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Bear Creek High School in Stockton, California, was placed on lockdown last week after an estimated 80 students attacked police officers who arrived on campus to detain one student for fighting with school staff.
There is a disproportionate buzz about the newly signed Florida legislation that allows its school districts (each at its own discretion) to authorize concealed carry of firearms by teachers in their schools.
Why disproportionate? Because the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law in March 2018 soon after the Parkland mass shooting, had already established the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program” named after the coach who gave his life attempting to shield students with his body during that shooting. That program gave school boards the option of allowing school staff members to carry firearms, excluding most classroom teachers who were not JROTC teachers, or current service members, or current or former law enforcement officers.
Last year’s bill established a tough training standard, and left the decision to local school boards, both very good things. And since school staff who are not classroom teachers often comprise as high as 50% of the total, this approach was rational, if overly cautious, as school boards would still have the authority to approve or disapprove any applicant, without the no-teacher provision imposed by law.
The only change with the new law is that now all classroom teachers are also eligible to volunteer for the Guardian program. Note “eligible” and “volunteer” and you will understand why so much of the near-hysterical opposition to this law is baseless.
Of course, no one is actually “arming” any teachers – there is no arms room where they will line up to be issued weapons before filing into the trenches – much less “all” teachers, which is how the opposition likes to frame its strawman argument. They will arm themselves, if their school board votes to implement the Guardian program, and if they individually volunteer, pass rigorous screening and selection, and complete the legally mandated 132 hours of training. No one is guaranteed approval, and the standards they must meet are high.
The Miami New Times, not known for smart or principled positions on any firearms issue, is one of the media outlets appalled that the legislature and governor, elected by citizens to legislate and govern, have not allowed themselves to be ruled by teachers’ unions, high school students, and some school boards and administrators. All those folks display their statist leanings by wanting to impose their own fears of positive protective measures on everyone. Under Florida law, if they (and, pointedly, the voters in their school districts) do not want to implement the Guardian program, they don’t have to. They can keep the Gun Free Zone signs over their doors and hope for the best. But that’s not enough for them; they think they know better than anyone else what is best for every school district in Florida.
Local control on this issue is a sound and sensible approach, in line with the rule of subsidiarity, the concept that decision-making should occur at the lowest level appropriate to its purpose. Local control is often preferable to decision making by officials far-removed from the affected population, less responsive to their local and regional preferences, and more likely to impose one-size-fits-all solutions. Voters can more easily influence or replace an unresponsive local elected official than his state or federal counterparts. Here it means what Florida and many other states have ruled: let the school districts decide for themselves.
Beyond that repugnant statist attitude, opponents of “arming” school staff try to bolster their argument with unsupportable claims and sloppy ‘research’ – textbook examples of confirmation bias, the tendency to only consider evidence that supports one’s preconceived notions. The Miami New Times cites an analysis by Gabrielle Giffords’ anti-gun organization that purports to show how dangerous introducing “more guns” to schools will be. It is such a sloppy piece of research and reasoning that we cannot let it go unanswered.
This long piece cites 67 “incidents of mishandled guns in schools” from all over America, from 2014 to the present, to support their opposition to concealed carry of firearms by school staff who meet the requirements of Florida’s Guardian program. But here’s the rub: only one of these 67 incidents involved a school staffer carrying a firearm under similar requirements. That one involved a Texas superintendent who left her authorized firearm locked in a district vehicle when she and her staff visited another district where she was not authorized to carry it – and then forgot to recover the weapon and left it in the van overnight, to be found in the morning.
Every other incident on this list actually supports the premises behind Florida’s Guardian program, and similar programs in the many other states with similar laws on the books. Not one carefully vetted armed staff member carrying a concealed firearm with knowledge and approval of their school board, in accordance with strict standards, in well over 1,000 schools around the country, was involved in any of the other 66 incidents cited.
Fifteen of the incidents on this list involved subjects who were not staff members at all; some of these were commissioned officers, while others were merely family members or or other visitors carrying firearms on school property in violation of the law. Another incident involved two coaches, but occurred off school property. Desperate to plump up the numbers, are we?
What this list actually does is to demolish the assertion often made by opponents of armed school staff, that guns in school should be left to the “armed professionals.” While the Miami New Times quotes some who seem to believe that armed officers make schools safer, Giffords does not think so, and on this point at least, we can at least understand the sentiment. Fully 27 of the 67 incidents in the Giffords study involve “armed professionals” – commissioned police officers or deputies assigned to a school, officers responding to a call for assistance or visiting for other reasons, or other uniformed security guards or school resource officers employed on site. These “armed professionals” had unintentional discharges (several of which injured themselves or others), left their weapons in restrooms or elsewhere unattended, and in two egregious cases, failed to stop a child from pulling the trigger of their holstered weapon.
So much for ‘armed professionals’ – we who are armed professionals know how little sustained, realistic, demanding training most officers undergo, and how easily complacency creeps in. Uniformed guards – commissioned or not – are not ten feet tall. They are unfortunately sometimes less dedicated and often less proficient than educators who understand their responsibilities “in loco parentis” and undergo rigorous and frequent training required by law and school district policy. Who has not heard educators saying, “we would sacrifice our lives to protect the kids in our care”? Give the tools and the skills to those who are willing, and they can do better than just sacrifice themselves like Coach Feis did at Parkland.
