For a teacher, few things are as awful to contemplate as a room full of trusting children faced with an active shooter. Because of the horrific nature of these attacks, we respond by grasping for any immediate solution to stop the murderer.
But when President Trump responded to the Margery Stoneman Douglas High School shooting with the suggestion that teachers be trained to use firearms and then armed in classrooms throughout the U.S., I was stunned. To me, having a weapon with such violent and irreversible power to kill and destroy is the antithesis of what it is to feel safe in a classroom setting. It also multiplies the possibility for more shooting to occur. Nevertheless, this suggestion actually took hold and has become part of the national conversation.
The Chicago Sun Times chose to explore Mr. Trump’s proposition through “31 Bullets,” a campaign to end gun violence. The first issue they tackled was “guns in classrooms.” Seven Chicagoland teachers were invited to take part in a Public Service Announcement that further explores Mr. Trump’s proposal. On April 14, a cold, windy, rainy day, we learned how to handle, load and shoot a handgun. We were interviewed in the morning and again in the evening after shooting numerous rounds of live ammunition.
All seven of us, came to the same conclusion: Guns don’t belong in classrooms, period.
I have been a teacher for the past 36 years and am raising two daughters, who are now 13 years old. In every classroom where I’ve taught or sent my daughters (preschool through middle school), the environment has been one of respect and trust; two critical qualities of a safe learning culture. Teachers and students can teach and learn because they trust in the safety of their surroundings. This is the goal … to feel physically, emotionally and socially safe, so that education can occur.
On that day in April, when I learned to shoot a handgun, I experienced many things, and none of them felt safe. Guns in classrooms create a climate of fear, and invites a new level of violence in schools that we have yet to experience. Imagine disgruntled students or teachers using guns for ill-intended purposes, teachers misidentifying threats and bringing unwanted, unjustified outcomes into school communities, an armed teacher being misidentified as “the shooter,” more bedlam, hysteria and tragedy.
Guns do not bring peace or a sense of peace. They offer, at best a false sense of security that can go disastrously wrong.
When I think about guns in this country, I get pretty angry. The argument that “guns don’t kill, people do” simply isn’t accurate. The truth is that guns and people together kill, and for that reason gun deaths in this country’s schools simply can’t be pinned to one or the other. We need to address mental-health issues and we need to have responsible and enforceable gun laws.
There is no easy fix to this problem, but I am absolutely convinced that more guns in schools, or anywhere else, is not a solution to gun violence.
Jamie Sloan teaches a Parent/Infant class at Alcuin Montessori School and has taught at several levels, both at Alcuin and at Near North Montessori school in Chicago.