Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Public safety

Teachers with guns: More risk than help

They were quietly determined to beat this thing.

Looking around at what was then a half-empty committee room, the two lawmakers were hopeful they might actually have enough votes to crush this idea of educators coming to school packing guns in the name of safety.

They are both freshmen legislators. Both Democrats. More to the point, Carl Zimmermann of Palm Harbor and Karen Castor Dentel of Maitland are both schoolteachers.

So they were braced for the arguments. They were ready for the evidence. They bided their time as the room grew more crowded.

And when it finally came to a vote, the bill easily passed the K-12 subcommittee by a 10-3 margin on Wednesday.

Zimmermann and Castor Dentel both voted in favor.

"I went into that meeting absolutely, 100 percent certain, that I was going to vote this thing down,'' Zimmermann said a day later. "Karen was sitting next to me, and we were ready to kill it.''

So what changed Zimmermann's mind?

There were several factors, not the least of which is he will get a second chance to assess the bill and propose changes in another education committee this week.

A teacher at Countryside High for 27 years, Zimmermann was also swayed by the argument that rural schools cannot afford to wait the extra minutes it might take for law enforcement to arrive in the case of a mass shooting.

He was encouraged that the bill requires armed personnel to complete a 40-hour weapons course similar to a licensed security guard. And Zimmermann was intrigued by a 2002 joint report done by the Secret Service and Department of Education that suggested most school shootings end as soon as the gunman is confronted.

I would agree those are all valid points. And I would argue they're still not enough.

There is no evidence this would act as a deterrent, particularly since many school shooters plan to end their rampages in suicide anyway.

There are also practical concerns. Using a gun in self-defense is one thing. Actually leaving a classroom to hunt a shooter in another part of the school is completely different.

But, mostly, I worry about unintended consequences.

Just as the NRA argues that gun control legislation is an overreaction to the statistically rare phenomenon of school shootings, I would argue introducing guns on campus is a potentially more dangerous overreaction.

What happens if a teacher is breaking up a fight, and one of the kids grabs a gun from the teacher's holster? What happens if the teacher overreacts and pulls the gun himself?

USF professor Randy Borum, one of the authors of that Secret Service/Department of Education project, said the study focused more on trying to identify potential shooters before they ever arrive. The study does not address arming school personnel, and Borum says it important to balance the potential risks and benefits involved.

"I hope they talk through these things in a sober way before making a decision that is hard to walk back,'' he said. "All it would take is for one kid to get hold of a gun, or a teacher accidentally shooting a student for this whole thing to fall apart.''

No matter what side of the fence you stand on, we all have the same goal in mind.

I just worry that giving guns to teachers is a well-intended mistake.

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