Should Teachers Carry Guns? The Debate, Explained
The idea of arming teachers—or loosening state restrictions to allow concealed-carry permit holders to bring guns into schools—is often circulated after school attacks. It gained attention after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012 and was revived in the wake of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
Recently, the sheriff leading a Florida commission investigating the Parkland massacre said he believed trained, volunteer teachers should have access to guns as a last line of defense in a school shooting.
And earlier this fall, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made it clear that she believes districts have the flexibility to use federal funds to arm teachers.
But putting guns in the hands of school staff is often met with resistance from educators, who say they don't want the responsibility of carrying and securing a firearm on top of their already demanding jobs. Many teachers believe that arming themselves—and their peers—would make schools less safe.
Here’s what you need to know about the divisive issue:
Who Supports the Idea?
President Trump, for one. At a speech just after the Parkland shooting, he argued that armed teachers with training and experience who "love their students" might be better able to protect them in an active shooting scenario than an armed police officer.
"A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened," Trump said, referring to the former student who is accused of the slayings.
DeVos herself is not opposed to arming educators. At her Senate confirmation hearing in 2017, she suggested teachers may need guns to ward off "potential" grizzly bears. As the leader of a federal school safety commission, she’s also been hearing from some supporters of the idea.
Not surprisingly, gun-rights advocates have long pushed for laws that allow educators to carry weapons.
And education officials in Texas, where some educators are already packing heat at school, are in favor of it. They were the ones who asked DeVos and her staff if certain federal funds could be used by school districts to pay for firearms and firearms training for school-based staff.
There Are Already Teachers Carrying Guns at School
Many schools are “gun-free zones,” but the federal Gun-Free School Zones Act allows states to authorize certain individuals to carry firearms on school grounds.
In addition to Texas, the states of Utah, Wyoming, and South Dakota allow staff members—with certain caveats—to carry guns on school grounds.
According to Everytown for Gun Safety—a gun-control advocacy group—15 states allow concealed carry of some sort in schools, and this year two dozen states considered similar policies:
Adopting a Policy for Arming Teachers Could Be a Minefield
Among the questions schools who want to arm staff members have to answer:
- who—exactly—is authorized to carry a firearm,
- where should guns be stored, and
- should armed employees get some sort of bonus.
There’s also the thorny question of liability: Who would be responsible if something went wrong? Many things could go wrong, experts say—a student could find or steal a teacher's firearm, the weapon could accidentally discharge, or a teacher could shoot an innocent bystander during an active-shooter situation.
Arming staff could get expensive. A high-quality, name-brand, semi-automatic pistol or other type of handgun could run anywhere from $500 to $1,200. And the idea of diverting already stretched resources to these and other costs such as firearms training could be a very tough sell. (Perhaps that’s why Texas is asking if its districts can tap into those federal dollars.)
Who Opposes the Idea?
All the major teacher, principal, school employee, and school security organizations oppose guns in schools, except when carried by a police or security officer.
And so do most teachers and Americans.
A 2015 CBS News/New York Times poll found that 57 percent of all respondents opposed allowing teachers and staff to carry guns in schools, though the idea was more popular among Republicans.
Among educators, the idea is even less popular, according to recent surveys:
- Teach Plus, a national advocacy group for teacher leadership, polled 1,233 teachers and found nearly 80 percent said they strongly oppose arming teachers in school.
- The National Education Association surveyed 1,000 of its members and 82 percent of respondents said they would not carry a gun to school even if they had firearms training and were allowed to do so.
- And a Gallup poll found less than 30 percent of teachers think that arming teachers would be very or somewhat effective in limiting the number of victims in a school shooting.
Education Week has spoken to many educators who think carrying a concealed weapon is a bad idea, including school shooting survivors themselves.
Second grade teacher Abbey Clements was hunkered down with her students at Sandy Hook Elementary School as the country’s deadliest K-12 school shooting was taking place. "We're not trained sharp shooters, we're not trained first responders," Clements said. "We are caregivers. ... I'm sure every educator out there would say that we want school safety, but arming teachers is not the answer."
"I think we should have more security at school, but I don't want our school to feel like a prison," said Adeena Teres, a science teacher at Marjory Stoneman Douglas and the owner of a concealed-carry permit.
Jim Moffatt, a retired principal who was shot by a student at Fergus High School in Lewistown, Mont., in 1986, actively campaigns against legislative efforts to arm teachers:
While their numbers may be smaller than those who oppose carrying guns, there are teachers, principals, and superintendents who favor it.
Brian Teucke, an 8th grade civics and economics teacher in Hampton Roads, Va., said having a military background makes him "somewhat of an aberration" among his colleagues. He has a concealed-carry permit and would be willing to carry a gun to school. His students, he said, have told him they would appreciate that extra level of security.
"I do think it's reasonable for someone like me, but if you look at the landscape of American educators at large, I don't think it's realistic," he said. "I don't represent the majority of teachers."
Jeffrey Woofter, a former sheriff and the superintendent of West Virginia's Barbour County school district, does not think that all school personnel should be armed either. But he believes that trained staff should be allowed to carry concealed weapons or have access to concealed weapons on campus.
"Schools are just sitting ducks because people know that you are not permitted to carry in schools, and that just makes them vulnerable," Woofter said.
• Will States Allow Districts to Arm Educators Using Federal Funds?
• Video: School Shootings Ignite Controversial Proposals Around Arming Teachers
• No, Teachers Should Not Carry Guns (Commentary)
• Educators Join New Fight to Block Guns in Schools
• For the Record: Not All Educators Oppose Arming Teachers, Staff