Should Teachers Be Armed?

South Dakota authorizes employees at schools K-12 to carry guns on campuses

The rhetoric surrounding guns on campus has hit a fever pitch: would parents be comfortable with their children’s school teachers packing heat in the classroom?

One East Bay firearms trainer said the Newtown school massacre that left 20 first-graders dead sparked a new trend. Jordan Guzman, founder of Krieger Defense in Fremont, said there are more teachers approaching him for firearms lessons.

“The interest may have always been there, but sometimes the mass shooting sparks the emotional hysteria,” Guzman said.

The former Marine Corps Rifleman said in his dozen years of teaching hundreds at Krieger, less than one percent of his clientele was made up of teachers, but now it’s 22 percent.

“I do see the momentum shifting,” said Guzman. “Usually, it’s, “Oh, that would be great if we could all get together and do it, if our school district would let us.”

He added another major change is teachers are now going to his classes in groups, whereas before they went alone and wanted to keep it under wraps.

“Now teachers feel more comfortable talking about it. I get phone calls, I get them telling me, ‘When’s your next class? I want to go out there and hey, can we do this as a little outing? A group of us want to get together.’ Initially it was, ‘Uh, but you can’t tell anyone okay?’”

Jonathan Rea, a chemistry teacher at San Leandro High School, said he’s not advocating for teachers to tote guns to classes or even on campus, but he believes the discussion is worth it and may even prevent shooters from trying to target schools.

“Even if there are no teachers or security or administration or anyone on campus who even has a gun, it’s a psychological deterrent,” Rea said.

The National Rifle Association sparked debate when it suggested putting armed guards in every school. Now an independent commission is considering a security plan that would arm staff members to civilian volunteers. Top California leaders have blasted the idea.

Darrell Steinberg, Democratic Senate President Pro Tem, said in a statement: “What’s next? Armed guards at Starbucks and Little League games? This is completely the wrong direction.”

Rea believes it’s a critical decision that should be made locally by districts, administrators, teachers and parents.

“I still think it’s taboo to have the opinion I have which is it might be a good idea to let schools decide for themselves how they want to run the safety procedures,” he said.

That’s the idea in South Dakota, the first state in the U.S. to enact a  law that explicitly authorizes employees at schools K-12 to carry guns on campus. On March 8, Governor Dennis Daugaard signed a bill into law that would set up “school sentinel programs,” which grants school districts the power to decide whether to arm staff members and/or volunteers after undergoing at least 40 hours of training.

California has similar legislation in the works, authored by Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly and backed by six other Republican lawmakers from Southern California. The “School Marshal Plan” mimics the way air marshals work post-9/11. Since Newtown, lawmakers in 27 states have pushed for bills that would allow people, usually staff members and sometimes volunteers, to be armed on campus, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Twenty-two of those bills are still pending, including the one in California.

Jina Kim, who teachers fourth grade at E.C. Reems Academy in Oakland, said she and her young students hear gunshots on a routine basis. 

“There’s gunshots all the time. We see guns," Kim said. "There’s shootings right down the block to the left and right of us. It happens so frequently that at this point, it’s not even a shock.”

Despite that, Kim doesn’t like the idea of even allowing school districts to decide whether to allow armed employees on campus. 

“I just think having guns anywhere accessible to kids, whether safeguarded or not – kids very resourceful and they can find their own ways in," she said. "So, it would make me very uncomfortable.”

She pointed to the school’s unarmed private security guard and his post at the front gate of the school as one of the best security measures. Talking about firearms on campus, she said, goes too far.

Rea said he’s pleased that the dialogue is happening.

“We should at least be considering it, not immediately saying we can’t do that, it’s gonna be too dangerous," Rea said, "but to have this conversation of what if lives can actually be saved?”

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