At 2:19 p.m. on Wednesday, February 14, 2018, a former student went on a shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When the firing subsided, 17 people were dead. 12 of the victims were found inside the school, 2 outside the building, 1 on the street, and 2 others died in the hospital. 14 others were injured and taken to local hospitals with many in critical condition. According to students, chaos ensued when a fire alarm sounded near dismissal time. The shooter started firing outside before making his way through the hallways. He wore a gas mask and used smoke grenades to start picking off people as the kids came out. One student recounted classroom windows shattering and a bullet near the shades. While hiding under a teacher’s desk, she heard 4 of her injured classmates screaming in pain. As SWAT officers escorted students out of the classroom, she saw them covered in blood. One teacher told CNN that she hid her students in a closet until law enforcement arrived. TV footage showed students running single file with their hands in the air, throwing backpacks into a large pile and huddling under trees across the street. SWAT officers entered classrooms with guns drawn and escorted shaking and crying students. Worried parents crowded around the school, frantic to know whether what happened to their child.
Arrested a short distance near a home was 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz. A former student, he’d been expelled for “disciplinary reasons” but was once a member of the school’s Junior Reserved Officers Training Corps. Some students and teachers said they knew him and that he had guns. Though a quiet kid who usually kept to himself, he was uniquely troubled since had once attended a school for emotionally and disabled students. One former classmate said Cruz would joke about shooting people or establishments. He’d talk a lot about having guns and using them in different situations. He also had some anger management issues. His math teacher told a newspaper, “We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him. There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.” Even the Broward Sheriff’s Office showed concerns about Cruz for more than 2 years before the incident took place. In 2016, deputies went to his home more than 3 dozen times. That September, a “peer counselor” reported that Cruz might’ve attempted suicide via gasoline, was cutting himself, and wanted to buy hunting guns. His mother Lynda said her son “wrote hate signs on his book bag and had recently talked of buying firearms.” In September 2017, his comment with his intention to become a “professional school shooter” on a YouTube video was reported to the FBI in Mississippi. After his mother’s death in November, her cousin Katherine Blaine reported that Cruz owned rifles and asked the BSO to collect them. Later that month, she called the BSO again to report him fighting with her 22-year-old son. She also shared details that Cruz, “bought a gun from Dick’s last week and is now going to pick it up.” She added that he “bought tons of ammo,” and had “used a gun against (people) before” and “put the gun to others’ heads in the past.” In January 2018, the FBI received a tip “a person close to Nikolas Cruz,” alerting them to “Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.”
Nikolas Cruz’s arsenal consisted of an AR-15 style rifle and countless magazines, legally purchased from a Coral Springs gun store. When arrested, he had 180 rounds of ammunition left. Given that his behavior signaled red flags and local law enforcement response, it’s clear that this guy shouldn’t be able to buy a gun like that. However, if the Trayvon Martin incident should tell us anything it’s that Florida has notoriously shitty gun laws. Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was still allowed to carry a gun despite an arrest record and a history of violence. He also got away with killing a black teenager thanks its “stand your ground” which lets a person shoot an assailant if they’re attacked in a place where they have a legal right to be and avoid criminal prosecution. Despite that Martin was an unarmed teenager minding his own business when Zimmerman went after him. Orlando Pulse nightclub shooter Omar Mateen was still able to legally purchase a Saur SIG MCX semi-automatic and a 9mm Glock handgun despite a history of domestic violence and had been investigated by the FBI twice for terrorism connections. In addition, you don’t have to be a Florida resident to get a concealed carry handgun permit from its Department of Agriculture. But you don’t need a permit or license to own a gun or even conceal carry a rifle or shotgun. Nor do you have to register a firearm either. In Florida, you can buy as many guns as you want at one time. They don’t regulate assault weapons, .50-caliber rifles, or high capacity magazines either. Hell, they don’t even require a state license for gun sellers to sell firearms. It’s easy to imagine how Cruz could get weapons from a gun store to shoot up his high school. But surely local governments can enact their own gun control rules? Actually, Florida prohibits cities and counties from doing exactly that. In fact, elected officials who dare implement new gun restrictions can be fined or removed from office by the governor.
These students experienced what will be most traumatic event in their lives. It’s no surprise that several have criticized the usual “thoughts and prayers” condolences and have urged politicians to take action to prevent more children from getting killed in shootings. Some of them have demanded stricter gun control measures, organized a group called Never Again MSD, and condemned lawmakers who’ve received contributions from the National Rifle Association. On February 17, they held a rally at Fort Lauderdale attended by hundreds. On February 20, dozens of Stoneman Douglas High School students marched to the State Capitol in Tallahassee, where they watched the Florida House of Representatives reject a bill that would’ve banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines in a 71-36 vote. More than 3,000 attended a rally at the Florida State Capitol the following day while state’s students orchestrated a mass walkout. Never Again MSD and other groups have also played in pressuring corporations into revoking their NRA sponsorships and discounts to NRA members.
