Gary Abernathy, a contributing columnist for The Post, is a freelance writer and former newspaper editor based in Hillsboro, Ohio.
A recommendation this week by the Trump administration’s Federal Commission on School Safety that school systems consider arming staff was predictably greeted with opposition and outrage, but in many parts of the country, teachers are already packing heat, with full community support.
In the wake of school shootings across the nation in recent years, several southern Ohio school districts, like others around the nation, began hiring armed security guards. Others, though — whose budgets don’t allow for employing additional personnel — decided to arm a certain number of teachers.
For example, the board of the Bright Local School District, located in Highland County, Ohio, voted unanimously to support a policy allowing some staff members who volunteer for the duty to carry firearms beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.
The superintendent explained to the Times-Gazette of Hillsboro at the time, “We have no local law enforcement within an 18-mile radius that we know will be on duty full-time during the school day. There are no issues that we know of, and no reason to suspect there will be, but one of our main duties besides educating children is protecting our students and staff.”
The teachers who agree to be armed — and the district does not disclose who they are — must undergo extensive training and possess a concealed-carry permit.
A year and a half later, the superintendent told the newspaper the community response has been “nothing but positive. . . . But, we did it right. We talked to the community, we talked to organizations and we held meetings. I think our kids feel safer.” Other districts across the region and state have also armed select teachers, although there are no firm numbers available on how many schools are implementing the policy.
As expected, the new school safety recommendations were ridiculed by those who think more gun control is the answer. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) spoke for many when he claimed, “Teachers don’t want this. Parents don’t want this. Only Betsy DeVos, President Trump and the gun industry think the best way to stop a school shooting is to load schools up with guns. . . . It’s nonsensical and dangerous.”
Around here, the “gun culture” doesn’t carry the negative connotation associated with it elsewhere. Guns are handed down from generation to generation. A cherished keepsake is often a rifle or shotgun gifted from father to son, sometimes mother to daughter. The negativity with which guns are often labeled is a mystery to most rural Americans; here they are as much a part of life as four-wheelers and dirt bikes.
Many schools close on the day deer hunting season starts so students can participate, and their pictures often appear in local newspapers as they pose proudly with the game they bagged.
Likewise, local sheriffs sometimes find it challenging to keep up with the demand for concealed-carry licenses, although the Highland County Sheriff’s Office does such a good job turning them around quickly that people from neighboring counties come here to process their applications.
Guns are often awarded here as raffle prizes at fundraisers. A common advertisement in local newspapers is a special sale on rounds of ammunition by a neighborhood hardware store.
A Pew Research Center study in 2017 reported that nearly 6 in 10 rural Americans say they have a gun in their household, but my guess is the real numbers are higher. The study found that while hunting is one reason rural Americans own guns, 82 percent of rural gun owners said owning a firearm is “essential to their personal sense of freedom.”
“But you don’t need a semiautomatic rifle for hunting,” critics say, trotting out the most extreme examples in the gun debate. Need it? Who decides? Do we allow people on the left side of the political spectrum to decide constitutional limits for those on the right based on what they think other people need? Can the right decide constitutional rights for people on the left based on “need”?
In most rural communities, it’s not even a debate — of course our schools should be protected by people carrying guns. “The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” is an adage not even open to question around here and is the most likely response on how to prevent mass shootings where a gunman keeps firing until armed responders finally arrive.
Is the notion of arming teachers “nonsensical and dangerous” or “nothing but positive”? Like so many things that divide us in red and blue America, it depends on where you live. Move here, and you might win a gun — whether someone else thinks you need it or not.