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Op-Ed: As a gun-owning former teacher, I can tell you: Arming teachers will only amplify our woes

Flowers and hearts surround a memorial with crosses bearing the names of the dead.
A memorial outside the Uvalde, Texas, elementary school where 19 children and two teachers were killed on May 24.
(Molly Hennessy-Fiske / Los Angeles Times)

Days ago, the governor of Ohio signed into law a bill that allows teachers to be armed after 24 hours of training. A very bad idea, I think. But who am I?

I am a retired teacher. A teacher who taught four elementary students whose mothers were murdered. A teacher with a fifth-grader in my Castroville, Calif., classroom who 18 years later went on a murderous rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater. A teacher who has had too many former students go to prison for gang shootings. I also grew up with guns. I own two pistols and two rifles.

Arming teachers does not solve the problem — it amplifies it. As a teacher of 34 years and a teachers union representative, I’ll start with: Have you ever been to a teachers’ staff meeting? They can be chaotic. Picture all of your fellow employees or your relatives at Thanksgiving. Would you like them all to be armed? Even some of them? Perhaps only administrators should be armed? Regardless of your profession, would you want your boss to have a weapon?

Over the years, I’ve seen my share of unhinged teachers and administrators. When I say unhinged I mean Grade A “coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs” out of control. Throw in the normal bell curve of IQ in any group, and it’s clear that at least some teachers and administrators should never have guns.

Even after 19 children were murdered in class in Uvalde, Texas, the National Rifle Assn. and its supporters argued that to prevent mass shootings in schools teachers should be armed — just give them training in how to use a gun.

Law-enforcement officers across the country unintentionally fire their weapons every year, causing hundreds of injuries and sometimes death. Experts say police officers don’t get the training they need to proficiently handle a gun. If trained professionals accidentally kill people in life-or-death situations, teachers don’t stand a chance.

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People are people, and they are fine until the moment they: drink too much, are enraged, drug addled, stupid, religiously imbued, fired, divorced, shamed, unemployed, emotionally destroyed, bankrupted, have a mental breakdown and act even stupider. At such moments, with no previous indication of rage, they can make poor decisions. If armed, they can and will make tragic decisions, but now, if they are teachers, they are armed and surrounded by kids.

Sixth-grade teacher Michelle Ferguson-Montgomery injured herself when her gun accidentally went off in the bathroom of a Utah school. An Idaho State University instructor accidentally fired his concealed gun in the middle of class and shot himself in the foot. Remember the teacher who a few years ago fired a gun into a California classroom ceiling? He’s a friend of mine. A wonderful person and smart, most of the time.

Kids seek attention. Some kid somewhere will bring a fake gun to school and a teacher will have to decide in an instant whether to shoot a child who is aiming a gun at someone. Ever viewed any of the endless videos of kids attacking teachers or substitute teachers? Giving the teacher a gun would only up the ante.

Somewhere a teacher will forget that gun, accidentally leaving it behind where someone could find it and use it. One of my police officer friends regularly “loses” his gun. Once he left it in a coffee shop. Another time he left it unlocked in his car. And at a shooting range, a 9mm bullet from his Glock ricocheted off the pavement because he forgot it was loaded. And he’s a highly trained, dedicated cop.

Arming teachers is bad in every way. The solution is to limit access to guns, not provide the gun manufacturing business with a new revenue stream.

Should a teacher really be in the position of having to decide to shoot a student? Or a parent? When the police arrive post-shooting, will they shoot the teacher holding the weapon?

The variables are limitless, unforeseen and all ugly. Teachers and teaching are in many ways sacred. Sacred in much the same way our relationship with a member of the clergy is; there is trust. Teachers act as designated childcare custodians who care for kids in place of their parents. When students are with us, we pledge to keep them free from harm. We can’t shoot them.

The vast majority of Americans want universal background checks. Without them, we protect the following individuals: murderers, rapists, child molesters, arsonists, domestic abusers, and the felon and criminal class. Without them, we sell more weaponry and more people die. So many of them are kids in classrooms.

Schools need to be a sacred place of learning. If the public wants to arm us, do so by providing us with the services to help kids who are experiencing serious mental health or behavioral challenges. Give us more nurses, psychologists and other wrap-around services. Please put police officers in schools where parents desire them.

But armed teachers have no place in a classroom.

Paul Karrer is a writer in Monterey. He taught fifth grade in Castroville for 27 years.


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