” Perhaps one day teachers may be legally required to carry, or at least required by the colleges wishing to avoid liability. (It’s not difficult to make the case that teaching is a dangerous and high-risk profession, given that in the U.S. we’ve had at least one school shooting per month since Columbine.) Is it possible that it would only be possible to be hired at colleges as long as you were willing to carry, as those in some careers are, such as security guards? Is that right? Is it good?

More, a teacher’s responsibility during a shooting is to secure the immediate area and manage the students. Will focusing on a gun detract attention from these crucial tasks, thereby putting the students in more danger? Will having a gun present actually make people sloppier about security or give them too many tasks to accomplish effectively?

What kind of atmosphere would guns in schools produce? Given that school is mandatory, a public good, would the mission of public education be served by such protective measures, or inhibited? Would teachers really be free to say whatever needed to be said if their students were carrying? (Consider that school has primarily long-term rather than short-term benefits that students don’t see at the time. I didn’t. Many resist being told what to do and how they are evaluated. I’ve had arguments in class publicly with my students about their grades and my policies. Would my student be safer with a gun? Would I be safer with a gun? Neither seems likely, statistically.1) Workplace violence is as much of an issue as school violence, too; what about teachers carrying onto campus? Should schools and colleges be free to restrict rights like businesses? Would students really be free to express ideas contrary to their teacher if the teacher was carrying?

Would students in particularly violent areas feel targeted by such measures, leading to even more of an atmosphere of suspicion and anxiety, thus perhaps producing more violence? Would teachers in these school districts, understandably stressed and anxious, intentionally or unintentionally, subtly or unsubtly, use their gun to intimidate students?

1. University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. “Protection or Peril? Gun Possession of Questionable Value in an Assault, Study Finds.” ScienceDaily, 30 Sep. 2009. Web. 24 Dec. 2012.

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3 thoughts on “Guns on School Campuses?

  1. Caitlin Smith says:

    You’ve raised a lot of really good questions. Previously, I was in support of teachers being able to carry– my boyfriend’s mom is a middle school teacher, she has her concealed and carry, and she practices regularly. I would feel safer with her teaching my student and carrying. Many many other teachers I would not. I do think schools need some other detergent to violent crime beyond what is currently in place, and several well-vetted staff/faculty members on a response team sounds very logical to me.
    One aspect of shootings most media have failed to highlight is how the shooters choose where to shoot. The Aurora theater shooter picked (out of four theaters) the was that was second farthest, second smallest, and had rules against concealed handguns.

    • adjunctions says:

      Sure, but he also chose to wear a bulletproof vest and shoot up a dark theater–facts that make the result seem like they would produce the same situation anywhere. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, one of the attendees did have a licensed handgun, and chose not to use it because of the circumstances. I could be confusing that with another shooting, though.

      I’m skeptical of the response team idea only because of the practical considerations: Who’s going to pay for it? How will public school teachers find the time, given that they work 80 hours a week already? In an era of dwindling public education funding, it doesn’t seem likely.

    • adjunctions says:

      Turns out I did have the wrong incident (that was Tucson) and it didn’t happen that way anyway. Must learn to fact-check.

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