The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Teachers are outraged at the idea of carrying weapons. And they should be.

A warning sign outside a school in Claude, Tex., in 2016.
A warning sign outside a school in Claude, Tex., in 2016. (Creede Newton/AP)

When we slashed budgets, America’s teachers paid for their own art supplies. They volunteer to supervise the senior dance, and yes, they spend their evenings grading papers and answering emails from parents.

But weapons training?

“We’re already asked to wear too many hats throughout the course of the day,” said Christine Campbell, a high school chemistry teacher in Wilmington, Del. “Teachers are outraged by this.”

They should be.

The proposal by President Trump, the National Rifle Association and some lawmakers to arm teachers as a solution to America’s sick epidemic of school shootings is preposterous. It is a transparent effort to stave off the common-sense gun-control measures being pushed by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who survived a horrifying mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., last week.

“I am a combat veteran of the war in Vietnam,” a teacher from Pennsylvania who retired after 32 years in the classroom wrote to me. Ed Mihalacki is a guy who understands how a human head responds when it is targeted by M-16 automatic rifles, M-14s, M-60 machine guns, .45-caliber pistols and .38-caliber pistols.

“With that in mind . . . I would NEVER carry a weapon into a classroom. EVER.”

The politicians who have been bought by the NRA want to train teachers to carry arms in classrooms — though Trump was quick to tweet he meant only about 20 percent of teachers with “military or special training experience” who could “immediately fire back if a savage sicko came to a school with bad intentions.”

A memorial to the children gunned down in our schools? Yes, right on Congress’s doorstep.

Here in Washington, we have multiple police forces trained to carry weapons. So I went to someone who does this for a living, a retired law enforcement officer who once trained a large force of armed officers. I cannot use his name or the agency he worked for.

But this is the nation’s capital, so you know I am not talking to the sheriff of Hicksville and his four deputies.

“It’s not as simple as just putting a pistol in a school,” he said. “There are enormous issues.”

First, it takes at least 100 hours of work before an officer who is trained to use weapons in crisis situations is ready for action. This goes beyond a gun, bullets and a paper target, the trainer said.

“The building blocks to put round [of ammo] on a threat — we don’t call them a target, we call them a threat — involve more than the fundamentals of shooting, which are sight picture, grip, trigger control,” he said. “When we give our officers and agents guns, every situation [he or she] is in is a shoot-or-don’t-shoot situation.”

It is not just target practice. It is about assessing the scene and knowing whether it is really a situation that calls for gunfire.

That is a complex and sensitive issue law enforcement officers across the nation have wrangled with for ages.

Classrooms can be chaotic. In many school shootings, it is a student who is the shooter. What about a child running for cover? What about a student who starts acting up in the middle of class? We are asking a lot of teachers in such a frenetic scenario.

Campbell, the chemistry teacher, said she talked to her students about it. They said they would not feel comfortable in a school full of armed adults. “Like those airports in Third World countries where you see them standing around with guns out in the open,” she said.

Our retired weapons trainer said he had a whole team of folks, an armory, who did nothing but service and maintenance on thousands of firearms.

If we decide to dole out the money to arm some teachers — around $600 to $700 for the average service weapon and around $10 for a box of ammo — who will be responsible for the maintenance?

“At this rate firearms purchases and money spent on training will soon become tax deductible for educators,” said a frustrated Lester Green, a music teacher at Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Northwest Washington. “Do we also get to write off Kevlar vests?”

He would leave teaching before carrying a weapon.

So would the other two teachers I interviewed.

Hello, lawmakers, this is reality calling.

Because it is not just the 100 hours of training to get them ready to shoot.

Some police departments require their officers to renew their training and requalify on the range every year. Elite forces may require quarterly or even monthly training. What will it be for teachers?

All parents are familiar with the “professional development day” thing, when our kids get random days off from school so their teachers can learn new curriculum and policies. Now they will add days off to go to the shooting range?

Then there is storage. Law enforcement agencies have sophisticated, temperature-controlled and heavily fortified storage facilities.

Schools cannot keep kids from hacking into grading systems, and now they may have to find a way to safely store a small arsenal? Or will teachers be asked to take their service weapons home every night?

“When hearing the idea of arming as many as 20 percent of teachers with guns, the overwhelming reaction of Maryland educators is total disbelief. How could any elected official really believe that putting so many more guns in schools could make them safer?” said Betty Weller, president of the Maryland State Education Association, which represents more than 74,000 educators across the state. “It’s why you’re seeing educators across the state take to social media to talk about arming us with more school counselors and psychologists, more time to work on social and emotional learning and less time testing, and smaller class sizes so we can devote more attention to each and every student.”

I tried to reach teachers at Maryland’s Clarksburg High School, where police found an AR-15 style rifle, a shotgun, two handguns, ammunition and a tactical vest in the home of a student who was jailed for allegedly bringing a loaded 9mm handgun to school.

This is the second time the student, Alwin Chen, brought a gun to school, Montgomery County officials said.

But I doubt they would have said anything different from Sue Kochman, who teaches at Hempfield Area High School in southwestern Pennsylvania.

“I have been a high school English teacher for 30 years, and I assure you we do not want to carry weapons,” Kochman said.

Her school already has armed guards and active-shooter training, and Kochman said she believes that is enough classroom prevention.

“I will never carry a gun,” she said. “I want kids to believe that the pen is mightier than the sword.”

Twitter: @petulad

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