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Opinion

Arming Teachers Won’t Make Us Safer

Curbing our culture of violence is key to protecting our students and schools

By Pat Albright / Retired Teacher and OEA Member

Recent events involving shootings in schools have led to suggestions that teachers and administrators be armed. Such discussion has caused me to reflect on my 30-year-plus career in education, most of it at Springfield High School.
In each of my three experiences with guns in school, I doubt that having armed employees would have made any difference. Taking multiple steps to curb a culture of violence would make more sense.

Violence in schools or among school-age youths is not new. Disputes are common and sometimes lead to violence.

In my time as a teacher I defused a threatened knife attack and have been slugged while trying to break up a fist-fight that drew a throng of curious onlookers. But when guns are introduced into the mix, the potential for permanent tragedy is compounded.

Many years ago, a student in my department came to class with a loaded gun and held a class of his fellow students hostage for several moments. The teacher was able to convince the gun-wielding student to allow the class members to leave. That student, though, eventually would slip away from authorities and take his own life in a nearby restroom.

The teacher used his intellect, not a gun, as his best weapon to protect his other students from harm.

The tragic events at Thurston High School in 1998 brought the word “mass shooting” to our community, when Kip Kinkel slipped through the school’s open passageways to open fire in the crowded cafeteria. Courageous students, not an armed security officer or teacher, subdued the shooter.

One Thurston teacher who raced to the cafeteria that tragic morning told me he was effective in using his trigger finger to plug a bullet hole in an injured student, but he was not in any position to have prevented the attack.

Lastly, I am reminded of one morning when I was approaching school and saw a small group of students huddled near the entrance to the parking lot, much like I encountered each day. That day proved different, though.

As I turned into the parking lot I realized one of the students had a gun pointed at me. Admittedly a bit shaken and unable to locate an administrator, I immediately called 911. Springfield police got back to me later that morning to say the “gun” was a look-alike replica of a Glock. However, the student was also found to be carrying a long-bladed knife.

The officer volunteered that had it been him facing a gun barrel coming into the parking lot, he might have taken deadly action, not knowing or having the time to determine the gun to be a toy.

What if I had been armed? I grew up in a hunting environment and was well-acquainted with guns. I was even a member of a National Rifle Association-sponsored rifle club. I was trained to use firearms. Even with that background, though, I doubt my ability to deal effectively with such a potentially deadly situation had I been armed. My fear is that I would have exacerbated the situation.

I can imagine coming around that corner, seeing the threat, digging through my school bag and grabbing for my gun. Now ridden with anxiety and apprehension, more than likely I would have clumsily drawn my weapon and shot myself in the leg — or worse. Or I might have quickly and nervously aimed at the student, missed, and potentially injured or killed one of the nearby innocents.

Upon further reflection, I imagine the potential if my wife, a third-grade teacher who never has shot a firearm, had been armed and was expected to challenge a potential shooter. I shudder when I think of those possible consequences.

I even get concerned with trained, armed officers in our schools. My concern was heightened recently after talking to an armed national park security agent who told me the story of his predecessor: the previous park ranger had been on patrol when he was attacked by a person, hopped up on drugs, who was able to get the ranger’s gun and killed him.

Could we have similar incidents in our schools that already have armed security? Of course. A small gang of teens reasonably could surprise a trained officer, take the officer’s gun and put the incident in the next day’s headlines.

Having more guns on our campuses likely will have little impact on preventing anyone intent on creating havoc. More than likely, such actions would result in more gun violence.

What might be helpful? Recent proposals for universal background checks, bans on automatic or semiautomatic weapons and their multi-cartridge magazines, enhanced mental health services, improved education and, ultimately, a change in our culture of violence would be reasonable steps toward a safer environment for our children.

Editor’s Note: Pat Albright, a retired teacher and OEA member, is a member of the Lane Community College board. This column originally ran on the Register Guard online on Jan. 17, 2013. The opinions expressed here are his own.


Majority of Educators Support Stronger Gun Safety Laws

Results of a new poll by the National Education Association (NEA) show educators support stronger gun laws to prevent gun violence and keep children safe. The poll of the nation’s teachers, faculty and education support professionals comes one month after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 adults, including educators. NEA polled 800 of its members nationwide during the period of January 9-10, 2013.

“The senseless tragedy in Newtown was a tipping point and galvanization for action,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “As educators, we have grieved too long and too often—for the children killed, their families and heroic educators. Now more than ever we need to do what is necessary, including enacting stronger laws to prevent gun violence, to make sure every child in our nation’s public schools has a safe and secure learning environment.”

Read NEA’s recommendations to Vice President Biden’s task force on preventing gun violence.