The following was written by Darien High School senior Libby Markham this summer for the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.
In the wake of this year’s mass shootings, Darien High School has been faced with the question of how to create a safer learning environment. On Aug. 23, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was reported to have proposed using over $1 billion of federal funds to put more guns in schools. It is crucial to acknowledge that Trump’s and DeVos’s proposal of arming teachers is a problematic and unrealistic approach, and instead DHS should focus on mental health support for students and faculty and advocate for stricter gun laws and enforcement.
Arming qualified teachers with firearms would not curb gun violence in schools because of the evident correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. With higher gun ownership rates in certain states, gun murder rates can be up to 114% higher than in states with lower ownership rates, according to Mother Jones. Arming teachers would only increase gun ownership and continue the cycle of gun violence.
Evidence suggests that armed guards in schools do little to deter or prevent school shootings, so armed teachers may have no significant benefits. Gun violence has occurred in at least 68 schools that had an armed guard or a police officer, according to the Washington Post. There have also been several accounts of these highly trained individuals making mistakes that have lead to injured students and faculty. Arming teachers, who will not be as thoroughly trained as the guards and officers who are tasked with keeping the school safe, leaves room for a lot of accidents that could cost lives.
Another significant consequence of arming teachers is creating a negative impact on the learning environment that is crucial to DHS. School should continue to be a place where students feel like a part of the community, and it should continue to promote an inclusive and safe environment. If teachers were given firearms, this type of environment would not be possible. Students learn best when they have a healthy relationship with their teachers and feel connected to the school community, according to Patricia Jennings, a University of Virginia associate professor and expert on teacher stress. With armed teachers, DHS would lose a sense of community that is so valuable.
While people see arming teachers as at least a step in the right direction, it isn’t responsible to take such a drastic step without looking at the dangers that this decision may create. It’s understandable that safety is a priority in high schools, but it’s crucial to acknowledge what we will lose as a school and as a nation if teachers are armed. Do we want students to fear their teachers? Should teachers be expected to kill? Instead of arming teachers, the Darien community should address the mental health of students and faculty and promote a positive learning environment, and people should continue to advocate for stricter gun laws on a national level. The future of schools and learning is at stake.