School shootings are nothing new in the United States. So far in 2018 there have been two mass shootings on k-12 campuses in the United States resulting in multiple injuries and deaths. The most highly publicized incident occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida where 17 unsuspecting students and teachers were killed by a lone gunman. In the wake of such incidents, activists have organized marches like March For Our Lives (March 14, 2018), and the National School Walkout (April 20, 2018), and have engaged in other forms of protest against gun violence. One solution that has been proposed by participants in these protests to stem the tide of gun violence is the development of common sense gun laws. A divergent solution presented by The National Rifle Association (NRA), a powerful lobby group that supports the Second Amendment which the Supreme Court has ruled gives an individual the right to possess and use a firearm (District of Columbia v. Heller, 2008), suggests that schools should place highly trained resource officers on school campuses to thwart future attacks (Rostron, 2014; Weatherby, 2015). While some NRA supporters think armed resource officers are a good idea, others think teachers should be armed and trained to carry guns on school campuses in order to be the first line of defense for student safety. The proposal to arm teachers has gained traction since President Donald Trump tweeted his support in February 2018:
Armed educators (and trusted people who work within a school) love our students and will protect them. Very smart people. Must be firearms adept & have annual training. Should get yearly bonus. Shootings will not happen again–a big & very inexpensive deterrent. Up to States.
While the president's words fueled the national debate as to whether or not arming teachers is a good idea, the fact is that some states (South Dakota, Tennessee, Alabama, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Colorado, Ohio, Utah, and Indiana) are already arming teachers. This editorial explores the complex terrain of what arming teachers looks like and raises questions about the impact arming teachers can have on school climate and its specific impact on students of color.
In 1990, the United States Congress passed the Gun-Free School Zones Act that authorizes that all k-12 public schools are gun free zones, however if you hold a state's valid conceal and carry license you can carry a concealed gun on school grounds. This is the only national law related to guns in schools, making the issue of arming teachers the domain of the states. In fact, many states already have laws in place that allow school personnel to carry concealed guns on school grounds. So there are currently teachers in some states lawfully entering their schools with concealed loaded weapons. Particularly alarming is that there is no official tally of exactly how many teachers are packing heat in the classroom (Hobbs & Brody, 2018). What parameters are currently in place with regards to training teachers to carry weapons in schools? Does this [End Page 129] approach make our schools safer and less vulnerable to mass shootings as President Donald Trump suggests?
The legislation that exists surrounding arming teachers is as unique as each state's geography. South Dakota passed legislation in 2013 that allows schools to create programs in which armed "sentinels" will protect school premises against violent attacks (Rostron, 2014). These "sentinels" are a select few individuals who are tasked with carrying a gun and protecting school grounds during an active shooter situation. The South Dakota legislation is written in such a way that local communities have complete control of whether or not they implement the "sentinels" program. The approval process is three tiered: 1) the school board has to opt-in to the program; 2) local citizens have to then approve; 3) local law enforcement then has the option to veto despite previous approval. If a local school district obtains approval, the state regulations require "sentinels" to hold a valid concealed weapon permit and complete a course of at least 80 hours of training, with additional eight hours of training each year to maintain their certification.
South Dakota's "sentinel" program...