This is not to say that officers are all deficient in their skills and judgment – far from it – or that they cannot train to a high standard; but we who are trainers know without a shadow of a doubt that motivated civilians can do just as well, with the proper training. In the schools as on the streets, they are not volunteering to act as law enforcement officers, which is a very broad skill set indeed, but only to protect innocents against lethal threats – a very narrow skill set that comprises only a small slice of a police officer’s responsibilities.
In fact, what we do know is that responding police – even when do not have unintentional discharges like several in this list – do not protect schools against active shooters, because they almost always arrive too late; and that uniformed officers on site have a very spotty record. The uncertainty in a potential aggressor’s mind that is created by the prospect of an unknown number of trained staff members carrying concealed weapons at various but unpredictable locations throughout a school, appears to be a better deterrent than one uniformed officer, as evidenced by the complete absence of active shooter incidents in such schools. Arguably, if one is swayed by logic, they will prove to be a more effective and flexible defense as well, if that unprecedented day does arrive when a shooting happens in their school.
Again, with the exception of that Texas superintendent, none of these incidents involved an approved, trained, school staff member carrying a concealed weapon. The closest thing to it is the anomalous case of a teacher in Utah in 2014. State law there allows any resident with a concealed carry permit to carry in the schools. There is no requirement to even notify the school board or administration, much less be vetted or approved, or to be trained to any standard beyond the 8 hours of mostly classroom training required for a permit. This teacher dropped her weapon in a toilet stall (before school, with no students in the building); it discharged, shattering the bowl and cutting her calf with a flying shard. That’s not a laughing matter, or not only a laughing matter, but should be taken in context. Utah’s law has been in place for 20 years, and out of 700,000 citizens with concealed carry permits (14 million person-years?), this is the only reported occasion in which anyone has been injured by a legal concealed carrier’s firearm in a Utah school. And she doesn’t work there any more. It may also be significant that Utah has had no mass shootings in its schools, but we can only speculate. Pretty safe state, Utah, for all that their statute is far less prescriptive than Florida’s or many other states.
So Giffords, although it titles its piece “Every Incident of Mishandled Guns in Schools” and assures us that theirs is a “systematic analysis,” and that this list of 67 incidents is “comprehensive” for the date range of 2014-2014, has absolutely failed to make a case against armed school staff members in districts that opt in, under authorizing state law, with well-drafted programs and requirements.
Opponents of protecting our schools and children with armed staff on site will have to do better than this, to make a case worth listening to.
Below is a tabulation of the incidents the Giffords piece cites, upon which these conclusions are based. The “Disqualifiers” column notes specific conditions which render the example irrelevant to the argument. “Illegal firearm” indicates that the weapon was on school property in violation of federal and/or state law. The only exceptions to this disqualifier are the 27 cases involving law enforcement officers and paid security guards, and the afore-mentioned cases of the Texas superintendent and Utah teacher. Those who violate the law or handle firearms incompetently are precisely the sort who are unlikely to volunteer in the first place, or to pass a careful vetting and selection process, or a demanding, standards-based training program, all characteristics of Florida’s Guardian program and those of many other states. As in so many firearms discussions, the actions of criminals and incompetents do not form a rational basis for critiquing the vast majority of actual or potential armed citizens in any venue, including schools.
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This report by Alex Parker at redstate.com reports on Texas’s efforts to legislate armed staff and teachers in schools. In his article he raises a couple of questions that Distributed Security’s Bill Tallen answers below:
What do you think? Are we safer with more guns in school? Or is it best to limit the number of armed staff, therefore hopefully more effectively relegating the privilege to the very most-equipped staff to handle such an immense responsibility?
First, Texas both before and after the reported legislation is in no way
unique. Over half the states in the
nation have provisions that allow armed staff – in some cases any legally armed
citizen – on school property. And here’s
the first and perhaps the most important question: Alex asks, “What is the balance of lives saved due to the deterrent versus
harm done via accidents or improper use of force?”
The historical record of armed “good guys” on
school property since the passage of the federal Gun Free School Zones Act in
its final form in 1996 makes this answer an easy one.
There has been one – exactly one – documented
accident, which occurred in Utah early one morning (before any students were
present), when an armed teacher dropped her drawers in a bathroom, and a
presumably substandard handgun fell out of a clearly substandard holster, hit
the floor and discharged, demolishing the toilet bowl and wounding the hapless
teacher, whose leg was struck by a ceramic shard. Context is important: Utah’s law (still in
place) allows anyone with a concealed carry permit to carry on school property.
