As survivors of last week's deadly massacre in Parkland, Florida, rallied today at the state capital to advocate for tougher gun control laws, some North Carolina legislators want to arm teachers to prevent future school shootings.
The suggestion came during a press conference yesterday announcing the formation of a new school safety committee. As part of the group's new mandate, Republican House Speaker Tim Moore explained, they may consider arming teachers after floating the idea past school districts and the police.
“It’s one of those things where I don’t want to come in saying we’re going to do these particular things,” Moore said, according to the News and Observer. “We want to hear what the local school districts want to do on that. What does law enforcement believe is appropriate on that because right now it’s the law enforcement officers who are stationed in schools right now who are the front line of defense if something like this would happen.”
Other lawmakers have been blunter. Last week, the N&O reported, Republican firebrand and state Rep. Larry Pittman voiced his support for arming teachers and said he had already been in talks with a police officer about the possibility. “We have to get over this useless hysteria about guns and allow school personnel to have a chance to defend their lives and those of their students,” he said. "Many lives could have been saved that were lost before the police got there."
If that happens, North Carolina would join eighteen states that already allow teachers to bring guns to school. Supporters of those provisions argue that training and arming teachers will prevent future school shootings; to make their point, they often recite the infamous National Rifle Association (NRA) talking point that "the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
But some local teachers and school service providers aren't convinced that arming teachers would be even vaguely productive.
"I don’t want any of my colleagues to be able to carry a gun to school," Kevin Neiley, a social worker in a local school with a mental health background, remarked. "They’re not trained. I’ve watched teachers escalate kids. They make it worse. They don’t mean to! But we’re not trained."
Neiley, whose position was created to address students' mental health needs after the deadly 1999 Columbine school shooting, said that he believes the core of the school shooting epidemic lies in access to assault rifles, not unaddressed mental health issues.
"If we had more mental health professionals in schools, we might be able to recognize the people in school shootings." But, he added, "you can't regulate mental health. The thing that kills people in all of these school shootings is assault rifles." (Yesterday, as survivors of the Parkland school shooting watched in the gallery, the Florida state House rejected a ban on assault rifles. According to police, the suspect in the shooting, Nikolas Cruz, used an AR-15 rifle.)
Shana Broders, a fifth-grade teacher at a local elementary school, also expressed concern about the possibility of arming teachers. Broders said her school practiced a lockdown drill the day before the Parkland shooting and she was stunned to learn that some lawmakers were earnestly discussing proposals to provide teachers with guns.
"I can’t personally see how bringing more guns into a school will solve this problem," she said. "There are of course teachers, like in all professions, that are quick-tempered, possibly dealing with anger issues, emotional outbursts…why would we want to arm them? And to have them near kids…I can’t wrap my head around that."
While it may be inconceivable to some teachers, the NRA has long advocated for arming them. In 2013, an NRA-supported task force issued a report that recommended, among other things, arming teachers in schools. The proposal was met with sharp criticism from the American Federation of Teachers, whose president, in a statement, called it "a cruel hoax that will fail to keep our children and schools safe." Instead, she argued, it was "simply designed to assist gun manufacturers flood the nation and our schools with more guns.”