Abstract In this paper, I will explore the controversial question of whether teachers should be allowed or required to carry weapons on school campuses. The question of whether the topic should be entertained has come up time and again after tragedies occur, the timeline of which will be summarized herein. The recent tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that devastated the nation on December 14, 2012, has wrenched this debate crudely back into the spotlight.
I will investigate different types of protective instruments that could possibly be used, as well as what types are used in schools that have such regulations. I will delve into the reasoning behind states that have implemented laws that allow teachers to carry guns in school and/or at school events. Included within are excerpts from this writer’s first-person interview conducted with Maria Otero-Ball, a kindergarten teacher in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As a teacher of children the same age as those involved in the Newtown tragedy, Mrs.
Otero-Ball offers a first-hand view on the changes that she and the school have made following the tragedy, as well as her views on the practicality of weapons in the school. My goals in preparing this paper are to expand my thoughts on the subject, peruse the thoughts of others, and explore the statistics to provide a better overall understanding of the subject matter to myself and to my readers. During the research process, I found that a compromise on the types of weapons teachers should be allowed to carry would be the best option from my point of view.
Keywords: teachers, weapons, school, tragedy, children Screams of terror, cries of anguish, tears of sorrow, heartbreaking agony; the nation bore witness to all of these and more as the first responders struggled to make sense of the scene that unfolded at Sandy Hook Elementary School on that fateful day of December 14th, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut (Ardillas, 2012). Many families had their hearts torn apart during the rampage of that lone gunman as he unleashed his rage on teachers and young students who were just beginning their life’s journey.
Amidst the suffering and the grieving for the departed, the question was once again raised: Should the teachers charged with protecting our children be equipped with weapons to allow them to do so in a scene of horror such as this? But I don’t think the questions should end there. More importantly, would arming teachers be safe for the children and the teachers? Are there other options that may be more appropriate that should be considered?
Allowing teachers to carry weapons could go a long way towards making our schools more secure, but realistically non-lethal weapons would be the safer, more manageable solution in making our schools the haven the community deserves them to be. The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary, though undeniably one of the most horrendous of its kind and categorically the most recent of such magnitude, is preceded by numerous similar incidents throughout the United States over the years recorded as far back as 1927.
On May 18th of this year, a farmer named Andrew Kehoe set off two explosions at Bath Consolidated Schoolhouse in Bath, Michigan, killing himself, six adults and 38 children. In Houston, Texas on September 15th, 1959, convict Paul Orgeron exploded a suitcase of dynamite on a playground at Edgar Allen Poe Elementary killing himself, two adults and three children. On October 5th, 1966, 15-year-old David Black injured another student before killing teacher, Forrest Willey, at Grand Rapids High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
On November 12th, 1966, in Mesa, Arizona, 18-year-old student, Robert Smith, killed five people at a local beauty college. In Olean, New York, at Olean High School on December 30th, 1974, honors student Anthony Barbaro killed a school janitor and two innocent bystanders and then killed himself while awaiting trial. 16-year-old Stephen Goods was hit and killed by a stray bullet fired during a fight between two schoolmates on March 18th, 1975, at Sumner High School in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1978 on February 22nd, 15-year-old Roger Needham killed another student who had bullied him at Everett High School in Lansing, Michigan.
During class on May 18th, 1978, at Murchison Junior High School in Austin, Texas, 13-year-old John Christian shot and killed his English teacher Wilbur Grayson. In San Diego, California, on January 29th, 1979, at Grover Cleveland Elementary, 16-year-old Brenda Spencer opened fire on a school across from her home, killing the principal and janitor. (CNN U. S. , 2012) In the 80’s, violent episodes in schools increased to nearly one incident per year beginning with 17-year-old Pat Lizzotte shooting and killing her teacher Clarence Piggott during class at Valley High School in Las Vegas, Nevada, on March 19th, 1982.
On January 20th, 1983, an unnamed student shot and killed another student before turning the gun on himself. On February 24th, 1984, at 49th Street School in Los Angeles, California, sniper Tyrone Mitchell began firing on children on the playground, killing one, injuring 11 and later taking his own life. In Goddard, Kansas, at Goddard Junior High on January 21st, 1985, 14-year-old James Kearbey shot and killed Principal Jim McGee.
David and Doris Young, a couple in their 40’s, took over Cokeville Elementary School with a bomb, holding 150 children and adults hostage and demanding $300 million in ransom in Cokeville, Washington, on May 16th, 1986. The bomb accidentally detonated causing a fire during which 74 people were injured and David Young shot his wife and then himself. The same year on December 6th, 14-year-old Kristofer Hans shot and killed his substitute teacher, Henrietta Smith, at Fergus High School in Lewistown, Montana.
