Protecting students: More guns not the answer

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President Trump has proposed that the answer to gun violence in schools is to arm teachers and bring guns into the classroom — an idea the vast majority of educators stand firmly against.

The President’s plan is meant as a diversion from the real issue: the need for nationwide gun violence prevention laws, additional resources for school safety, and sustained funding for mental health services.

Teachers want to focus on educating students, and that is where they direct their passion and skill. The state has placed enough mandates on our teachers. The idea that they should also take on the role of armed, paramilitary operatives as a result of the inability of Congress to pass gun violence prevention laws is madness. After the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown,  an overwhelming majority of teachers —85 percent—said they strongly opposed any proposals concerning teachers carrying guns in schools.

There are many reasons why arming teachers is the wrong solution for addressing gun violence in schools.

First, the risks and liabilities far outweigh any imagined benefits. It is far more likely that increasing the number of guns in schools will result in new and unexpected tragedies rather than safer schools.

Second, teachers’ jobs already come with tremendous responsibility as professional educators. Improving teaching skills should not mean improved marksmanship with a gun. Imagining that teachers should easily assume armed law enforcement duties is deeply insulting to both law enforcement officers and the teaching profession.

Third, the idea that we have no choice other than to ask teachers to be soldiers and gunslingers, ready for hallway shootouts because of the easy accessibility of weapons of war, is a sad and defeatist lesson for children in America.

Finally, the conversation about arming teachers and others in our schools deflects from the real problem and its legitimate solution.

After the 2012 tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Connecticut passed comprehensive legislation that enhanced gun violence prevention, school safety, and mental health services. As to gun safety, the legislation included a ban on semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15– the same type of weapon used at Sandy Hook, the Parkland high school, the Las Vegas mass shooting, and the Orlando nightclub massacre; a ban on high-capacity magazines; and established a universal background check system.

The legislation also provided resources for improving safety within our schools, including secure entryways, and expanded mental health resources and protocols. These reforms are still needed today — in a growing social media movement, #ArmMeWith, teachers are demanding not guns but smaller class sizes, improved mental health services, additional school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.

These resources are the types of front line safety nets that are usually first on the chopping block when budgets are cut — and this has been playing out recently in many Connecticut communities suffering from cuts in educational funding. Bridgeport Public Schools have a ratio of 500 students per guidance counselor or social worker — double the recommended level of 250 students. Continued disinvestment in our public schools will hurt the educational, social and emotional well-being of our students.

Connecticut’s gun violence prevention legislation was a bipartisan effort, crafted and supported by both Democrats and Republicans, and it has paid off. With some of the most effective gun laws in the nation, Connecticut has one of the lowest gun death rates.

It’s time for Congress and the president to take action to keep our schools safe, and follow Connecticut’s lead to protect students in every school across America.

Donald Williams is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Education Association and  former President of the Connecticut State Senate.


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