Amber Estis is the principal of The Shepard School by Eagle Community Schools, a K-6 charter school in Columbus, Ohio, that opened last fall. During that 2021-22 school year, more than two dozen shootings injured or killed people at K-12 campuses across the country, reigniting debates about school safety. In response to the deadly attack in May on an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on June 13 signed a new law that makes it easier for teachers to carry guns in schools. Estis has a permit to carry a concealed weapon, but is opposed to educators carrying guns in school. Her interview with Education Week has been edited for length and clarity.
I grew up outside of New Albany [Ohio] on a horse farm, so I grew up around guns. My extended family hunted deer, hunted turkey, they shot shotguns, bow and arrows, all of that. I also come from a law enforcement family. I have two uncles very deeply ingrained in the law enforcement community. One was a detective with the Columbus police department. The other was a prosecuting attorney, and he also taught police academy students.
I am also a survivor of domestic violence. It was this past Christmas, with a romantic partner. That served as a catalyst to push me to take the concealed-carry classes. I got my permit at the end of January, but I haven’t purchased a firearm yet. For me, I’m still making sure that when I do make that purchase, I am fully prepared, because it is a massive responsibility.
When you shoot a firearm for the first time, you feel a kickback, and your natural inclination is that your arm goes up. Your arm jerks, and that bullet doesn’t go where the target is.
That’s what went through my mind every single time I held a gun during my CCW [concealed-carry weapon permit] training: “Oh, wow, so this is how, in a school situation, if a teacher had a firearm and they’re trying to shoot, this is how one of my kids could get shot.” Their arm’s gonna jerk. It’s just what’s gonna happen.
When you have a concealed weapon, you have to put in the hours at the range to become comfortable with shooting the firearm, to withdraw it from wherever you choose to conceal it. That takes more [skill] than people think.
People think, oh, I’ll just wear it on my hip and I can pull it from my hip and shoot, everything will be accurate and go off perfectly. That’s not necessarily the case. Most people capable of doing that practice for many, many hours at the range. Right now, because I’m also an expectant mother, I don’t have the time to go to the range to get in those practice hours.
When you get pulled over by a police officer, there’s a level of nervousness that exists. We’ve all seen the videos. We know what happens at traffic stops. And when you have a CCW and you’re carrying a firearm, you have a whole different level of responsibility in communicating with that officer.
If I were to be pulled over, I’d have to go through a checklist in my mind, like, OK, I’ve got my license, registration, proof of insurance. I also have my CCW permit to show them, and be able to tell them, this is where my firearm is located. You never quite know how that other person might react when they find out that there’s a firearm in the vehicle, because now I become a threat. And I’m already a threat because of the color of my skin.
So I’m still making sure that I’m ready for that responsibility.
My training, and my experience with [responsible gun ownership in] my family have enriched my views, and solidified why I don’t believe that firearms belong in schools, unless they’re carried by a fully trained resource officer or police. I’m not comfortable with teachers having guns in their classrooms, because there’s no way they can devote the hours that it really takes to properly operate the firearm in a school, where you have a lot of obstacles.
You have a ton of little kids around. We all know what kids do when they panic: they scream, they cry, they run to you. They’re not running to a space of safety in the classroom. They’re running to the person of safety. And if you are unable to put in the hours to shoot accurately with about 20 to 32 little people holding onto you, guess what happens? You’re gonna potentially take the life of one of those innocent children who are just trying to seek refuge in you.
There could be a situation where you may have to restrain a child because they are a danger to themselves. And if you have a firearm on your body, that could create a more dangerous situation.