Headlines suggest America has had enough. Newtown, Connecticut implemented an armed security guard program. After Columbine, Aurora, and the recent shooting at Arapaho High School in Centennial, Colorado has had enough. By July 30, 2013, at least seven states had armed staffers. Three months later, a rural school in Colorado began allowing staff members and teacher to carry concealed handguns. Eight months after that, Missouri began training and arming at least some of their teachers. Utah followed suite, as did Oklahoma, Missouri, and a number of others states.
I originally wrote this article within days of the Sandy Hook shooting as the beginning of a blueprint schools might use to create a safe, sane, and responsible program for vetting and arming teachers while maximizing deterrence and minimizing risk. As a military veteran, I knew full well that all the blitheringly idiotic “Gun Free School Zone Act” did was to advertise the fact that the criminally insane would face far less of a counter threat by attacking people in a school than they would attacking people in in town. Fortunately enough people throughout our general populace held the same conviction, and states have been responding by developing their own vetting and training programs to arm school teachers and staff members.
To date, some of the Armed Teacher programs match what I wrote herein, but others have deviated. Some of those deviations are rather good, while others appear to opportunistic way for certain pseudo-military/law enforcement groups to make a lot of money while providing significantly lower quality training that is available through traditional military and law enforcement venues.
Thus, I am in the process of rewriting this article to incorporate some of the better ideas while highlighting what appear to be some of the worst and potentially dangerous ideas. Throughout, I maintain that not every individual who works in a school could or should be armed, for a variety of reasons.
Thus, I remain firmly convinced that all armed teachers should pass a simple but effective three-step process. First, they should be volunteers. Second, those who do volunteer should be fully vetted by law enforcement, peers, and school officials before acceptance into the program. Third, those who are vetted should excel at the third tier of security involving their proper training and qualification.
I’ve certainly had enough! As a parent, I can attest to the fact that most parents worry about the safety of their children. Yet even two years after I posted the first version of this article, today’s headlines read:
15-Year-Old Killed Trying to Shield Others From Gunfire
That could have been MY son. Or YOUR daughter. Or someone else’s brother, sister, cousin, niece, nephew, or grandchild.
The excuse that “these things just happen” does NOT apply to events that are PREVENTABLE. This has ceased to be an issue for the police department to solve. It’s a risk management issue for We the People to solve, and by “risk management,” I am referring to well-established science. Specifically, risk management involves forecasting and evaluating risks together with the identification of procedures to control, avoid, minimize, or eliminate unacceptable risks, and in my mind — and I’m pretty sure in the minds of everyone — the likelihood of our children being blown away while at school is not an acceptable risk!
So, what must we do to effectively manage this risk?
Effective risk management uses a combination of approaches:
Risk Acceptance: Risk acceptance does not reduce any effects however it is still considered a strategy. This strategy is a common option when the cost of other risk management options such as avoidance or limitation may outweigh the cost of the risk itself. An organization that doesn’t want to spend a lot of money on avoiding risks that do not have a high possibility of occurring will use the risk acceptance strategy.
Unfortunately, this is what municipalities do when they tell law enforcement, “we want our kids to be safe” and law enforcement responds with, “we can put a cop in every school, but it will cost more money.” When the municipality balks, they are accepting the risk.
The bad news is that this is almost always the end of the municipality’s approach to managing the risk to our kids! Frankly, I find that abominable. Fortunately, there are three other resources at our disposal:
Risk Avoidance: Risk avoidance is the opposite of risk acceptance. It is the action that avoids any exposure to the risk whatsoever. Risk avoidance is usually the most expensive of all risk mitigation options.
When parents want to avoid risk to their kids in school, they simply pull them out of school and home school the kids, instead. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many parents. The other option would occur on the side of schools, and that’s to keep all kids out of school!
Both these approaches, however, defeat the purpose of schools, which involves having kids attend school so they can learn.
Risk Mitigation: Risk mitigation is the most common risk management strategy. This strategy limits an organization’s exposure by taking some action. It is a strategy employing a bit of risk acceptance along with a bit of risk avoidance or an average of both.
For example, schools could start using expensive scanning equipment of the kind used at airports. Unfortunately, this approach is prohibitively expensive and not entirely effective.
Another mitigation technique involves forcing only the bad kids out of schools by means of suspension and expulsion.
Employing the services of school resource officers and/or security guards for purposes of both deterrent and intervention is another mitigation technique.