In Dekalb, Missouri, at Dekalb High School on March 2nd, 1987, 12-year-old Nathan Faris shot 13-year-old Timothy Perrin and then took his own life. February 11th, 1988, Pinellas Park High School, Largo, Florida; two 15-year-olds with stolen weapons, Jason McCoy and Jason Harless, shot and killed Asst. Principal Richard Allen. At Hubbard Woods Elementary School in Winnetka, Illinois, on May 20th, 1988, 30-year-old Laurie Dann killed an 8-year-old boy and injured six other people before taking her own life.
Copying the Winnetka, Illinois murder, 19-year-old James Wilson killed 8-year-olds Tequila Thomas and Shequila Bradley in the school cafeteria of Oakland Elementary School in Greenwood, South Carolina on September 26th, 1988. The worst year for school killings yet, 1988 comes to a close with the fourth incident on December 16th at Atlantic Shores Christian School in Virginia Beach, Virginia, during which 16-year-old Nicholas Elliott shot and killed teacher Karen Farley.
Concluding the decade’s violence, a brief month later on January 17th, 1989, 24-year-old drifter Patrick Purdy used an AK-47 to kill five children on a playground at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California before killing himself. (CNN U. S. , 2012) The momentum from the latter part of the 80’s decade did not lose velocity as the 90’s moved forward with a manifold of violent incidents every year succeeding the first episode on November 25th, 1991 at Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn, New York, when 14-year-old Jason.
Bently shot a gun during an argument with two other teens, the stray bullet killing a 16-year-old student who was not even involved in the altercation. Thomas Jefferson High School was revisited by the sickness on February 26th, 1992, as 15-year-old Kahlil Sumpter shot and killed two other students. On May 1st, 1992, at Lindhurst High School in Olivehurst, California, 20-year-old dropout Eric Houston returned to school to kill a former teacher and three students. Without ado, 1993 started off with a bang on January 18th when 17-year-old Scott Pennington shot and killed a teacher and a custodian at East Carter High School in Grayson, Kentucky.
Three months later on April 12th, 16-year-old Jason Robinson was stabbed to death in his Social Studies class by three teenage attackers at Dartmouth High School in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. Only 3 days had passed when, on April 15th, 44-year-old David Taber invaded Ford Middle School in Acushnet, Massachusetts, taking three hostages and later killing school nurse Carol Day. Pennsburg, Pennsylvania suffered a visit from the beast on May 24th, 1993, as 15-year-old Jason Smith, a student of Upper Perkiomen High School, killed another student who had bullied him.
The fifth assault of 1993 ensued on December 21st at Wauwatosa West High School in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin when 21-year-old former student Leonard McDowell returned to his high school killing Asst. Principal Dale Breitlow. February 1994 did not start off well at Valley View Jr. High School in Simi Valley, California; on the 1st day of the month, 13-year-old Philip Hernandez stabbed a 14-year-old student to death in the hallway. April 12th of the same year was no better in Butte, Montana, when 10-year-old Jason Osmanson shot and killed an 11-year-old classmate on the playground.
The ominous cloud passed over Wickliffe Middle School in Wickliffe, Ohio, on November 7th, 1994, as 37-year-old drifter Keith Ledeger shot and killed school custodian Peter Christopher and injured three others. On October 12th, 1995, at Blackville-Hilda High School of Blackville, South Carolina, 15-year-old Toby Sincino killed a teacher and then himself. The 15th of November, 1995, 17-year-old Jaime Rouse killed a business teacher and a 16-year-old student at Richland High School in Lynnville, Tennessee.
At Winston Education Center in Washington, DC, 14-year-old Damion Blocker encountered two masked gunmen in the stairwell where he was shot and killed by 16-year-old Darrick Evans on January 19th, 1996. In Moses Lake, Washington, at Frontier Jr. High School on February 2nd, 1996, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed two students and a teacher with a rifle. 1997 saw three violent incidents on February 19th in Alaska, October 1st in Mississippi, and December 1st Kentucky with a combined death toll of 8, including a parent, a principal, and six students.
Three episodes in 1998 in Arkansas on March 24th, Pennsylvania on April 24th, and Oregon on May 21st claimed the lives of 10 more. Littleton, Colorado was devastated on April 21st, 1999, when 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold murdered 12 students and one teacher before committing suicide in the library of Columbine High School. The final wreckage of 1999 came to pass on November 19th at Deming Middle School in Deming, New Mexico when 12-year-old Victor Cordova shot and killed a 13-year-old classmate. (CNN U. S., 2012).
The first scene of 2000 unfurled with the youngest offender to date, a 6-year-old boy, who shot and killed a 6-year-old girl at Buell Elementary in Mt. Morris Township, Michigan on February 29th. On May 26th of the same year in Lake Worth, Florida, 13-year-old Nathaniel Brazill returned to school after being sent home for misbehaving to shoot and kill his teacher, Barry Grunow, at Lake Worth Community Middle School. At Santana High School in Santee, California, on March 5th, 2001, 15-year-old Charles “Andy” Williams killed two classmates and injured 13.
