The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Newt Gingrich offered one of the worst school-shooter plans yet

In this June 29, 2019 photo, Cindy Bullock, a secretary at Timpanogos Academy, participates in shooting drills at the Utah County Sheriff's Office shooting range in Spanish Fork Canyon, Utah. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Former House speaker Newt Gingrich is an official Fox News contributor, meaning that his job, in part, is to appear on the network’s programs and talk about things. In the wake of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Tex. this week, that meant going on Fox News to talk about that tragedy and offering some words. Didn’t matter what words, really; he could have said just about anything. Could have kept a low profile and dusted off his hands.

Instead, during an appearance on Laura Ingraham’s show Wednesday night, Gingrich went the other direction, offering up some thoughts that stand out in a crowded field for their baffling implications.

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Here is Gingrich’s plan.

“Every school in the country ought to have five or 10 people paid $500 a month or more extra — that would be a rational federal program to pay every teacher who’s willing to be trained and armed to protect the children — teachers and administrators,” he said. “But we don’t have that kind of conversation. We’re all stuck up in some high political baloney” — baloney led, he added, by President Biden.

The beauty of this idea, of course, is that it sort of makes sense in the abstract. Yeah, why not outsource protection of schools to people who are already there? Mean-spirited critics might note that this is a form of defunding the police, but we can set that aside. Pay teachers to carry guns and stop school shootings. Done and done.

That’s where you land if you think about this for 2.3 seconds or less. Get to the 2.4-second mark and suddenly you realize: Wait. That’s stupid.

One reason that it is stupid is that it is outrageously expensive.

If you just say the number out loud — $500 a month — it sounds like not that much. About $6,000 a year in extra compensation for those teachers or administrators to be armed and trained. But then you remember we’re talking about at least five such teachers per school, raising the total to $30,000. Still not that much.

However, there are just under 131,000 schools in the United States. (That’s public schools; there are tens of thousands more private schools, but we’ll just focus on the public ones.) What happens when you multiply 131,000 by $30,000? You end up just south of $4 billion in new costs.

That’s just the compensation and just one year. They need to be armed, too, remember. If they’re using handguns like the Glock G17, that’s a one-time cost of $599 per participant. Or about $389 million. And then there’s training. One training regimen costs $16,500 for 50 people — meaning another $214 million.

Now the total cost is about $4.5 billion. And at least $3.9 billion of that — the compensation — is annual. If the trainings are annual, too, the yearly cost jumps to $4.1 billion.

And this is at the lower end of Gingrich’s proposal. Remember, he said “five or 10 people” and “$500 a month or more.” If we assume it’s 10 people and $750 a month, the cost for the first year becomes $12.9 billion, including firearms, one set of trainings and compensation.

For the sake of contrast, consider how much it would cost if the country wanted to buy back all of the AR-15-style rifles that are in circulation. There are probably about 20 million currently owned in the United States, retailing new for about $700. Buying all of those back at $700 apiece would cost $14 billion.

Even at Gingrich’s lower five-people-at-$500 rate, the cost of buying back every AR-15-style rifle would be less expensive than paying for and training armed teachers for four years.

Or course, another reason his plan is stupid is that it assumes remarkable proficiency.

Teachers would be expected to react quickly in the event of a shooting, drawing their firearms — which they would presumably have at their hips — and engaging a shooter who recent experience shows would likely be armed with a semiautomatic rifle. You’ll recall that an armed security guard in Buffalo tried to take down the mass shooter at a grocery store in that city earlier this month, only to be shot to death. But these teachers, suddenly shifting from teacher to SWAT-team duty, are expected to fare better.

There are just countless questions here. Are the teachers meant to meet up and form a roaming vigilante squad? Do they just go out in the hall and try to engage the shooter without hitting anyone else? Do they wait until the shooter tries to enter their classroom? How would this work? I suppose it would be covered in the $214 million spent on training, but it seems pretty obvious that shunting armed defense onto teachers, school principals and lunchroom personnel might be suboptimal.

The main reason Gingrich’s idea is stupid, though, is that it doesn’t actually prevent school shootings.

His plan is reactive: A shooter comes into the building and teachers respond. Again we can look at the example of the mass shooting in Dayton in 2019: police (not teachers) took down the shooter in about half a minute, during which time nine people were shot to death. How many might die by the time the teachers could respond?

Just consider what happened in Uvalde, the incident to which Gingrich is proposing a response. The gunman enters the school — assuming in our Gingrichian scenario that a teacher or office secretary doesn’t manage to take him down immediately — and enters a classroom where he locks the door. Now what? Do the five armed teachers push past the (inexplicably inactive) police officers and force their way in?

This article is itself a disservice, admittedly, since it treats Gingrich’s proposal as serious. His proposal was not serious. It was, instead, something to say that met the needs of his position as a Fox News contributor: giving primacy to toughness over rationality and focusing first on coming up with solutions that don’t involve limiting guns.

In that regard, his appearance was a success.