Finally, arming qualified teachers is another way to mitigate the risk by vastly increasing the response rate while lowering the response time. This is a highly effective means of deterring criminal behavior in the first place. After all, the vast majority of mass shootings over the last thirty years have targeted so-called gun-free zones precisely because law-abiding citizens in those areas have been disarmed. But what if they weren’t and the perpetrators knew it? They do the same thing they’re doing now by avoiding areas where people are likely to be armed and go elsewhere or not risk it in the first place.
Risk Transference: Risk transference is the involvement of handing risk off to a willing third party. For example, numerous companies outsource certain operations such as customer service, payroll services, etc. This can be beneficial for a company if a transferred risk is not a core competency of that company. It can also be used so a company can focus more on their core competencies.
Unfortunately, a school cannot transfer the process of educating children to another school better equipped to keep kids safe than they are. The resources to do that simply don’t exist.
So, what are We the People supposed to do when it comes to stopping these mass shootings, particularly in our schools?
First, We the People need to stop expecting law enforcement to be available on every street corner. For one, that’s simply impossible. According to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, “There are more than 900,000 sworn law enforcement officers now serving in the United States, which is the highest figure ever” (Source). According to the United States Census, however, there are currently (as of this writing), 322,359,989 people in the United States (Source). That’s a whopping 1 law enforcement officer for every 358 Americans, among the highest in the world, yet it’s still not enough.
In case you haven’t figure it out, yet, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out, no society can afford to hire a portion of its members to fully protect the rest. The key word, here, is “fully.” There’s some measure of protection with any ratio.
Or is there? Does law enforcement action actually do any active protection? When I Googled, “how law enforcement protects,” I found three entries:
- Qualified Immunity: How it Protects Law Enforcement Officers…
- Obama signs ‘Blue Alert’ law to protect police…
- Just Dial 911? The Myth of Police Protection…
In fact, on the first page of results, I found zero websites that could show how law enforcement officers actually do any protection at all. In fact, one entry, an article by the New York Times, headlined:
Justices Rule Police Do Not Have a Constitutional Duty to Protect Someone
Well, there you have it. “No duty to protect.” In fact, aside from the very rare occurrence whereby an officer just happens to be on site when a crime begins, the only protection offered by law enforcement is preventative in nature. Either the presence of a beat cop deters criminal activity, or an investigation after the fact may lead to incarcerating a criminal with potential for further mischief.
Second, answer the question: Who protects the American Public?
We the People do, that’s who. Armed citizens stop an estimated 650,000 to 800,000 violent crimes each year, usually without having to fire a shot.
Furthermore, contrary to popular misconception, we are not only considerably safer in doing so than most members of the police department, we are also more effective at permanently stopping the bad guys.
Are “school resource officers” (cops on beat at a school) an effective risk management solution? Well, somewhat. The knowledge that they’re in place is a mild to moderate deterrent. Since they’re on the scene and making friends with the kids, they often become wise to some events in time to deter them. Overall, however, they will never have as much interaction with the kids as do teachers.
As a retired member of the military, one whose duties included securing high value assets such as buildings, territory, and military aircraft, I can attest that regardless of whether your adversary is sane or not, the best deterrent is one which the bad guys believe changes the outcome for the worst, and to such an extent that they change their minds and never attempt bad behavior in the first place.
As reported about the latest school shooting in Colorado: “When an armed school resource officer entered the room, [the armed student] believed he was cornered and turned his gun on himself. The entire attack lasted approximately 80 seconds and was captured by security cameras.”
The problem with armed school resource officers is the same problem with all highly-trained law enforcement: There’s not a cop on every street corner. Most municipalities cannot afford to post an armed school resource officer at a high school all times when the school is open. For middle and grade schools, they’re spread pretty thin, with one SRO handling multiple schools. An SRO is often assigned to each high school, and multiple middle and grade schools. Thus, when he’s at the high school, the middle and grade schools are vulnerable, and vice versa. Hiring an armed security guard instead of paying a cop may save some bucks, but the school as well a local law enforcement looses some control.
Third, greatly increase the effectiveness of deterrence and on-the-spot stopping power by augmenting school resource officers and security guards ten-fold or more.
This is why I fully support an Armed Teachers program as an effective component of risk management, provided certain reservations are addressed. For example, you certainly don’t want to arm every teacher. Many teachers, for example, do not have the inclination, training, or temperament required to successfully confront an armed shooter. Other teachers do not have the appropriate level of maturity and responsibility to be entrusted with the possession of a firearm in the classroom.