The last upset until 2003 transpired on December 5th, 2001, at Springfield High in Springfield, Massachusetts when troubled teen Corey Ramos stabbed Reverend Theodore Brown, a counselor at the school, to death. 2003 saw two tragedies on April 24th at Red Lion Area Jr. High School in Red Lion, Pennsylvania when 14-year-old James Sheets shot his principal, Eugene Segro, and then himself, and on September 24th in Cold Spring, Minnesota, at Rocori High School, where 15-year-old Jason McLaughlin killed one student and critically injured another who died in October.
The sole incident in 2004 struck on February 3rd at Southwood Middle School in Palmetto Bay, Florida, involving 14-year-old Michael Hernandez who slashed the throat of 14-year-old Jaime Rodrigo Gough. 16-year-old Jeff Weise perpetrated a multiple murder in Red Lake, Minnesota, beginning with the murder of his grandfather and another adult followed by killing four fellow students at Red Lake High School, a teacher, a security guard and finally himself on March 21st, 2005.
In Jacksboro, Tennessee, Campbell County Comprehensive High School felt the sting of madness on November 8th, 2005, as a 15-year-old student opened fire on a principal and two assistant principals, killing one and critically wounding another.
Three vicious episodes rocked 2006: two dead in a Colorado high school shooting on September 27th, one dead in a high school shooting in Wisconsin on September 29th, and six dead, six wounded in a Pennsylvania Amish school on October 2nd. The singular attack in 2007 befell Henry Foss High School of Tacoma, Washington on January 3rd, culminating with 18-year-old Douglas Chantabouly fatally shooting 17-year-old Samnang Kok.
2008’s lone incident was a shooting at Central High School in Knoxville, Tennessee, leaving one dead. 2009 witnessed three brutalities in rapid succession commencing on September 15th at a Florida high school leaving one fatally stabbed, shadowed on September 23rd at a Texas high school where a teacher was stabbed and killed and the closing fatality on October 16th at a South Carolina high school where a police officer shot and killed a student after the student had stabbed the officer.
One confrontation on February 5th, 2010, at an Alabama middle school resulted in a 14-year-old with a fatal shot to the head and a conflict on January 5th, 2011, at a Nebraska high school bringing about the death of a vice principal and the suicide of the shooter. Prior to the Sandy Hook horror in December of 2012, an attack occurred on February 27th at Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, killing three and wounding four others (Timeline: School violence in the US, CNN U.S. , 2012).
2013 has already suffered the first school assault at Taft High School in Taft, California leaving one student in a coma and fighting for his life (Simmons, 2012). Following the Newtown tragedy of Sandy Hook, several state lawmakers have begun the process of introducing legislation to allow teachers to bear arms. These states include Florida, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota and Tennessee.
Oklahoma State Representative Mark McCullough is quoted as saying: We cannot continue to be shackled by politically correct, reflexive, anti-gun sentiment in the face of the obvious — our schools are soft targets. It is incredibly irresponsible to leave our schools undefended — to allow mad men to kill dozens of innocents when we have a very simple solution available to us to prevent it. I’ve been considering this proposal for a long time. In light of the savagery on display in Connecticut, I believe it’s an idea whose time has come.
(Celock, 2012, para. 3) While these states are only beginning their journey to allow teachers to bear arms, there are places where such laws already exist. In Indiana, state law makes schools “gun-free zones”, but exempts employees or others authorized by a school “to act as a security guard, perform or participate in a school function, or participate in any other activity authorized by a school” (Wilson, 2012, para. 2). Harrold, a small Texas town, allows teachers and school officials to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.
This was unanimously voted upon by the school board in 2007, requiring only that any school employee who plans to carry a weapon obtain first a state concealed-weapons permit, and then be approved by the school board to carry concealed weapons on campus. (Brown, 2012) While allowing teachers to carry guns may seem an obvious solution to many, there are those who favor other approaches to making our schools safer. Maria Otero-Ball is a kindergarten teacher in my hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Being a teacher of five and six year-old students, the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy struck a very personal chord with Mrs. Otero-Ball. Following the horrific event, Mrs. Otero-Ball made the changes that she was able to on her own to make her classroom safer; she cleared out her supply closet to enable her to hide students in such an event, put in place a classroom emergency procedure for use in conjunction with the school’s emergency procedure and she now runs a drill at least weekly to ensure her students know what to do in case of an attack such as the one in Newtown, Connecticut.
