In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, President Donald Trump has suggested arming a fifth of the nation’s teachers, including those who are military veterans or otherwise trained with firearms, as well as giving bonuses to educators who agree to carry.
The proposal, though, poses a host of problems, experts say: While there’s no central data on how many teachers are military veterans or have gun training, all evidence points to the fact that it’s nowhere near 20 percent of teachers. Among those who do have such training, some say they still wouldn’t feel comfortable carrying a weapon into the classroom, while others worry about the logistics of safely and effectively arming teachers.
“I think if you arm teachers, you’re opening up a Pandora’s box of issues,” said Anthony McCurdy, a high school special education teacher in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, and a military veteran.
There is the question of liability: Who would be responsible if something went wrong? And 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.
Just last week, a teacher in Georgia was taken into police custody after he barricaded himself inside an empty classroom, where he fired at least one shot. Nobody was injured, but the incident raised additional questions about how educators might be screened for mental-health issues before they are armed.
Still, arming teachers isn’t an entirely new proposition: States like Texas and Utah already allow authorized teachers to carry guns on school grounds. Schools in those states are not required to report how many educators bring guns to school.
Federal data show there were 3.8 million public school teachers in the 2015-16 school year. According to Trump’s estimation, that would mean up to 760,000 teachers would be able to carry a firearm.
“Frankly, you have teachers that are Marines for 20 years, they retire and become a teacher. They’re Army, Navy, Air Force; they’re Coast Guard; they’re people who have won shooting contests for whatever—this is what they do,” Trump said last month. “They know guns, they understand guns.”
About 298,000 educators and librarians were military veterans in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, those educators are not all K-12 teachers.
The largest pipeline from the military to the classroom is Troops to Teachers, a federal program that helps service members and veterans transition to teaching. About 1,000 teachers across the country were employed through the program in 2016—amounting to 0.03 percent of public school teachers.
Overall, about 20,000 veterans have successfully transitioned to a career in education since 1993 through the Troops to Teachers program, though it’s not clear how many of those veterans are still in the classroom.
Elsewhere, 80 military veterans are currently in the classroom through Teach For America’s “You Served for America, Now Teach For America” program. It has trained 265 teachers since its launch in 2012.
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. Teucke served in the Army from 2009 to 2013 and then went into teaching.
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.”
Teucke said he thinks arming teachers should be on a volunteer basis, and schools should require significant training for those educators who do choose to carry a weapon.
“I think teachers are way overstressed,” he said. “I think it’s asking a lot to have them take on an extra responsibility.”
While Teucke said he would carry a weapon into school for free, he thinks most teachers would have to be compensated to take on the extra responsibility. And between paying for bonuses and funding sufficient training, Teucke is skeptical that cash-strapped districts can afford such an initiative.
‘We’re Not Cops’
Of course, not all teachers with military backgrounds would be comfortable carrying a firearm into their classrooms. McCurdy, the Hawaii teacher, served in the U.S. Army in the 1990s and then served in the Pennsylvania National Guard. He has been trained to shoot all sorts of weapons, from handguns to automatic weapons—and he thinks arming teachers is a “horrendous idea.”
“We’re teachers, we’re not cops,” McCurdy said. “And even regular cops don’t have this training—there are SWAT teams for a reason. You want teachers to be SWAT-trained cops? That’s crazy.”
Training would be another obstacle to arming teachers, he added.
“If you want it to be effective, it has to be on a regular basis,” he said. Once a year would be the bare minimum, but ideally, he said, teachers would be trained quarterly or even monthly—a big ask for busy teachers.
There is a dearth of research on how many teachers have gone through firearm-safety training, said Amy Thompson, a professor of public health at the University of Toledo in Ohio. Over a decade ago, she surveyed 352 elementary teachers and found that 1 percent had received firearm safety training.
More recently, she’s studied the issue of guns on college campuses and found that most university faculty don’t want to have guns there. Teachers tend to feel the same way, she said.
The responsibility of carrying a weapon could detract from a teacher’s instruction, said Benjamin Gorman, a high school English/language arts teacher in Independence, Ore., who has a concealed-carry permit.
“When we have one on us, we have to be hypervigilant,” he said. “I would have to be thinking about the fact that a child could grab for my gun at any time.”
Ultimately, McCurdy said, most teachers won’t want to replicate a “combat-zone situation” at school. “When they actually understand what the weight of carrying that gun is, what the implications are, I think the vast majority of teachers would say, ‘Nope, can’t do it. Not worth it,’ ” he said.
Still, Trump said in a speech that arming teachers makes sense because of their commitment to their students.
“I’d rather have somebody that loves their students and wants to protect their students than somebody standing outside who doesn’t know the students,” he said. “A teacher would have shot the hell out of [the Parkland school shooter] before he knew what happened.”
Contributing Writer Brenda Iasevoli and Librarian Maya Riser-Kositsky contributed to this report.
A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 2018 edition of Education Week as Teachers With Gun Training Wary of Trump’s Proposal