Martinez: Arming teachers only creates more problems

Marissa Martinez, Assistant Opinion Editor

Combined, my parents have 45 years of experience in public education. From teaching in Chicago and Evanston schools to working in district-wide administration to effecting change on a national level, my immediate family has extensive education ties. Including my extended family, nearly half of my close relatives on both sides work in education. And before I discovered journalism, I wanted to follow in my family’s footsteps and be a teacher too.

This is why it’s that much harder for me to swallow the proposition that teachers should be able to carry guns in school to prevent further mass shootings. The most egregious example recently was when President Donald Trump suggested arming 20 percent of teachers Wednesday. While the idea has gained additional traction on social media after the Parkland school shootings, the debate isn’t new.  Back during 2017 senate nominations, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos infamously suggested teachers carry guns to protect themselves from grizzly bears.

There are enormous financial implications for arming even 20 percent of U.S. teaching populations. Each state has different standards for legally owning and carrying a firearm as a citizen — rather than as a police officer, for example. In Chicago, for instance, it can cost hundreds of dollars to complete the process: applying for a Firearm Owners Identification Card ($10), completing firearm safety classes ($100-150), applying for an Illinois Concealed Carry license ($150), purchasing the gun itself (often $300-400 for used guns) and officially registering the firearm ($15). The cheapest initial costs for an individual gun owner in Chicago would likely be at least $575, not including factors like maintenance, additional courses or storage boxes that would all drive up the price significantly.

Implementation in a national public education system, already struggling financially, would be disastrous to implement. Arming even 10 percent of the 35,619 Chicago Public Schools employees — not limited to teachers — could cost $1.87 million dollars, based off the numbers above. That’s not a good look for a school system with more than $8 billion dollars in debt.

However, beyond its potential financial flaws, arming teachers has a lot of social implications to be considered. There has been a long history of security guards and school officers showing racial and religious bias toward children during school hours. Moreover, there are many incidents of teachers calling students the N-word or otherwise overreacting using harsh language or even violence. In- and out-of-school suspensions are already given at higher rates to black and Latinx students. Adding guns into that mix would be that much more toxic: Angry teachers might impulsively reach for one in a tense situation and show bias in doing so.

Dozens of concerning situations beyond this systematic discrimination come to mind. What happens when police mistake teachers — especially teachers of color — for the active shooter? What if shooters target teachers first because they might be armed?

Human error must also not be overlooked: Statistics show numerous unintentional shootings occur yearly.

The potential for accidentally harming a child will always exist if teachers can’t undergo full, comprehensive training. Even if all precautions are taken, everyone has off-days and a loaded gun could be within reach of a child any number of ways. On a day-to-day basis, teachers’ worst problems should be misplaced quizzes, not misplaced guns.

Further, it is simply not the sole responsibility of teachers risk their lives for their students. As a nation, we would scoff at the idea of arming 20 percent of community religious leaders, festival workers or club owners, even though tragic mass shootings have occurred at their places of work as well. Educators already have a lot on their plate beyond teaching an entire nation. On top of all that, our president now expects teachers to be the first line of defense against school shooters, while ignoring the need for better pay, resources and support.

As opposed to police officers whose jobs involve protection and threat assessment, teachers — who have countless other priorities and responsibilities — shouldn’t have to devote time and energy to learning how to diffuse a school shooter situation with a firearm.

This ill-conceived proposal is yet another example of the national disdain toward public school teachers. As sociologist Eve Ewing tweeted Thursday night, “Some of this rhetoric comes from the fact that many people already don’t see teachers as fully human. They see teachers as disposable pawns.” Many teacher groups have already reacted negatively to the proposed firearm introduction into schools, claiming that schools already ask educators to do so much for students. We already have a shortage of dedicated teachers — numbers would likely drop further if acting as a soldier was tacked on to the responsibilities list.

I would be equally proud and devastated if one of my family members died to protect their students. But, I cannot imagine a world where they would be forced to handle or carry a firearm at school. Instead of feeling safer, I would be even more on edge when they went to work, regardless of how likely a school shooting is at any given moment. As a nation, we need to take a serious look at this reckless, ill-considered proposal that regards teachers with little respect and truly decide how we want our schools to develop moving forward.

Marissa Martinez is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.