Arming US teachers a study in stupidity

BIG SIGN: Makenzie Hymes, 13, from Virginia, calling for gun law reform during a protest at the White House in the wake of the latest school shooting in the US.
BIG SIGN: Makenzie Hymes, 13, from Virginia, calling for gun law reform during a protest at the White House in the wake of the latest school shooting in the US.

Donald Trump’s thought bubble on arming teachers, no doubt NRA-inspired (if not scripted), raises some interesting questions. How would it work? There are more than three million school teachers in the US. Will they all be armed, trained, and paid extra for carrying a gun in the classroom? Or will there be an assessment system, perhaps using a “gung-ho” scale to identify those willing to engage in a shootout to the death with a deranged gunman whose only mission is to create as much mayhem and kill as many people as possible?  

Teachers in Australia are required to teach, mentor, counsel, discipline, evaluate and support their students, to the extent of providing them with breakfast in many schools. No doubt teachers in America face the same challenges and hold the same values. There, as here, teaching is a noble profession filled with dedicated, caring professionals and to even suggest that they should be the front-line defence against gun attacks in schools is counter-intuitive. Just about everybody who reads this would have a relative or acquaintance who is a school teacher. Can you envisage any teacher in Australia having to strap on a gun and defend their class in the event of an attack? 

Perhaps the most damning features of this ridiculous proposition are that arming – and paying – teachers would not only give them the authority to engage in a firefight with a would-be attacker, it would place an obligation on them to do so. What would be the consequences if the teacher failed to respond adequately, for whatever reason, to a shooting incident in the school? Further, would the simple fact that there may be armed teachers in a school dissuade a would-be gunman from embarking on a killing spree in that school? It seems that in the Florida shooting there was an armed police officer stationed at the school. The gunman was a former student who no doubt knew of the officer’s presence. That did not deter him. In recent years, mass shootings have occurred in American states where the carriage of concealed firearms is permitted. That did not dissuade the gunmen.

In 1995, in response to a series of mass shootings in Australia, on public streets, in a car park and at historic Port Arthur, then-prime minister John Howard accepted the counsel of his non-partisan public service advisers and took the politically-courageous step of introducing legislation to limit the possession and use of firearms. 

Australia now stands as an example and a beacon of hope around the world for those advocating gun control.

Following this latest mass shooting in America, Wayne LaPierre, the wealthy president of the NRA, has trotted out his usual diatribe, including the old chestnut: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun”.  No, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to stop the bad guy getting his hands on a gun (and it’s always a ‘he’).  Only by restricting gun access in America is there any hope of reducing the carnage caused by these weapons of mass destruction.  I have written before about the challenges faced by America in dealing with guns – America’s history, politics and gun-culture – and I don’t hold out much hope.  Perhaps, just perhaps, the current “bottom-up” swell of outrage among American school students – the victims of mass shootings – might raise a glimmer of hope if their outrage can be sustained.

John Ure is a retired NSW assistant commissioner of police. Before retirement he was head of the Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence, Canberra