Many people think the idea of armed teachers is abhorrent. I find the idea of unprotected school children in these poorly-named “gun-free zones” to be abhorrent. In fact, I think the politicians behind “gun-free zones” should be held responsible, if not criminally liable, for the deaths of the more than 300 school children who have been murdered to date, as their Gun Free School Zone Act has contributed to the targeting of schools by these mass shooters. GFZ’s boast a mortality rate many times greater than areas in which Americans’ right to keep and bear arms is not infringed.
Disarming a populace has never lead to an overall decrease in violent crime. The type of crime shifts (fewer gun murders, more murders by knife, bat, tire iron, etc.), but the overall incident in violent crime always increases. Cases in point: England and Australia. Before disarmament, their violent crime rates were on par with that of the U.S. England’s is now triple that of the U.S. and Australia’s is more than double.
Clearly, that route does not work.
Surprisingly, I do not advocate “arming” teachers. That’s an action verb, implying you’re putting a firearm in the hands of a teacher who may be reluctant to receive it, but may also feel obligated to pony up, yet who may not be either properly trained or ready to handle that responsibility. On the other hand, some teachers are very well-suited for the responsibility. Most people are unaware that some teachers are former law enforcement or military service members. Other suitable teachers include well-trained, honest, law-abiding citizens who possess the right qualities.
I most certainly support allowing at least some teachers to be armed. Lest we forget, however, all six of the last shooting sprees were committed by liberals, and our schools are hotbeds of liberal activity, so we do need to be careful about who we allow to be armed in our schools. 🙂
Many objections have been raised concerning the arming of teachers, including both “freeze-up” and the opposite side of the coin, an unbridled response which kills innocent civilians. Fifty years of FBI statistics clearly indicate that armed citizens are less likely to kill innocent civilians than well-trained law enforcement officers in a given shooting incident. If anything, citizens are overly cautious. I strongly suspect the reason is because most armed citizens are reluctant to fire unless it becomes absolutely necessary, while most law enforcement officers are trained to stop crimes in progress.
In fact, armed citizens are 6.2 times safer than law enforcement officers in terms of stopping shooting sprees! 14.3 average deaths occur when law enforcement stops a shooting spree. Recall the 2012 shooting at the Empire State Building in 2012: New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said all nine bystanders wounded in Friday’s Empire State Building shooting had been hit with police gunfire. Link to CNN article. “…the bystanders were not hit directly by police, but rather the officers’ struck “flowerpots and other objects around, so … their bullets fragmented and, in essence, that’s what caused the wounds.”
Yeah, right. And I’ve got a bridge on some swamp land I can sell you cheap…
Regardless, had they hit their intended targets, there would have been no ricochets. Instead, they missed, either because they were poorly trained, panicked, or both.
Meanwhile, just 2.3 deaths occur on average when a shooting spree is stopped by an armed citizen. That’s not necessarily because law enforcement is less effective than armed civilians. In large part it’s because there are far many more armed civilians (around 5 to 6 million) out there than there are police officers (about 800 thousand). It’s a simple matter of response times: The sooner you can stop the shooter, the more lives will be saved, and seconds count, big time. The police responded to the Holmes shooting in just 90 seconds, yet look how many people he managed to wound or murder. Good on the police for getting there in record time, but it’s clear 90 seconds is far two long. “When seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” Had I or any number of my friends who routinely carry been at that theater, we would have put down the shooter in less than 5 seconds. Then again, I’ve trained for over 20 years to do just that.
Even with minimal training, however, the armed citizen is still highly effective. Recall the mother who was trying to escape the armed intruding by hiding in the attic with her children. She fired all six rounds, hitting the perpetrator five times, and stopping his attack. That’s pretty good shooting.
These statistics indicate we’re safer in the hands of armed citizens, simply because we are everywhere. We’re also less likely to shoot without being absolutely certain of our target. We are indeed effective: Well over a million crimes each year are stopped in progress by armed civilians, and roughly 700,000 of those crimes would have involved violence. The deterrent factor alone is well worth implementing an armed teacher program. Disarming everyone clearly doesn’t work: Gun free zones occupy less than 10% of the locations frequented by citizens in the U.S., yet they account for more than 75% of all shooting spree deaths.
