Do Okies want schoolteachers to carry guns? Not the ones we're hearing from.
Almost 200 Oklahoma residents responded to a HuffPost email survey this week concerning a bill introduced by state Rep. Mark McCullough (R-Sapulpa) in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. McCullough's bill would provide police training for teachers who want it, and would allow teachers and administrators who have a concealed carry permit to carry their guns during school hours.
McCullough has said that the police training proposal would allow teachers to provide law enforcement services in addition to teaching and would make them prepared to deal with mass murderers in classrooms.
A clear majority of the Oklahoma readers who wrote in to us said they did not think McCullough's proposal would have a positive effect. All in all, 151 readers told us they thought McCullough's bill would not make schools any safer. (This follows the opinion of many school safety experts, who say that having more armed authority figures in a school is not a guaranteed way to keep the peace.) Only 41 readers said they thought it would improve school safety.
Many of those who wrote us were current or former teachers, or had a loved one who'd worked in a school. A number of these readers said they wouldn't necessarily object to having armed authority figures in a school, but that the responsibility shouldn't fall to the teachers. From a retired teacher and social worker:
There are ways to protect your children in school other than shooting the intruder. Guards are for that and can carry guns.
Another reader, from the city of Norman, pointed out some practical concerns about keeping guns in the classroom:
The intruder (or God forbid, student) who decides to go on a shooting spree will always have the advantage of surprise. If a teacher is to respond quickly enough to be effective, she must have the gun loaded and easily available at all times, which means it will be loaded and easily available to ANYONE.
A third reader had more thoughts in this vein:
I am a retired Oklahoma City Public School Administrator and I can assure you, putting guns in the hands of teachers is not the answer.
For 32 years I worked with teenagers, some of which were full-fledged gang members. Students are extremely uncanny in how they can obtain various items they should not have in their possession.
Perhaps not all, but I would suggest to you the majority, of teachers could easily have their weapon taken from them either by stealth or outright actions by some students.
[And] the person coming in with the gun to shoot people is probably 99% more experienced with guns than the teacher.
A fourth reader, this one from Oklahoma City, told us:
I have taught in Oklahoma for over 30 years and have worked in both public and private schools, with students in grades PS-12. My degree is in music education, but I have taught other subjects as well. I can say without qualification that if a weapon is accessible enough for me to use it to provide a rapid response to an armed threat to my students, it is accessible enough for a student to get to it.
And a fifth reader had this to say:
My youngest daughter is in her first year as a teacher in Shawnee. Elementary-age kids. All she should be packing to school are books and other materials to help those kids learn what they need to learn.
My granddaughter is in kindergarten this year. When she wakes up in the morning, I want her to be happy and excited about another school day. She needs to be thinking about learning new things, playing with her best friend, and eating lunch. It should never enter her mind that school is dangerous, that she has to watch out for "strangers" at her school or get scared if a teacher raises her voice.
A few readers told us that based on the teachers they knew personally, it would be a mistake to assume all educators are equipped to handle law-enforcement duties. One said:
I am a certified teacher and taught middle and high school and coached football, so I know the types of people that will be carrying weapons. I would speculate that less than 10% have the emotional and psychological wherewithal to manage that level of potential danger or violence [...] Arming teachers is a recipe for disaster.
I cannot name a group of people I DON'T want armed more than teachers. Too many of them are, frankly, goofballs. My wife teaches and I work in higher education, so I'm exposed to a lot of teachers and prospective teachers.
A third said:
I do not agree with this legislation. I have substituted in the schools here in Oklahoma and I can tell you that some teachers and administrators can be just as unpredictable as anyone else.
We heard from several avowed gun owners who said they oppose the spread of weapons into classrooms. Said one:
I am a Republican and have been a sportsman/hunter all of my life. This is an example of what our elected officials have always done, taking advantage of the fears and vulnerability of the electorate, but they have gone too far this time.
I grew up with guns around the house and was a frequent Junior NRA medalist in target shooting when I was growing up. I am also a teacher of 38 years' service, now retired. I would not allow myself to carry or have access to guns in the presence of schoolchildren.
Some readers raised moral and spiritual objections to McCullough's plan. Said one:
As a taxpayer, a citizen and yes, as a Christian, I am appalled. Is this what Jesus would want? He was a teacher, and warned against throwing stones, not hoarding them to throw against others.
I just CAN'T see this as a solution in any way. As simple-minded as I may seem to some, two wrongs never make a right. Our teachers are teaching. If they are armed and coming from a paramilitary mindset with our children, won't our children follow suit?
Other readers gave their own suggestions for policy responses, like this reader from Yukon:
Legislators in Oklahoma need to allocate more money to school districts so that they can make their buildings safer and less accessible to people that want to do harm.
A reader from Tulsa offered another alternative:
What about a taser or a stun gun? Stop with the lethal weapons and violent culture.
