Surely, I thought, the notion of arming teachers would be trashed as soon as the idea was thought through. But when the president proposes precisely that, publicly, a week after the last school shooting tragedy, it is clearly time to set out reasons for the impossibility of it. It’s not just the likes of La Pierre or Donald Trump, but also some of my good friends who subscribe to the idea and haven’t thought it out.
First, anyone other than a policeman who shoots another person faces a charge of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter under state law (see also Article III Section 2 and Amendment VI of the U.S. Constitution). His or her attorney might use a plea of self-defense or persuade the judge, jury, grand jury and DA to be lenient or dismiss the charges, but then the federal government would step in with the charge of depriving the criminal of his Constitutional rights (if the criminal died). Any prosecutor would take a dim view of a defendant having defied the Constitution and taken the law into his or her own hands. If the criminal was only wounded, the teacher and the school would face possible civil action to cover medical and legal expenses, suffering, etc.
The teacher carrying a gun is a primary target for the invading shooter. The shooter may not know who is armed, so any adult, teacher, secretary, nurse, bus driver, visiting parent, custodian, etc. is a target — and the first target — of a shooter intent upon killing. How many people are willing to take a job that carries the possibility of death? A school would be forced to close for lack of personnel.
Then there’s the matter of being able to shoot the invader. Even if every teacher or staff person is armed, the teacher or other adult has the disadvantage of not knowing when the action might take place. Only the invader knows that. The teacher has to see the criminal’s gun or have some reason to draw and fire — hopefully quicker than the bad guy, but what if the intruder’s weapon hasn’t been fired yet? Does the teacher shoot to kill anyway? And now we must also suppose that a teacher is actually in a position to be able to hit the bad guy before others are shot (which is possible or likely only if most adults in the school are armed).
And what if some innocent person is shot accidentally by the teacher? And what about churches or synagogues? Should ministers, priests and rabbis be armed? And what to do about movie houses, ballrooms? Meeting rooms (as in San Bernardino)? Open-air events (as in Las Vegas)? The common denominator in every case is guns, especially guns designed to kill people.
Finally, two further arguments are made by Trump: one that the mere presence of armed personnel is sufficient to deter criminal killing; if an armed teacher is prepared to shoot, all the points made above are applicable; if not, there is no determent. Perpetrators often do not expect to survive (some have committed suicide), so the threat of being shot has little meaning.
The second of these arguments is that the problem is not guns at all but the mental problems of the killer; this is partly true. The usual diagnoses of known psychiatric disorders is misleading. Psychiatrists will explain that those suffering from the usual kinds of mental illnesses are very unlikely to get an assault weapon and kill a bunch of people. But undoubtedly there is some kind of mental aberration to cause such behavior; we just don’t know how to conclusively identify it.
We can only put in place measures to reduce gun violence: getting assault weapons out of civilian hands, placing reasonable limits on purchases of firearms and ammunition and exploring the causes of such violent behavior.
Dunn lives in Williamsburg.