But these students’ crusade has attracted considerable backlash from the NRA and its allies on the political right. Conspiracy theorists claimed they’re “crisis actors,” left-wing puppets, or just kids. Some pundits see these students’ reactions as emotional and immature, which the media is taking too seriously. As the National Review’s Ben Shapiro wrote, “What, pray tell, did these students do to earn their claim to expertise?” The NRA and its allies have also pinned mass shootings on mental health, violent media, the mainstream news, and anything else but guns. Yet, what concerns me are what the NRA and its allies propose to do to prevent mass shooting epidemic. Instead of challenging the National Rifle Association’s grip on American gun politics or an assault weapons ban, some conservatives have suggested measures like putting armed drones in schools, using Homeland security technology to create barriers against potential shooters, arming retired police and military personnel to guard classrooms, or using the same security mechanisms as airports. All these policy ideas bring the “police state” into the classroom. As someone who grew up in the wake of Columbine with transparent backpacks, metal detectors, security cameras, and morning security checks, I don’t want to encourage any of it. Some of them are utterly ridiculous, expensive and impractical. Armed drones were designed to kill, cost as much as $30,000, and would be extremely dangerous in a school setting. Even conservatives have decried the Transportation Security Administration’s ineffectiveness and heavy-handed policies (like missing 95% of weapons and explosives in 2015). Not to mention, its annual budget is $7.5 billion for 15,000 airports, let alone 98,000 public schools. Oh, according to the National Association of School Resource Officers, around 40% of public schools have at least one full-time or part-time SRO. MSD High School and every single high school in its district had one. Only 12 states have laws specifying requirements for law enforcement officials working in schools which may or may not involve preparing for mass shootings. Besides, SRO and student confrontations have increased in recent years. Metal detectors have also proved ineffective.
However, the most crackbrained idea in the NRA school of mass shooting prevention is arming teachers, which Donald Trump has endorsed even if it means paying “a little bit of bonus” to do so. Apparently, this is an extension of the “good guy with a gun” myth, which states that if more people are armed, they can stop violence before it gets worse or prevent it altogether. However, this is just a mere fantasy you see in action movies. There’s no good research on the effect of arming teachers or putting armed police or security in schools, which by itself should raise red flags. But based on the evidence we have, there’s enough to suggest that putting more guns in schools could make gun violence worse. The notion of arming teachers is so completely insane that even teachers don’t want anything to do with it.
The fundamental problem with gun violence in the United States is that there are so many guns in circulation already. As a result, it’s easier for any conflict to escalate into a form of gun violence. And that’s why the US has more shootings than its developed peers. Add more guns, you get more gun violence and more gun deaths. Sure some people have successfully defended themselves from attacks with guns. But arming more people typically does more harm than good. Apply that lesson to school, then Donald Trump’s armed teacher proposal could be downright dangerous.
The United States has way more gun deaths than other developed nations and far more guns than any other country in the world. It also has by far the highest number of privately owned guns which was 88.8 per 100 people, followed by the quasi-failed state of Yemen which had 54.8 guns per 100 people. Though mass shootings only constitute less than 2% of such deaths in 2013, the US holds 31% of global mass shooters. Of course, guns aren’t the only contributor to violence. But when researchers control other confounding variables, they’ve repeatedly found that America’s high levels of gun ownership are a major reason why the US experiences far more gun violence than its developed peers.
A 1999 Berkeley study found that the US doesn’t have more crime than other developed nations. It’s that the prevalence of guns largely drives more lethal violence. As Professors Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins wrote, “A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar. A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.” People all over the world get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get in an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone. Now imagine a school scenario where some kids or teachers get into an argument while there’s a gun in class. When someone reaches for it, what may have turned into an otherwise feisty argument escalates into a fatal clash. Considering that shootings have erupted over cheeseburger and taco disputes, people can do stupid things in the heat of the moment. Americans don’t have a monopoly on arguing about stupid shit. But what it does have is an easy access to guns, making escalation much more likely. Being on the autistic spectrum, an increased presence of guns in schools is the stuff of nightmares. Arming teachers will only increase the presence of guns, which could lead to more gun violence and school shootings.
While the NRA likes to promote the idea of owning a gun as a way to defend oneself against criminals, statistics show that for every justifiable gun homicide, there were 34 criminal gun homicides, 78 gun suicides, and 2 accidental gun deaths. An FBI report on active shooter events between 2000 and 2013 found that armed civilians stopped only 3% of them. By contrast, unarmed civilians actually stopped 13% incidents. 56% of them ended on the shooter’s own initiative when they killed themselves, simply shot shooting, or fled the scene. Since there’s no good research for answers, it’s difficult to say whether more access to guns could’ve prevented these shootings. But since the US already has a lot of guns, it’s likely to make the overall gun violence problem worse, not better.
