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Guns in classrooms: saving lives, or ending them?

States across the country pass laws allowing teachers to carry guns on campus

Eileen MacDonald, Staff Reporter
Originally published April 20th, 1969

Fletcher Anderson

Fletcher Anderson

When you picture the average kindergarten classroom, you think of bright carpets, tumbled building blocks and broken crayons. Usually, that mental picture does not involve a shiny, double-action revolver sitting in the desk drawer, but in some classrooms across the country, that is subject to change.

In the past few years states such as Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Texas, Wisconsin, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kansas and Colorado have put in place laws that allow teachers and school faculty members with special training to keep concealed, privately owned weapons on specified school campuses. The justification? To protect students from school shooters. Ironic, right?

After the horrific events that have taken place at schools such as Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. and most recently Freeman High School in Spokane, Wash., it is understandable for people to be on edge, and to want to take extra precautions, but is placing children in a classroom with a live firearm really the best solution?

“Honestly I think that it’s quite possibly one of the worst ideas I’ve ever heard,” senior Kate Garrison said. This issue is more personal for Garrison than most. Before they were born their grandfather, a top pathologist named Rodger Haggitt, was shot and killed in a murder suicide at the University of Washington by a resident that had recently been let go.

“It shouldn’t have happened, at all,” Garrison said. “The fact that this man could’ve gotten a gun and that he was able to access it as easily as he could in the first place is just unacceptable.”

There are those that assume this tragedy could have been avoided if Haggitt himself had been armed, thus justifying firearms being kept at school, however it has been shown that bringing guns into the classroom is likely to produce the opposite of its intended goal.

Rather than defending students and teachers against a potential school shooter, having a gun can increase the risk of being shot at. The American Journal of Public Health published research stating that those who posses a gun are 4.5 times more likely to be shot at than those who do not in the event of a shooting. Not only are guns risky and volatile, they could exacerbate the dangers at hand.

According to the Smart Gun Laws Law Center, a center devoted to compiling reliable research and statistics on gun control, the best way to keep kids safe is to keep them away from firearms whenever possible through child access prevention laws. In states where these laws are in place, accidental deaths caused by firearms decreased by 23 percent for kids 15 and under from the year 1990 to 1994. The fewer weapons that surround children, the less likely someone will get hurt. Freeman High School’s recent shooting where a boy got a hold of his parent’s gun exemplifies how easy it is for kids to access guns they are not supposed to. Keeping one in classrooms with kids flowing in and out every day is just increasing that risk.

“I do not think that having more guns in a school setting is a safe option at all,” world history teacher Carol Faust said. “I just think the chance of an accident happening or the gun getting into the wrong hands is so much more likely when there are more guns around.”

She’s right. The New England Journal of Medicine published research finding that living in a home with guns increased the risk of homicide by 40 to 170 percent and of suicide by 90 to 460 percent.  School is meant to be a safe space for students to go and learn, and regardless of intention, bringing guns into that environment puts that atmosphere of safety in jeopardy.

“I would not feel safe being in that classroom,” Garrison said.  “I would rather just skip the class altogether than have that hanging over my head.”So if more weapons are not the answer, what is?

“I think we need to be more preventative about who comes in the building — maybe what kind of weapons they have on them,” Faust said.  “I’ve toured schools in New York where they have metal detectors at the door. I think some of those things would be much safer practices.”

Instead of adding more weapons to an already dangerous situation, maybe we should focus on where these shootings stem from. Today it is so easy to attain guns.  Our country has an overly healthy gun culture that allows anyone to buy a gun who wants one. If we had more extensive background checks and were more careful about who and what we let into our schools, unstable or dangerous individuals might not have access to guns in the first place.  In addition, students and teachers alike should be educated about the warning signs of those who may need help or would potentially do something drastic such as firing a gun.

“I feel like in school it’s not really like a main focus,” Garrison said.  “Mental health in general should be focused on more but especially recognizing early warning signs of a potential shooter.”  Helping students understand prevention rather than teaching them to accept violence will lead to a more educated and prepared environment.  “People might not be thrilled that we have to learn about it, but I feel like a little more focus on it in school, potentially during DAM Time — I think that could be super helpful.”

During the week of Oct. 16 through Oct. 20, schools across the country will be participating in Say Something Week, an awareness week planned by the Sandy Hook Promise organization.  The organization is led by family members who lost children and loved ones in the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The week is devoted to raising awareness and educating children and parents on the power students have to prevent tragedies and shootings by simply saying something to an adult.

Students and teachers have more influence than many of us realize, and rather than contributing to America’s pattern of violence by bringing more weapons into our schools, we can actively work to eliminate the fear that causes people to buy guns in the first place by listening, looking out for one another and educating ourselves.

For more information on Say Something Week, visit www.sandyhookpromise.org.

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Guns in classrooms: saving lives, or ending them?