“Where do you feel safe?”
Dante Barry, co-founder and Executive Director of the Million Hoodies Movement for Justice, begins all his discussions about safety, as he did at Roosevelt House’s Millennial Activism lunch, with this question. Students’ responses included their bed, their home, their family and the like. With so many school shootings so early into 2018, it should come as no surprise that school was not mentioned. The common thread amongst all these answers are that they signify a place of care. Police, prisons and guns do not incite the same sentiment.
Why do people want to arm teachers then?
Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has proposed arming teachers. His plan would allow states to decide if they should allow 10-20 percent of the teaching population to carry a concealed weapon. This proposed policy is frighteningly reminiscent of the NRA’s 2013 National School Shield report that was developed after the Sandy Hook shooting. The Florida state Senate has already approved a proposal, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which allows staff, such as current or former servicemen or JROTC instructors – but not classroom teachers – to be armed through an opt-in program. The school district and sheriff will determine if a district participates.
That proponents of guns in schools suggest only “adept” staff would be armed isn’t exactly comforting. In fact, a working paper assessing the risk of arming teachers found that even trained police officers shoot with less than 30 percent accuracy. Additionally, an eight year study of NYPD firearm training found that accuracy was 18 percent during a gunfight, and 30 percent when suspects were not firing. How does one expect school personnel to do any better in high risk situations? It is particularly concerning when there was an armed security guard at the Parkland shooting who failed to act.
Florida’s situation becomes even more dire while considering how its Stand Your Ground Law can impact vulnerable students. The law justifies the use of lethal force in the name of self-defense, most notably used in the Trayvon Martin case. Since its implementation in 2005, homicide by firearm has gone up by 31.6 percent. There is already a history of African American students being disproportionately punished in schools, and bringing guns into the equation will likely only make things worse. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, in one school year, 16 percent of the population was African American, but they made up 27 percent of the law enforcement referrals and 31 percent of arrests. Across the South, even minor disciplinary incidents are met with disproportionate actions. One school in Texas issued misdemeanor tickets to 46 percent of African American students even though they are a minority in the school’s population. Introducing more guns in school means introducing more means of violence, which can only hurt children of color further.
Trump’s proposal for armed school faculty is half-baked. It does not consider the growing violence against the African American community nor the adverse effects gun proliferation has had. As rudimentary as it is, his endorsement is an immediate threat to students’ livelihood and safety. Student safety is entrusted into schools and its educators. Guns have never been part of the image of safety. America’s gun-sick culture has spread to our schools, and it must end there.