Madness

In the near future, Carl Bosch imagines one rural Pennsylvania school district instituting gun training for its teachers. What’s next?

It’s 2018 in a small, rural elementary school in the middle of Pennsylvania.  When it comes to gun control laws, some states have stringent laws on the books, some not. Pennsylvania falls somewhere in the middle. A state with many deer hunters and gun collectors there’s still a strong bastion of gun rights advocates. Following the lead of states like Florida, Utah, Ohio and a host of others, some school districts have decided to equip their teachers with gun training.

Experts have been brought in. Rubber guns have been passed around the room. Teachers have been fingerprinted and offered identity checks.  They’ve enrolled in training sessions, told how to stand, shown the proper grip and stance, how to level the gun and prepare for the recoil. The teachers are apt pupils, they listen intently, sign up for practice at a local firing range. Some want their guns sooner, rather than later. Some don’t want a gun anywhere near their students.

Mrs. Smith is a warm, affectionate teacher to her current crop of second graders as she has been for the last fifteen years of her career.  She teaches them how to read and write, to learn the basics of math, and to think for themselves and be responsible. In addition, she hugs them when they fall on the playground, she celebrates their birthdays and encourages their unique differences. She’s a career teacher, here for the long run. Her students are much the better for her presence in their lives.

“This a lockdown,” is announced over the loudspeaker. The students all move quietly and quickly to the corner of the room and huddle, closely together, on the floor. Mrs. Smith’s heart does a little flip since no lockdown was planned. She herds her students together and begins to read them a story when she hears a series of noises not unlike whip cracks or of firecrackers going off, somewhere down the hall.

She gets up and moves a few feet away to a low cabinet. She takes the key on its chain, which she always wears around her neck, opens the cabinet, unlocks the safe and retrieves her handgun. She checks the chamber, inserts the clip, returns to her seat on the little chair near her students, and places the Sig Sauer in her lap.  She picks up the book, but first looks carefully into the faces of the seven-year olds watching her carefully.

“Don’t worry,” she says calmly, “we’re all safe.”

 

Read more on Education and Guns on The Good Life.

Image credit: dnwallace/Flickr

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About Carl Bosch

Carl Bosch has appeared in publications as varied as the New York Times and Cricket magazine. His books for children have sold over 60,000 copies. An educator for 38 years (soon coming to an end) he's now working on storytelling through MouseMuse Productions and performing marriage ceremonies as a Justice of the Peace.

Comments

  1. Richard Aubrey says:

    Carl can imagine what he wants; free country and all that.
    So far as I know, the push is either to arrange for armed cops or resource officers to be in the building, or to allow teachers and other staff already licensed to carry to carry in school.
    We’ve tried the “Shoot here, nobody will shoot back for at least a quarter of an hour” arrangement. How’s that working out?
    You want to make policy based on imagination, you have to count my imagination as well. Not sure you want to go there.
    Probably just a coincidence, but in the old days when lots of schools had rifle teams, there were no school shootings. Just sayin’.

  2. wellokaythen says:

    Bad time for little Timmy to burst through the classroom door coming back from using the bathroom. Blam Blam! Down goes the lead in the school play.

    Wow. Our society sure has a split personality about teachers. On the one hand, we’re supposed to trust them to use firearms safely and effectively in the classroom. On the other hand, we can’t trust them to organize their own collective bargaining units, because teachers are so completely corrupt and unreliable. I believe one rightwing commentator said teachers unions were worse than terrorists. So, now we should arm teachers?

    We can’t trust a science teacher to use her judgment about what to teach in biology class, but we can trust her to make a good decision about who to shoot and who not to shoot? She can’t be trusted to teach about life science, but can be trusted to decide when to take a life.

    • wellokaythen- It’s quite a tangent to go into collective bargaining and science content. Although I believe they’re important topics to discuss, I don’t find them germane to the original article. Plus I believe it’s distracting to argue against positions/people of “split personality” that are not actually written here.

      While student safety is already a responsibility of teachers, I don’t believe armed defense should be required of them. That extent of protection and potential use of force should be reserved to those with the discipline, demeanor, and attentiveness to minimize harm rather than exacerbate it. As a practical matter, I suspect most teachers already find they have too many other duties to assume the new one to be armed. Additionally, I suspect many teachers would be uncomfortable being armed.

      However, there may be some teachers which seek this duty and fulfill it with competence. I don’t believe that we should categorically reject such possibility of armed teachers, provided they volunteer and there is some vetting. I believe it makes good sense to allow armed teachers in some cases, like that of a very rural district in which police response would take too long for a crisis and in which a school system can’t fund dedicated security.

      I choose to trust the judgment of school districts to craft sensible policy for their community. Do you trust school districts to make local decisions or do you advocate your judgment as better for the entire nation? Why or why not?

      • Jojn Schtoll says:

        “I choose to trust the judgment of school districts to craft sensible policy for their community”

        Really, you trust them, I sure don’t.

        Lets see, only recently a policy was enacted that allowed a 5 year old girl to be suspened for 10 days because she was playing with a Hello Kitty Bubble Gun and was proclaimed a terrorist.

        I have to wonder, when the teachers are armed, does this mean that this little girl will be shot becuase she has a “GUN”.

        I know that is kinda silly but is it any more silly than being suspended for 10 days for a bubble gun or how about this one north of the border.

        h ttp://www.torontosun.com/2012/02/28/father-arrested-over-daughters-gun-drawing-wont-get-apology-agency-says”

        Sounds like trush worthy people to me.

