EDUCATION

Teachers Carrying Guns: Debate Follows Sandy Hook Shooting

12/21/2012 01:47 pm ET | Updated Dec 21, 2012

Jarod Bormann works as a teacher in a rural area of Iowa with so many sporting-gun enthusiasts that his students are granted three excused days per year to deer hunt. Bormann is comfortable around guns, having hunted in high school, but earlier this week he took to Facebook and to his blog to voice his opposition to the latest argument to emerge from the Newtown, Conn. shooting: that teachers should carry weapons in schools.

"I was really blown away that the concept of the idea would even be brought up," Bormann told The Huffington Post. "If there was a need for that, then we're not doing our job as an educational staff in trying to create the environment we need to, for our students, an environment that listens."

Following last week's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, at least five states, including Oklahoma, Missouri, Minnesota, South Dakota and Oregon, have outlined plans for legislation that would allow faculty members to carry guns in schools. Earlier this week, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) argued the arming of teachers is a discussion worth having.

But many who work in education are not taking this discussion lightly. They point to a laundry list of problems associated with teachers and guns that goes beyond basic safety concerns. For some, the issue conflicts with their own values system and distracts from other ways to curb violence in schools before it begins.

"It’s the most absurd idea I've ever heard," said Garret Virchick, a high school teacher of 25 years from Boston. "We went into teaching because at some level, we all care about kids and we're caregivers."

Carrying a weapon in school, Virchick said, goes against why he went into teaching in the first place. He argued that a focus on guns ignores other factors in school violence, such as mental health screening and counseling.

"In our latest union contract, we did get a promise of more social workers in our schools," Virchick said. "That's the conversation that's going on amongst teachers ... We need more of these support services for schools and for our students."

Wally Linebarger, an art teacher for 30 years in Texas and New York, has experienced violence first hand in school, and outside it, but he said he'd never want guns in classrooms. Linebarger was held at gunpoint twice during robberies, and on two separate occasions he had students pull knives on him (he talked the students down without injury).

"I wanted to educate them about how not to use violence. That was my goal," Linebarger said, adding that most teachers he knows are pacifists.

The potentially disastrous result of a student getting his or her hands on a teacher's weapon alone is enough for Linebarger to object to anyone considering such a solution.

The American Federation of Teachers made its position on the issue clear earlier this week after Michigan attempted to pass legislation to allow gun owners with extra training to carry on school property. There's no place for guns in schools, the organization said, and tragic consequences might result.

But Greg Lund, a former principal from Twin Valley, Minn., is one educator who feels there is a strong rationale behind his keeping a gun holstered to his belt at school for years.

Lund, who works with the National Association of Certified Firearms Instructors to train gun owners, noted the limited resources in the area of his school: there is at most one police officer on patrol duty at a time, and while local EMTs are nearby, the nearest ambulance is 18 miles away.

"Being rural, it's hit and miss as to how soon we could have police at the building if we called 911," Lund said. "I was concerned about someone from outside the building coming in."

Lund said he wanted to protect his students from an unstable person who might be looking to get their 15 minutes of fame.

Coni Sanders, the daughter of a science teacher who was killed in the Columbine massacre 13 years ago, is familiar with this question. Sanders said that an armed security officer exchanged fire with the gunmen. Had he been successful in shooting one of them, Sanders believes the story of Columbine could have been less tragic.

Still, Sanders said that her father would not have wanted to carry a gun himself, and that between the potential for friendly fire casualties, and human error, the risks of more teachers doing so are too high.

"Teachers are not perfect," Sanders said. "If we have a teacher who's normally very rational and gets the gun and over time, things start breaking down, whether it be mental illness or domestic violence, or divorce, or a child custody battle, are we going to be able to trust that the person can continue to be responsible with that gun?"

David Hemenway, a professor of public health at Harvard University who has studied gun violence, said that teachers with guns would not prevent violence in schools.

"We know that where there's more guns, there's more deaths," Hemenway said. "The evidence is overwhelming."

The same issues that arise in gun-owning homes -- increased suicides along with accidental and intentional shootings -- could just as well translate to schools, Hemenway said.

"In the 1970s, when we had the hijacking problem with the airlines, Archie Bunker in 'All in the Family' said we should arm all the passengers, and now it's considered a really good joke," he said.

To hear more from current and former teachers on the gun policy debate, see HuffPost's coverage here and here.

Source: Project Vote Smart, Graphic by: Chris Spurlock

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