Keeping in mind the above statistics, information, and rationale, let’s consider how we might proceed:
1. Allow teachers to volunteer for this position. Just as we have an all-volunteer military, we don’t want to repeat the mistake of forcing firearms into the hands of those whose hearts aren’t into it.
2. Vet the volunteers with recommendations from the principal, a panel, peers, or possibly the school board, or some combination thereof. Additional background screening should be done by the local police department. Establish clear “no-go” criteria that would halt the process for any single individual. Refer to the military’s Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) for guidance. No one individual should have absolute approval authority. Instead, they should have the authority to rank order the volunteers based on the inputs from a variety of sources, and provide recommendations as to why any teacher should or should not be considered for this position. A four-party panel consisting of the school principal, an Armed Teacher liaison in the police department, a representative from the teachers’ union, and a representative from the parent community should
3. Establish a minimum number or percentage of teachers who carry. This will prevent parties resistant to the idea from disqualifying everyone. It might be prudent to have a maximum number or percentage of teachers who carry, as well, simply to keep the quality of volunteers high. Regardless of the school size, I would recommend at least three armed teachers, and a maximum number of teachers to coincide with the number of exits, or 1/2 of 1% of the school population, whichever is greater. In my high school, we had around 2,500 students and approximately 10 exits, hence this “formula.” 🙂 I know for a fact we had at least 12 well-qualified and entirely trustworthy teachers for this role. That would come to approximately 5% of the population of teachers.
4. Priority should be given to teachers with a long history at that school (or within that school system), as well as former members of law enforcement and the military i.e. those who are well-trained in both the use and withholding the use of lethal force. I would recommend at least three years of history. Provided their service records are clear, teachers from law enforcement and military backgrounds have the requisite training to think and act both clearly and decisively while under fire.
5. Once vetted, armed teachers should be trained by the same specialists in the local police depart who train new recruits and/or who conduct recurrent training for sworn officers. They should also be trained alongside the same school resource officer(s) with whom they’ll be working, in both tactics and procedures. The training should include responses to school shootings and other potential and immediate life-threatening events, while also including identification of situations not requiring the immediate intervention of an armed teacher, when a call to an SRO would be the best course of action. Finally, as not all members of law enforcement and the military are ideally suited to react appropriately, this training should double as a screening program.
6. Some additional compensation should be given to those teachers who elect to put themselves in harm’s way. I recommend a stipend of 5% premium above their salary,
7. Armed teachers should be allowed to use their own firearms, provided they meet certain criteria common to self-supplied weapons allowed for law enforcement officers, such as minimum and maximum rounds, calibers, and barrel lengths. I would recommend calibers to include 9mm, 10mm, 40 caliber, and 45 caliber, with heavy precedence, if not insistence, on hallow-point rounds so as to minimize over-penetration. Magazines should not be limited, but they should be at least 7 rounds, commensurate with the M1911’s common configuration. I believe a common sense upper limit to be the common 16-round magazines. Teachers should be required to carry enough spare magazines so as to afford them access to at least 30 rounds. I feel it’s important to ensure both armed teachers and SRO’s have a similar number of rounds as do most police officers, if not most school shooters. Last time I checked, that’s at least 48 rounds, plus one in the chamber, for a total of 49. Personally, I carry 33 as an absolute minimum, and upwards of 55 when I’m traveling into or through higher threat areas.
8. Teachers who volunteer, vetted, and trained should be required to bring their firearms to school each and every day, and should check in with SROs as to whether or not they’re carrying that day. As with law enforcement and pilots, however, some circumstances, including illness, the use of many medications, and levels of personal stress should be automatic excuses for not carrying.
9. Legislation is required to protect these brave civilians, not from all culpability, but at least from acting in a manner commensurate with their training, the same as with law enforcement.
I may add to this later, on advice and recommendations from readers. 🙂
UPDATE: In the last year, 9 states have adopted plans to arm their teachers, and candidates are currently undergoing training. More…
UPDATE 2: Some states are now enacting this or a similar program, even though in so doing they’re directly violating federal law (gun free school zone act of 1990 – ruled un-Constitutional in 1995, resurrected from the dead by Janet Reno in 1996).
Federal exceptions to the GFSZ Act include:
1. Carrying or storing a firearm in one’s car on school grounds by CC permit holders, provided state law allows the exception.
2. Peace officers when their duties require their armed presence on school grounds.
The solution is simple: Deputize teachers. Not before they’re screened, selected, and well-trained, however…
UPDATE 3: Click here to read more about the Okey School System that has armed their staff.