Arming teachers to protect students is 'risky' and 'misguided', warn experts after Texas governor signs school safety bill into law

The school safety bill was a response to the tragic Santa Fe High School shooting that happened in 2018 near Houston where a student shot and killed eight students, two substitute teachers and ended up injuring 13 others.  


                            Arming teachers to protect students is 'risky' and 'misguided', warn experts after Texas governor signs school safety bill into law

Last week, Texas governor Greg Abbott signed into law several measures meant to magnify school security and one of them included allowing as many armed teachers in schools and classrooms as local officials see fit.

The law was a response to the tragic Santa Fe High School shooting that happened in 2018 near Houston where a student shot and killed eight students, two substitute teachers and ended up injuring 13 others.  The HB 1387, although meant well, will not solve the problem of school shootings, say experts and parents but instead will be a cause of greater concern. It is neither a quick fix and nor a deterrent but just really bad policy, they say, putting children’s lives at increased risk. 

 Emergency medical personnel in the Santa Fe High School parking lot where 10 students were shot and killed on May 18, 2018 in Santa Fe, Texas. At least 10 people were killed when a gunman opened fire at Santa Fe High school. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

"The presence of a gun could be threatening to some people, both students or other teachers," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association to MEA World Wide. He added that while knowing that a person is trained is interesting but training and competence are different things. "Even well-trained police officers make mistakes. Teachers should be supported to teach as their only priority. A determined assailant may find a way to attack despite the presence of armed teachers," he said.

The notion that a teacher can at the same time educate students and protect them against an active shooter by carrying a gun is pure fantasy, said Bill Durston, President of Americans Against Gun Violence. He said, noting the warnings of an FBI report, where J. Pete Blair, one of the authors said, that the last thing one should do in an active shooter event is to pull their gun and go looking for the shooter. In addition to the risk of shooting an innocent person, he warned that someone who draws a concealed weapon increases the chances of being shot himself or herself by the perpetrator, by someone else in the crowd with a concealed handgun, or by police who respond to the incident.

Pictures of victims of the Santa Fe High School shooting are displayed during a prayer vigil at Walter Hall Park on May 20, 2018 in League City, Texas. 17-year-old student Dimitrios Pagourtzis entered the school with a shotgun and a pistol and opened fire, killing 10 people. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

"A teacher who pulls a gun out during a shooting in progress is also likely to shoot an innocent student in the confusion of an active shooter incident," he said. High school students, in fact, did not want teachers to be armed. A 2019 Americans Against Gun Violence National High School Essay Contest found that students felt that the teachers who are most likely to bring guns to school are the ones that student trust the least with a gun and who are, in general, the worst teachers, plus active shooter drills in high schools create significant psychological trauma in students.

It gets worse once you think about the potential bias that can occur, Durston said. People often bring their biases to the workplace and it would definitely affect the minority students in a negative way. "A student of color is likely to be misidentified as a shooter by a white teacher," he said. It could increase the risk of injury or death to the group that the armed individual has a negative bias towards," said Dr. Benjamin.

"To actually prevent these incidents and put a stop to youth gun violence, they need to dig much deeper," said Alisha Somji, associate program manager at Prevention Institute. "Putting guns in the hands of teachers does not align with our approach. In taking a public health approach to preventing gun violence, we also believe that solutions need to expand beyond gun access and focus on the underlying reasons that gun violence is occurring in the first place," she said. Strategies that address the root causes such as youth employment, neighborhood economic development, safe parks, restoring vacant land, and reducing alcohol outlet density would be a step towards the right direction, she said

Following the implementation of Minneapolis’ Blueprint for Action to Prevent Youth Violence, which prioritized prevention and upstream strategies, the City experienced a 62% reduction in youth gunshot victims, a 34% reduction in youth victims of crime, and a 76% reduction in youth arrests with a gun from 2007-2015, she pointed out. Furthermore, existing research shows that increased gun access and gun possession are not associated with protection from violence. According to Sonali Rajan and Charles C. Branas of Columbia University, "This suggests that increasing the presence of guns in the hands of civilians in schools, no matter how well-intentioned, may backfire."

Instead of making them feel safe, it could contribute to a culture of fear. "Make no mistake: Governor Abbott’s decision today will have negative consequences for our children,” said Hilary Whitfield, a volunteer leader with the Texas chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. "With an unlimited number of guns allowed in schools, it’s only a matter of time until a child is unintentionally injured. So our fight doesn’t end here; we’ll be going district to district to urge school boards to reject this risky, misguided program," she said.

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