The school’s administration need not be informed or aware; there are no standards
or for acceptable firearms, holsters, or ammunition; and there is no training
standard beyond the minimal one required to obtain a permit. Since this has not
happened again in any Utah school, we might (since we have no access to
confidential personnel files) infer that the teacher involved is no longer
employed or received a solid education in how to carry and handle a firearm
safely; and others took her inadvertent lesson to heart. It is hard to argue
with Utah’s record of success with its law over the last twenty years, but a
case can be made that there are better ways to provide armed security in our
There has been, across the country, not a
single case of improper use of force involving a legally carried firearm in a
school. Students do not take away
teacher’s guns; teachers who carry do not “go off the deep end” and shoot
people. Opponents of “guns in schools”
can’t stop expressing their fear of these events, but there’s no evidence to
support their angst.
So there you are: on one end of the scale,
only one minor accident nationwide in the last twenty years, and no improper
use of force. Against that, we weigh the
interesting datum that there appears to have been no shooting – zip, zero, none
– in any school in America that has had school staff – or citizens, as in Utah
– legally carrying concealed weapons.
Note this does NOT include schools with “school resource officers” or
other uniformed, armed security personnel, because schools “defended” by those
have been attacked, with a very mixed record. At Columbine, and in Parkland,
Florida, school resource officers failed to stop the shootings; in a few other
cases, they have been successful. But the key thing is that when a potential
attacker does not know how many people may be armed in their target location,
or who they are, or where they will be at any given moment – they simply don’t come,
because they cannot be confident of how long they will have to work their evil
intentions before someone steps forward to stop them; they do understand that
it would be within the first few minutes, long before police arrive on scene. That is deterrence.
So the simple answer to Alex’s question is
this: concealed carry by school staff appears to have deterred attack (saving
lives from potential threats), while there has been essentially no down side to
balance against that sterling record.
Local control is key to the success of this
approach. State legislation must
establish the legal authority for armed school staff, because they must
“license” individuals to carry as an exception to the federal Gun Free School
Zones Act. But once that authorization is in place in state law, local school
boards – the lowest level elected officials in the nation, presumably
responsive to the wishes of their community – must establish policy, and
approve armed individuals in their schools.
Where a community strongly supports this approach, the school board
trustees should ensure that it happens, and provide for careful vetting of
volunteers, as Texas does, and establish specific requirements for initial and
ongoing training and for the safety and effectiveness of firearms, ammunition,
and ancillary equipment.
There is no logical reason for a legislature
to limit the number of staff members who can be armed in a school; their job,
and the school boards’ job, is to set a high bar of qualifications and
training, and then support, encourage, and approve every individual who
volunteers and meets those standards. The Texas legislature has shown that they
understand this simple principle.
I have yet to meet a proponent of arming
school staff who does not understand the importance of detection and
intervention programs to prevent school shootings from occurring. But rather
obviously, these shootings do occur, and each time they do, it’s because those
programs have failed. Innocent lives
must be protected if and when that day comes.
Alex quotes one opponent of armed school staff who gets it exactly wrong. Guns in the hands of carefully screened volunteers, who train to a rigorous standard, are precisely that last line of defense, and will deter armed attack or – if deterrence fails – defend innocent lives. “Adding guns to the problem” in the hands of dedicated, well-trained persons is most definitely the solution.
Bill Tallen is Executive Vice President – Tactical Operations for Distributed Security. Prior to joining the enterprise he had a 20 year career with the Department of Energy, where he served as a Federal Agent, team leader, unit commander, training instructor, and manager in the agency which provides secure transportation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials within CONUS. He helped to found DOE’s Special Response Force program, developing and teaching urban and close quarter battle techniques to Federal Agents charged with recovery of lost assets. He has designed and conducted a variety of wargaming efforts in support of vulnerability assessments, security system design, and leadership training, and has taught a variety of crisis decision making models. Bill holds the degree of Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
“Video emerged today of an armed man pulling his weapon to ward off two apparent attackers near the Magnificent Mile, just two days after widespread mob action prompted police to arrest 21 people in the area. The video, filmed from inside McDonald’s at 10 East Chicago, shows two males attacking a middle-aged man who appears to be a security guard. The man is slammed against the restaurant’s outside wall by the pair who punch and grapple the older man as he works to free himself.”
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I would agree with Mrs. Gillibrand’s characterization of ‘brave’ if the young men she’s referring to were lobbying for the training and weapons necessary to defend their classmates* from violent attack. Instead her ‘brave’ are a bunch of whiny entitled pajama boys hiding behind their mommy’s skirt.
*Yes. I am continuing to suggest that responsible young men and women in high school be given the training, weapons and supervision necessary to help defend their classmates from violent attack. This is no different than fielding a varsity level football team.
As I watched New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s first press conference after the mosque shooting, I was struck by how naive her comments were. She seemed to think that her country existed in a utopian world exempt from terrorism. Now, further demonstrating her naivete, she is proceeding with a hysterical, half-baked plan to confiscate the weapons her citizens need to defend against future attacks.
These are the facts for New Zealand. It will happen again. Law enforcement will not be there when it happens again, and via her gun confiscation scheme, she has eliminated the most effective measure her citizens have for defending themselves.
Exit question. Why is Jacinda taking weapons from lawful New Zealanders? The crime was committed by an Australian who purchased his weapons legally and held all of the proper permits.