A few readers saw the potential for another Trayvon Martin incident:
I'm afraid that if we find a faculty member who would want to carry a gun, we would have another Zimmerman case where they were just looking for an excuse to draw their weapon.
And a handful of readers told us they wouldn't allow their children to stay in a public school system that allows teachers to carry guns. Said one:
As a mother and a grandmother, I would NEVER allow my children and grandchildren to attend a school where the teachers were armed. Classes and hallways can be extremely crowded. Even trained marksman hesitate to fire bullets into crowds for fear of hitting an innocent person. A teacher who does this once in her life will be even less likely to get the first shot right.
If it happens and my daughter's school district allows teachers to carry weapons, she will shift to a private school until I find suitable employment in a state that does not allow this.
However, not everyone who wrote to us viewed McCullough's bill as a bad thing. Some readers offered their support, with the caveat that too much firearm training is better than too little:
I do agree with the bill in general, although I believe [teachers] should be required to have training beyond the concealed carry permit plus regular, mandatory marksmanship certification. The training should be in gun retention and shooting while under stress, which is different than poking holes in paper.
Another reader, who said she opposed the bill and thought it was "insane," had similar thoughts about training:
There probably are some teachers who are experts with handguns -- but a concealed carry permit is no evidence that they have even a small fraction of the training necessary to respond correctly in an emergency.
To get a concealed carry permit in Oklahoma, you have to take a course that, by law, covers the following: general firearm safety; fundamentals of handgun shooting; correct position for firing a handgun; correct presentation for the handgun; loading and unloading techniques; clearing malfunctions; dynamics of ammunition and firing a handgun; provisions of Oklahoma laws relating to self-defense; provisions of Oklahoma Self-Defense Act; a dry-fire practice session; and a live fire familiarization course.
Sounds okay, but the courses last a whole four to eight hours. You're tested on your grasp of the law, but you can miss as many as four of the 15 questions and still get a permit. You will spend a very small amount time actually firing your weapon.
Police officers are trained using both stationary and mobile targets; in both day and night conditions; and in tactical combat scenarios. In many jurisdictions, they have to continue to qualify through ongoing training -- because they must rely on ingrained responses in an emergency, and only constant training provides that.
Several supporters said they believed McCullough's plan would prove an effective deterrent.
Even if no teacher ends up carrying a gun, just the real possibility that some might be armed will insert doubt about success into the [shooter's] mind.
Said another reader:
Having trained licensed teachers in all our schools may not give 100% protection, but it will make some nut think twice before he enters a school, knowing he will be met with armed resistance.
Said a third, a former law enforcement officer:
Since you asked, I'm in favor of ANY proposal that will eliminate so-called "gun-free zones," irrespective of where they may be established. All one does, by designating schools, malls, theaters, etc. as such, is notify the screwballs where they can go to ply their evil acts without fear of facing someone who can fight back with deadly force.
Said a fourth:
I work at a local community college, so the the threat of violence does concern me. I was raised in a military family, so I was around weapons growing up, then turned into a dedicated "hippie child" very much opposed to violence of any kind.
I personally don't care to have a gun, but do appreciate having responsible gun owners around me. We need to have some new laws that will help keep guns out of the wrong hands and limit the ability to have mass destruction from them. I think the [people] who would carry a gun on a campus should be screened and trained extensively. I think most people who do things like this are cowards and [the bill] would be a good thing even if it deters only one event from happening by [letting potential shooters know] there are armed people at the school.
A few readers pointed out that having armed teachers on school grounds would be particularly helpful in more isolated communities.
I'm all in favor of this. Some rural school districts could have response times of 10 or more minutes, and it is not economically feasible to put a police officer or deputy in those schools.
Many of the supporters also said that while McCullough's bill would be a welcome step, it wouldn't by itself be enough. Said one:
I think he has a good plan. We [also] need to lock our school doors and more closely monitor mental health patients, prior convictions, restraining orders, etc.
[Would McCullough's plan make schools safer?] Absolutely. I believe this is one of many things that should be done.
But for at least one reader, who said he opposes the bill, this is all a moot point. This reader told HuffPost that McCullough's plan might not ever see the light of day.
When this idea had been floated previously, there was immediate backlash from the superintendents of Oklahoma City and Tulsa's school districts, and many teachers raised their voices in opposition through social media and otherwise [...]
There are many Oklahomans that are devoted to ending gun violence, even in this environment. And if McCullough’s bill proceeds, there will be significant pushback from those in law enforcement, and the education, mental health, and public health fields, as well as average pragmatic Oklahomans uncomfortable with putting weapons in our schools. Despite much evidence to the contrary in Oklahoma, I remain hopeful that sanity will prevail.
What do you think about Mark McCullough's bill? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don't forget to tell us where you're writing from (a city or state name is fine).