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One big problem with the idea of arming teachers: Insurance companies won't play along, and for good reason

One big problem with the idea of arming teachers: Insurance companies won't play along, and for good reason
Not real thrilled with his ideas: Students affected by school shootings at Parkland, Fla., and elsewhere react with their body language to President Trump's grasp of the issues at a meeting in the White House on Feb. 21. (Olivier Douliery / TNS)

It should be obvious to anyone with a lick of sense that the single most insane idea for addressing the crisis of school shootings is the arming of teachers.

Virtually no one seriously involved with school security wants this to happen. "It's a high-risk, high-liability proposition," says school security consultant Ken Trump (no relation to the president). "School board members, superintendents, principals, teachers, school safety experts, and public safety officials consistently do not believe that educators and school support staff should be armed."

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Experience tells us that one stakeholder in school security that might have the last word is the insurance industry. After the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre — the last time that arming teachers got serious consideration — insurers across the country put the kibosh on the idea.

Concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk. We have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns.


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That was especially true in Kansas, which went further than most other states in allowing school personnel to bring guns onto their premises. The Kansas law gave school districts the prerogative to allow teachers, administrators and other employees with concealed-carry permits to carry their guns into schools.

Districts pondering the idea after the measure was signed in April 2013 by Sam Brownback, the state's tea party governor, got swift pushback from EMC Insurance Companies, which provided coverage to more than 85% of the state's districts.

"Concealed handguns on school premises pose a heightened liability risk," the insurer informed districts via its agent network. "We have chosen not to insure schools that allow employees to carry concealed handguns. Schools permitting concealed handguns will be declined, as new business. Existing schools permitting concealed handguns will not be renewed."

Presumably to avoid being tagged as a 2nd Amendment opponent, EMC specified that it was taking the action "simply to protect the financial security of the company."

Several school districts that had been toying with the idea dropped it after the warning. In Indiana, workers compensation insurers said they wouldn't cover personnel who carried guns onto campuses. Oregon's major liability insurance consortium said it would surcharge districts for every civilian employee they allowed to bring firearms to school, which discouraged the initiative.

In Texas and a number of other states, holders of concealed-carry permits can bring firearms into schools; 40 states bar guns even for employees with concealed-carry permits except under certain conditions. In California, civilian school employees aren't permitted to bring weapons onto the premises.

It's not hard to find the source of the ridiculous idea of arming teachers. It's the National Rifle Assn., of course, the goal of which in every case is: more guns. (The purest distillation of this policy is NRA chief Wayne LaPierre's assertion after the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre that "only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.")

But it goes deeper than that. The armed-teacher fantasy reflects the Hollywoodization of our social life. In this case, it's the notion derived by decades of movie and TV shoot-'em-ups that the bullets fired by the bad guys somehow always go astray, while those fired by civilians caught in a cross fire for the first time in their lives hit their marks exactly.

I once heard actor/magician Penn Jillette expertly lampoon the genre, following his appearance in a "Miami Vice" episode, as: "The guys with the Uzis always lose."

Kansas insurer EMC told school boards in 2013 to forget about coverage if they let teachers bring guns into their schools.
Kansas insurer EMC told school boards in 2013 to forget about coverage if they let teachers bring guns into their schools. (Topeka Capital-Journal)

This would be relatively innocuous if the fantasy remained on-screen, rather than as part of a political debate about life-and-death matters. But our fantasist-in-chief, Donald Trump, on Monday ripped into the Florida deputies who held back from storming Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School by actually claiming: "I really believe I'd run in there even if I didn't have a weapon."

Take it from there, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones: "Sure he would. This is the same guy who avoided going to Vietnam with 'bone spurs.'" Let's not forget that the trained sheriff's deputy on site at Stoneman Douglas failed to confront the shooter.

The idea of arming teachers sometimes is papered over with the caveat that such teachers ought to be specifically trained to respond to crises. Ken Trump scoffs at the very notion.

Thinking that "providing teachers, principals, custodians or other school staff with eight, 16 or even 60 hours of firearms training on firing, handling and holstering a gun somehow makes a non-law enforcement officer suddenly qualified to provide public safety services is an insult to our highly trained police professionals and a high risk to the safety of students, teachers and other school staff," he observes. "The issue really is the mind-set that goes with law enforcement. And law enforcement officers with hundreds of hours of training get scrutinized for their encounters on the streets."

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And that's not even to consider the specifics and possible consequences of any armed-teacher policy. Where should the weapons be when not in use? Loaded or unloaded? What are the rules for when teachers can draw? What are the prospects that students or others could get caught in a cross fire? How are law enforcement officers expected to distinguish between an active shooter and a non-uniformed teacher responding?

"The devil's always in the details," Ken Trump says.

Keep up to date with Michael Hiltzik. Follow @hiltzikm on Twitter, see his Facebook page, or email michael.hiltzik@latimes.com.

UPDATES:

7:00 a.m., Feb. 28: This post has been updated to clarify that California prohibits civilian school employees from bringing weapons into schools.

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