On Wednesday, President Donald Trump hosted another meeting pertaining to the frightening and tragic issue of school shootings, and what the nation ought to be doing to prevent them. The president has hosted a series of such meetings in the two weeks since the Feb. 14 killing of seventeen students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida.
At each meeting, POTUS has suggested a slightly different combination of possible policy changes, the most controversial and consistent being his notion of arming a significant percentage of school teachers with guns.
Also on Wednesday, Randi Weingarten the head of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), sent a polite but firmly-worded letter to President Trump to explain why his recent proposal to arm teachers, most of whom are members of her union, was….well…insane.
Actually, Ms. Weingarten, who has held the top position of the powerful 1.7 million-member union since 2008, didn’t use the word “insane” in her letter. She did, however, use it on C-SPAN a few days earlier.
Instead, Weingarten told Mr.Trump what she’d heard when she held “a telephone town hall” about the matter in which 600,000 educators participated, and also what she said she’d learned in talking to hundreds of educators in Broward County after the school massacre in Parkland.
“The response we have heard,” she wrote, “is universal. Teachers don’t want to be armed. We want to teach. Our first instinct is to protect kids, not engage in a shootout that would place more children in danger.”
This don’t-arm-teachers message was most notably expressed, according to the union leader, “from educators who are gun owners, military veterans and National Rifle Association members.”
Trump’s call to arms for teachers, Weingarten also pointed out, brings up a host of logistical questions.
First of all, how exactly would this work? Would every classroom now need a gun closet? If so, “where would the key be stored?”
Most armed professionals are expected to regularly recertify for proficiency, she pointed out. So what about teachers? And what kind of guns are we talking about, Weingarten asked. Would teachers get firearms “similar to the military-style AR-15 weapons” that so many school shooters seemed to favor?
What about funding? Who would provide the billions of dollars it would take to pay for guns, ammunition, and training, “when so many schools currently lack nurses, guidance counselors, and school resource officers and have a multitude of other unmet needs?” Surely those needs should come first.
And in the seconds after an active shooter alert, “are teachers supposed to get their guns or get their students to safety?”
Last of all, she wanted to know if teachers would be “held liable for their actions and decisions?”
Weingarten is also an attorney.
As fate would have it, a few hours after Weingarten’s letter went off to the president and was forwarded to the press, the point of view that the majority of her union members seemed to share was scarily illustrated when a well-liked 53-year-old social studies teacher at Dalton High School in northwest Georgia, locked his classroom door, and proceeded to terrify students by firing a shot through his classroom window.
Although according to Dalton police, the teacher, whose name is Jesse Randall Davidson, ultimately surrendered to officers peacefully, the incident was sobering.
It is also interesting to note that, like the majority of teachers, school resource officers are dead against the idea of arming educators. The National Association of School Resource Officers said as much in detail a week ago, with a press release that listed six very specific reasons why.
One of the reasons made the same point that Weingarten made about recertification:
“Firearm skills degrade quickly,” wrote the NASRO, “which is why most law enforcement agencies require their officers to practice on a shooting range frequently (as often as once per month), under simulated, high-stress conditions. Anyone without such frequent, ongoing practice will likely have difficulty using a firearm safely and effectively.”
And then there was this point:
“Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant.”
One might hope that teachers and school cops would have the last word on this issue. Yet, this week, Florida’s Republican-controlled state House and Senate moved bills forward that would train teachers to carry guns in classrooms.
Lawmakers in Michigan, Alabama, and Tennessee have their own similar bills moving through the legislative process.
Interestingly, several of the Tennessee lawmakers who strongly favored the bill in question argued, without any apparent irony, that the proposed law to arm educators was particularly necessary because the state had not allocated funds to hire school resource officers.