Sign up for the THINK newsletter

You have been successfully added to our newsletter.

Get fresh opinions, sharp analyses and powerful essays delivered to your inbox.

Valerie Braman Trump's plan to arm teachers like me makes no sense for safety in schools

A gun in my hand isn’t a solution for a school roof that leaks every time it rains and it doesn’t give students the books they need.
Image: President Donald Trump, joined by student Carson Abt, right, and Julia Cordover, the student body president at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School  bow their heads during the opening prayer
President Donald Trump and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students Carson Abt right and Julia Cordover bow their heads during a prayer at the White House on February 21, 2018.Carolyn Kaster / AP
Get the Think newsletter.

I am lucky: Although I had to participate in occasional active shooter drills and regular lockdowns, fire drills and “shelter-in-place” drills as a high school teacher, I was out of the classroom and working for my union when Sandy Hook happened, touching off what has felt like an unrelenting wave of violence targeting students that could’ve been mine, and teachers and school staff who could’ve been me.

But none of that violence that I, like the rest of America, have borne witness to, makes me wish I could’ve had a gun in my classroom then or the spaces I teach in now.

I’m not alone in rejecting President Trump’s suggestions that the best plan to end school shootings is to arm teachers. There has been plenty of testimony from survivors — both students and educators — telling us the last thing they wished for or could have used in those terrifying moments was a weapon.

We’ve had far too many massacres in which there were plenty of “good guys with guns” present for me to be confident that arming 3.6 million more people in and around schools will solve anything.

And, though I’m sure many teachers do have experience with guns, many others like me simply don’t: I’ve never even witnessed the firing of one. But if our nation’s 3.6 million teachers are a reflection of America, then only between 32 and 42 percent of us live in households with guns, and only 20 to 30 percent of us actually own one. (Women are less likely than men to own the guns they live with, and public school teachers are 76 percent female, though, so we might be less likely than average to own guns.)

I am, however, seeing, hearing, and witnessing combat veterans and current and former law enforcement officers speaking out, all saying that having more guns in schools wouldn’t necessarily curtail the attempts or even the success of intended school shooters. I trust these trained professionals’ opinions more than the president, lawmakers or the NRA (just as I hope students and their families trusted me to teach young people to refine the active voice in their writing and find joy in a rhymed couplet). We’ve had far too many massacres in which there were plenty of “good guys with guns” present for me to be confident that arming 3.6 million more people in and around schools — or more, if you count coaches, administrators and support personnel — will solve anything.

With more “good guys with guns” in our nation’s schools, there would instead be an increased chance for accidents, more opportunities for a perpetrator to take and use that weapon, and confusion for first responders with the vital and harrowing task of discerning the “good guys” from the “bad.” The concept is absurd on its face, and others have gone down this ridiculous rabbit hole in far greater detail than I can.

Do we really want each classroom in each school in the nation equipped with a gun cabinet?

I am pretty good at learning new things, so I’m sure if my teaching certifications required an NRA-sponsored gun safety course (as many states’ gun permits do), I could learn. But, like most people, I don’t master new things immediately: Learning is a process. I know that, even with the best training, stressful situations will alter my response time, my thinking and my ability to react.

But even if practice truly makes perfect (and the English teacher in me says it does), I want my “shoot-someone-in-school” skills to remain poor. Practicing my reaction in an active shooter setting means danger, fear and trauma for students, colleagues and the school community. Practicing controlling the tremors in my hands while unlocking a classroom gun cabinet — do we really want each classroom in each school in the nation equipped with a gun cabinet? — means having less time to practice my questioning techniques or ways to foster more authentic dialogue and shared learning experiences in class.

It’s possible to have many skills, talents and interests, but I am an educator: It is my chosen profession, my passion and my avocation. If I were meant for law enforcement, physical combat or even to be a full-time conflict resolution specialist, I would have trained for and pursued that. I’ll take on “other duties as assigned” in school, but deciding in a split second whether or not to discharge a deadly weapon at a young person I called one of “my kids” is not one of the duties I signed up for. (And how, if they know I would be willing to kill them, would my kids ever trust me to teach them? How could I trust myself?)

How, if my students know I would be willing to kill them, would they ever trust me to teach them? How could I trust myself?

Beyond that, the financial resources that would magically appear to train and arm educators would be best spent on supplies, well-kept buildings, personnel and programmatic needs. It used to rain in my classroom when it was raining outside. It’s February and I know teachers who are already out of copy paper for the year; I see more crowd-funded posts on websites these days, asking for money not for some “extras” or a special luxury that would be nice to supplement students’ learning, but for writing implements, calculators and books.

A gun in my hand isn’t a solution for a school roof that leaks every time it rains; it doesn’t give students the books they need but can’t afford on their own; it doesn’t help us photocopy assignments to help them learn. And we already don’t have the number of teachers, counselors, nurses, librarians, Educational Support Personnel, administrators, community liaisons and countless other personnel that our students need and so that they can get the education they deserve. This is as true in the K-12 schools I used to work in as it is in the higher education environments where I teach now.

We already don’t have the kinds of meaningful training, support, coaching and evaluations that would foster professional growth and excellence for educators. We don’t all have school buildings that are adequately heated or cooled. We don’t have basic funding levels and formulas across the board to ensure that principals won’t have to choose one of these priorities over another each year as they complete budgets and action plans. We don’t have enough genuine community partnerships. We don’t come to agreements across communities to settle contracts ensuring the working conditions that are the learning conditions for the schools our kids deserve. We don’t even have agreement that every child deserves the same educational opportunities.

This country’s educators would be far better equipped with any — indeed all — of these things in the classroom than with the panacea of pistols.

This country’s educators would be far better equipped with any — indeed all — of these things in the classroom than with the panacea of pistols.

But, where there is an agenda, there is always an answer; I am not so naïve as to think that the money for this imagined teacher-arming wouldn’t materialize. After years of working in classrooms and for my union, watching school shootings in the news and gridlock in Washington, D.C., I am cynical enough to know that, given our military spending and our willingness to seek quick, easy cosmetic solutions to long-standing and complex issues, it will bloom quickly.

In a perfect world, I shouldn’t be so sure that funding for classroom cannons would speed through Washington and our statehouses and fair funding for all schools won’t. And I need everyone else to know how it feels to be an educator or a student, walking our halls and campuses armed with the knowledge that it’s easier to give teachers money for guns to shoot students than books to teach them.

Valerie Braman is a Labor and Employment Relations faculty member at Penn State University, and a former Philadelphia high school teacher and union representative. Her opinions do not necessarily reflect those of her employer.

Get the Think newsletter.
Get the Think newsletter.
MORE FROM think