Susan Campbell (opinion): I’m a teacher, not a SWAT team member

Illustration about teachers using guns.

Illustration about teachers using guns.

Mark Weber

I am a teacher at a private university in Connecticut, and you do not want to give me a gun to take into class.

Believe me, it’s not because I don’t want your (adult) children safe. I very much do. And it’s not because I am anti-gun. I am not. I grew up gun-adjacent and made it my business to know how to act around weaponry.

But if you expect me to add “SWAT team member” to my resume, then I know you’re not serious about addressing our gun problem. That notion is unreasonable and irresponsible of any elected officials who pretends it’s a solution. Such conversation is diversionary, at best, and we don’t have the time to play around before the next sad spray of bullets cuts lives short.

As we saw in Uvalde, Texas, where a shooter killed 19 children and two teachers last week, even trained professionals don’t always stop a mass shooter. The blood-gargling NRA loves to trumpet every rare moment when someone with a gun is able to halt a home intrusion or a potential mass shooting. But the NRA long ago abandoned its mission, and is now nothing more than a gun delivery system. They would put firearms into the hands of toddlers, so let’s put them aside for now.

If we want to be serious about our discussions, research out of Stanford University (among other entities) shows that states (such as Texas) with expansive right-to-carry laws actually experience increases in violent crime in the years after those laws are enacted. Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training Center looked at 316 mass shootings between 2000 and 2019 in Texas alone, and found that just 10 times, the chaos was stopped by a person with a gun. (Forty other times, people were able to stop the violence using either their hands or another weapon. The rest of those times, there was no effective bystander intervention.)

More guns will never be the answer to this public health issue. Beefing up security at schools — as multiple Connecticut districts did last week — is, at best, a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound. Our schools need security, as do our houses of worship, and nonprofits that administer to vulnerable populations, and last week, the State Bond Commission released $5 million for a grant program that could upgrade security at those places.

One minister called that an “unfortunate reality.”

Indeed. But as we watch the scroll of pictures and names of children shot dead in that Texas classroom, surely we can climb down from our political perches long enough to come up with honest solutions.

Let’s start by letting go of the specious “good guy with a gun” argument, and forget about deputizing teachers to serve as armed guards in schools. That swaggering notion falls apart both when you look at the data, and when you realize just how chaotic is a public shooting. Remember April’s New York subway attack? Watch the videos, and ask yourself: Who’s the bad guy? Who should you shoot?

Again, Band-Aids stop the bleeding, provided the wound is small. If we aren’t willing to look at banning assault weapons, instituting background checks any time someone purchases a gun, and making sure politicians who live in the pocket of the NRA get sent home to spend more time with their families, then we’re strictly in a holding pattern until the next tragedy.

While we waited last week for Texas law enforcement to come up with an honest timeline for the tragedy at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School, we now know that bad decisions were made that allowed the shooter more time to perhaps kill more children. So yes, we need more training. We need more everything, but let’s not get distracted from the issue at hand. The guns that stalk the hallways and the subways kill people faster and more efficiently than any author of any amendment could have imagined. So let’s address that.

Let me close with a story: In October 2017, a gunman rained bullets down on a country music concert in Las Vegas, and killed 60 people and injured more than 850.

When I came in to my first class after that shooting, the students were talking about it. I had not up to that point thought about classroom safety on any significant level, but that morning, we discussed what needed to happen in the case of a serious threat from an armed intruder. To protect ourselves, I said the (glass) doors at the front of the room would stay locked, and we would all rush for cover in and near a small closet on one side of the room.

To me, the most important thing was that on that day, the students felt safe, and that they knew that I would do everything in my power — everything — to protect them.

It is in my power to lobby to radically limit a person’s ability to secure a weapon in this country. We fail our children if we don’t work together to do that precisely that.

Susan Campbell is the author of “Frog Hollow: Stories from an American Neighborhood,” “Tempest-Tossed: The Spirit of Isabella Beecher Hooker” and “Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism and the American Girl.” She is Distinguished Lecturer at the University of New Haven, where she teaches journalism.