To Arm, or Not to Arm, School Teachers

The murders of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, has renewed the debate over whether to arm schoolteachers. At least 28 states, including Texas, already allow teachers or staff to arm themselves, and neighboring Ohio is about to join that list.

The Ohio legislature this week passed and sent to Governor Mike DeWine legislation that allows local school boards to authorize teachers and staff to bring a gun into the classroom after they undergo tactical training on how to respond to “critical incidents.”

DeWine called for the legislation, and he will sign the bill. “I thank the General Assembly for passing this bill to protect Ohio children and teachers,” DeWine said. (Read more here from Jake Zuckerman at the Ohio Capital Journal.)

The West Virginia Legislature took up a similar bill during the regular session earlier this year. HB 2364 provided for teachers and administrators to volunteer as School Protection Officers. The bill authorized these individuals to “carry concealed firearms or a self-defense spray device in any school in the district” after completing a training program.

The bill passed the House Education Committee 16-7 last February following a four hour debate, but the bill later died in the House Judiciary Committee. West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee was against the bill then, and he would be opposed to it if it comes up again.

“We have far more students that commit suicide than are involved in school shootings,” Lee said. “That should be our focus. We have added more school counselors, but they are overwhelmed, and we have positions that have not been filled.”

Surveys repeatedly show most teachers do not want to take on the responsibility of also serving as armed guards. A 2018 poll commissioned by the National Education Association found that 74 percent of those surveyed opposed the idea of arming teachers and other school personnel.

More recently, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona spoke out against the idea during testimony on Capitol Hill. “The solution of arming teachers, in my opinion, is further disrespect to a profession that’s already beleaguered and not feeling the support of so many folks,” he said.

The saying goes that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Under that theory, just one armed and well-trained teacher or staff member could stop a school shooter or at least limit the loss of life.

But like most generalizations, this one is also suspect.

The Fraternal Order of Police has consistently opposed arming school personnel.  In a brief filed in a case before the Ohio Supreme Court, the FOP argued, “If nothing else, police officers train on the ‘mental preparedness’ necessary to take a life, but in the context of a school setting, untrained teachers will be mentally unprepared to kill one of their own students.”

West Virginia is a strong pro-gun state, and most state legislators crave an “A” grade from the National Rifle Association, so it is surprising that the legislature has not yet passed a bill to arm teachers.  However, the events of last month and the action by Ohio lawmakers will give the pro-gun forces in the West Virginia legislature reason to try again during the next regular session.



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