Even so, she knows that these are small changes whose chances of effectiveness are uncertain at best. Mrs. Otero-Ball has another idea that she will be proposing in the next school board meeting. Her idea is for teachers to be issued and trained on non-lethal weapons such as stun guns, tasers, tranquilizer darts, and/or pepper spray. Mrs. Otero-Ball’s stance is, “I believe that we [the teachers] would have a much better chance of immobilizing a perpetrator if armed with something like this [stun guns, tasers, tranquilizer darts, and/or pepper spray].
” (Interview: Maria Otero-Ball, 2012) Non-lethal weapons are intended to cause pain and/or physically disable an adversary with a minimal risk of serious or permanent injury. The available types of non-lethal weapons include pepper spray, which comes in a compact cylinder and emits a pepper based, oleo resin spray that has the ability to incapacitate an attacker regardless of size and/or strength. Pepper spray is most effective in close range encounters and do not require accurate aim nor much training. Pepper spray is widely used by the general public and would not require legislation to be allowed in schools.
Tasers are one of the more painful non-lethal weapons and work by shooting small electrodes which penetrate the attackers clothing and skin. These electrodes are connected to a wire which conducts a strong electrical current and incapacitates offenders for up to 10 minutes. Tasers are good for distance use and the incapacitation time of the offender would allow time for the victims to take control of the situation, remove themselves to a safer location and contact law enforcement. Stun guns work on the same basic premise as tasers, but are a hand held, close range weapon.
Stun guns could be very effective if one was able to surprise the victim from behind and take them down with a shock to the back of the neck. Both tasers and stun guns would require more training for use as well as for safety of the handler. One could expect legislature would be required to allow these in schools and supply sufficient training for the teachers designated for their use. Tranquilizer darts are best known for their use on wildlife such as bears, but can be modified for use on humans by utilizing a smaller dart and lower dosage of sedative, anesthetic or paralytic agent.
The drawbacks with the use of tranquilizer guns include a delay between the time the dart connects and the incapacitation of the attacker and a danger of the offender dying if not monitored closely. (Admin: Just be Safe, 2011) Based on the research of the benefits and drawbacks of these non-lethal options, a combination of availability of pepper spray, stun guns and tasers for teachers and training on their use and handling would be most beneficial in a situation involving a single or multiple assailant(s).
After being faced with a dreadful scene such as that which was encountered in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it may well be the gut reaction of the general public to shout, “Arm our teachers! ” In fact, since I have begun this paper, several more schools have begun legislation, voted to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons and even purchased weapons for the exclusive use of the school. However, if more thought is given to the implications of arming teachers with guns, one must see that this could prove more dangerous than helpful if the gun were to be appropriated by the wrongdoer.
Another thought that had not been considered during my research was brought to light by ‘The Ed Show’ on January 10, 2013; many parents do not condone teachers having guns, concealed or otherwise, near their children (The Ed Show, 2013). With proper training on non-lethal weapons such as stun guns, tasers, and pepper spray, teachers would be able to defend our youth without the fear of having to kill or having a murderous weapon wrested from them while attempting to defend those they strive to protect. The facts are painfully evident: 1.
Violence in school has escalated over the years and something must be done to protect the students and faculty. 2. The death toll relating to school violence is much too high for comfort. 3. Regulating gun laws will not prevent guns from being in circulation. 4. There are many drawbacks to allowing teachers to have access to guns in schools including fear of the gun falling into the wrong hands, discomfort of the parents knowing there are guns in the schools and what the shooter would have to deal with if they were to kill someone.
5. Conceivably, non-lethal weapons would be the safer, more manageable solution in making our schools the haven the community deserves them to be. In light of all of the evidence, it is apparent that a compromise could be made to keep our schools safe by giving the teachers the tools they need and still keep guns out of our schools, thus satisfying government, parents, teachers, students and families alike.
This could be achieved by introducing a comprehensive plan to supply all teachers with pepper spray, select teachers with Tasers and stun guns and providing the training the teachers need to successfully use these defenses during an attack. References: Admin (2011, June 5). Tasers, stun guns & pepper spray: Non-lethal self defense weapons | Just B Safe. Just B Safe. Retrieved December 15, 2012, from http://www. justbsafe. com/? p=84 Aradillas, E. , Baker, K. C. , Billups, A. , Breuer, H. , Dennis, A. , Weisensee Egan, N. , . . . Zuckermann, S. (2012, December).
Tragedy in new town: Remember forever. People, 78(27), 52-59. Brown, A. (2012, December 20). Texas town allows teachers to carry concealed guns. Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 24, 2012, from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/huff-wires/20121220/us-gun-toting-teachers/? utm_hp_ref=green&ir=green Celock, J. (2012, December 18). Guns for teachers legislation on the rise in states. Breaking News and Opinion on The Huffington Post. Retrieved December 22, 2012, from http://www. huffingtonpost. com/2012/12/18/guns-for-teachers_n_2324095. html.