Finally, and most importantly, Donald Trump and the NRA’s comments about arming teachers suggest that this would be an easy and quick way to end mass shootings. According to a tweet last week, “History shows that a school shooting lasts, on average, 3 minutes. It takes police & first responders approximately 5 to 8 minutes to get to site of crime. Highly trained, gun adept, teachers/coaches would solve the problem instantly, before police arrive. GREAT DETERRENT!” Except that arming people doesn’t mean they can properly respond to a mass shooting. As Pennsylvania police investigator Chris Benton told ABC News, “Video games and movies, they glorify gunfights. [People] get that warped sense that this is true — this video game is exactly what I can do in real life. That’s not reality.” Multiple simulations have demonstrated that if placed in an active shooting situation while armed, most people wouldn’t be able to stop the situation. If anything, they may do little more than get themselves killed in the process. More recently, The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper put this theory to the test in a more comedic simulated segment. As a correspondent at the time, he trained in the basics of using firearms and received a concealed carry permit valid in 30 states. He then participated in mass shooting situations to see how he’d hold up in such a scenario. He failed miserably. In his final test simulating a school shooting, he shot an unarmed civilian and was shot multiple times by active shooters and even law enforcement who mistook him for the bad guy. He never took down the active shooters. Let’s just say that he would’ve been much better off if he waited for the cops while hiding under a desk.
What gun rights activists sold on the NRA’s “good guy with a gun” fantasy ignore is that mass shootings are traumatizing, terrifying events. Without dozens to hundreds of hours in training, most people aren’t going to quickly and properly respond to mass shootings, As Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training senior instructor Cobey Briehn told Klepper, “There’s never enough training. You can never get enough.” According to an FBI analysis of active shooters between 2000 and 2013, “Law enforcement suffered casualties in 21 (46.7%) of the 45 incidents where they engaged the shooter to end the threat.” These people trained to do this kind of thing full time. Yet, nearly half of these incidents resulted in at least one officer getting wounded or killed. Teachers with limited training would fare much worse. Of course, that’s if armed personnel even respond.
Yet, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s resource officer Scot Peterson was armed and trained for a mass shooter scenario. According to the NRA’s convoluted logic, this good guy with a gun should’ve been able to stop Nikolas Cruz from shooting up his school. But when Peterson heard actual gunfire, he ran towards the building but didn’t go in. Instead, he waited for 4-6 minutes until the gunshots stopped. It’s like he didn’t know whether to shit or wind his watch. That doesn’t mean that “a good guy with a gun” wouldn’t ever be able to stop a shooter. For there are high-profile cases where it’s been the case. But most findings from news organizations to The Daily Show heavily suggest that this idea often plays out very differently than what the NRA and Trump supporters envision. Sometimes that could result in more innocent people caught in the crossfire.
The research makes it perfectly clear. If the United States wants to confront gun violence, it should consider reducing the number of guns in circulation, not arming teachers. What people do with their guns at home is their business. But there is no place for guns in a public space, especially a school. While many may think that gun free zones make people defenseless in an active shooter situation, unarmed civilians have stopped 13% of mass shootings. Besides, your odds of survival in an active shooter scenario are much higher if you try to avoid getting killed like hiding in a closet or under a table. No student should have to die because some middle age white guy wants to play Rambo with a brand-new assault rifle. If he wants to play Rambo, he should buy a semi-automatic nerf gun from Toys R’ Us like his kids do. Or a super soaker. At least you won’t kill anyone with either. Oh, those guns don’t look real enough for a big, brawny tough guy? Well, use your imagination like most kids do when playing with their toys.
Arming teachers to prevent future massacres in the classroom is a ludicrously stupid idea, especially since a Georgia high school teacher blockaded his door and proceeded to shoot. According to Donald Trump and his allies, teachers should be capable of “neutralizing” “threats.” In other words, killing their students. If you’re a teacher, imagine waking up every morning knowing that you might have to take the life of a young person in your care, should the unthinkable happen. Imagine this being part of your job like assigning extra homework or detention. Should Jimmy pull a knife and you or your students feel sufficiently threatened, could you point a gun at him and shoot him until he’s dead? Even if at the risk of accidentally killing his classmates? Besides, while there are plenty of fine teachers in our nation’s public school system, you’ll also find plenty of idiots and perverts. Some white teachers may be racist who might feel threatened if a student of color acts up. Would you trust them with a gun? Some teachers may not have the eyesight or the physical capability to handle weapons. Some teachers may not be emotionally able to handle such responsibility of taking a student’s life due to nervous breakdowns. Some teachers might be irresponsible with their instruments of death that their piece might somehow end up in a student’s hands. Then what? A student getting a gun can present lots of terrible possibilities. Others may not want anything to do with guns at all. Not to mention, what if guns in the classroom keep children from attending school? There are many ways this can go horribly wrong.
It’s distressing that people in this country think putting weapons in teachers’ hands is the only way to prevent students from killing each other with guns. Yet, arming teachers is a way for these people to ensure children’s safety without making sacrifices for the greater good. And by sacrifices, I mean buying a semi-automatic they don’t need to play soldier with, give a false sense of security, and assure their toughness and masculinity. A society with armed teachers isn’t one that promotes freedom or safety. Since you’re one social faux pas or trigger away from getting your head blown off by a stranger. That is not a society I want to live in. Nor do most Americans, in that matter. Teachers shouldn’t have to pack heat knowing that they may have to kill a student in a mass shooting situation. If we want to keep students safe in school, then we need to keep guns out of the classroom.