        • Jojn- I appreciate you responding to both the “do you trust” and the “why not”.

          Yes, really, I do trust the judgment of school districts. I trust it to be generally good, not perfect. That’s the most we can expect of humans. I believe school boards are the most appropriate level/body to consider the multitude of factors specific to a geography, staff, facilities, etc. which should be balanced about how to protect their students. There are many possible policy choices about if/when/how armed teachers, or armed guards, or onsite police patrol, or just-legislate-and-pray. The practicality of implementation as well as acceptability/comfort within each community for each of those possible choices will vary widely across the nation.

          You cite one story about questionable judgment and pose one hypothetical. I can think of several absurd examples enforcing “zero tolerance” policies too, but there are thousands of school districts. I don’t perceive a widespread fault with the intention or the effectiveness of school boards. If you find your school district policies or decision-makers objectionable, then you should advocate against those specifics. Others in their own locale should do the same.

          The typical policy to protect students in the USA seems to be “gun free school zone” legislation, a procedure for some sort of lockdown, and calling emergency services eventually. For your school district, are you satisfied with the outcome of that approach? Do you advocate anything different?

        • wellokaythen says:

          And, dear lord, if you think the education bureaucracy is already bloated with too many administrators, just imagine adding a whole new internal security apparatus. One more big administrative position with files, serial numbers, personnel screenings, committee meetings, etc. To all of those bureuacratic BS inservice days that teachers get, add a few more per year for gun training.

      • wellokaythen says:

        I brought up collective bargaining and other teacher issues because I just thought it was ironic that in a culture that is often really negative about school teachers, there are others who want to give them even more power over life and death decisions, and it seems like these two sentiments are coming from the same groups of people. I associate the “let the teachers arm themselves” argument with those on the conservative side of the spectrum, which I also associate with the “don’t let teachers make unions” argument. Those two arguments seem somewhat contradictory in their assumptions about what teachers are like. And, I associate the “let local schools decide for themselves” with conservatives, but the national No Child Left Behind program was a product of a conservative administration, so I’m a little confused there as well.

        Fair questions about local versus state versus federal education policies. I guess I support the possibility of a combination. No, I don’t think local school boards should have a total blank check to craft whatever policies they see fit. There is a place for some degree of national standards, because civil rights, for example, are by their nature a national Constitutional issue. Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal, but, for example, I don’t think school districts should be allowed to return to pre-Brown racial segregation, no matter how many people on a school board vote for it. At the very least there ought to be some sort of higher appeal process – if your school district screws over your child, you should be able to go over their heads somehow.

        (Personally, I don’t place absolute blind trust in any political body at any level. To me that is just begging for abuse.)

        I also associate the “get the federal government out of our schools” argument with the people who are paradoxically most comfortable with allowing military recruiters into high schools. So, send the Feds out one door but into the other door?

        I did like what your message said about vetting people before they are allowed to carry firearms. Yes, please, let’s see more of that! It doesn’t seem like a common argument among people who see gun ownership as a solution to gun violence. It suggests that one’s right to bear arms can and should be limited based on some very strict rules. Excellent point. On this you and I seem to agree.

  3. Speculative fiction such as this article is interesting and useful in the reaction it evokes (step 1), only to the extent that we then introspect carefully (step 2). I worry that most readers will omit step 2 and simply emote without thinking.

    It would be great if the topics surfaced by the author’s imaginary situation would lead to a fact/logic/objective discussion about the why/how and why-not/how-not of permitting armed teachers. In other words, I wish readers (and other authors) would attempt to persuade each other and coalesce some common ground, rather than maintain polarized opinions.

  4. Richard Aubrey says:

    police response would take too long

    James D. What is “too long”? Newtown is not rural and the cops got there as fast as they could–presumably–which took about fifteen minutes. Not sure why it took that long, but somebody has to call and somebody has to call somebody else who has toget in the car and fight traffic and….
    Columbine, and Aurora were not rural.

    • Richard- I don’t have a definite duration for “too long”, other than to say I believe the response time can be much shorter with each school system finding its own practical solution to onsite security. I mentioned “very rural district” as one situation for readers who disagree with me/you to consider how their blanket rejection may not make sense. I didn’t mean rural to be the only case, however.

    • wellokaythen says:

      And Columbine HS actually already had two polic officers assigned to it. They just happened to be off-campus when the shooting started.

  5. The piece describes a scenario that is both soothing and disturbing. In fact, when she says, “We’re all safe,” I believe her. But what price will be exacted in return? That’s the brilliance of the story: it describes a protective and calm reaction to a grave danger, but leaves the reader to imagine what happens next.

  6. Next chapter (summary): A gunman in a bulletproof vest bursts into the classroom, wielding an AR 5. The panicked teacher manages to take a single shot at the gunman — missing — before he mows her down with his semi-automatic weapon, and proceeds to spray bullets at the children while they scream and run in every direction. All of them are dead within minutes. The end.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Jane

    Without the teacher’s shot, they’re all dead in minutes. What’s your point?
    Thing is, the teacher might hit. Then they’re all okay except for the shooter.
    We can see, if our eyes do not reflexively turn away, regular reports of women, and young girls, using guns effectively to defend themselves and their homes.
    So it’s possible the teacher in your hypo might hit.
    OTOH, without a gun, it’s not possible.
    Your pick is…?

    • Sure, she might hit. (Though if the shooter is wearing a bulletproof vest, it may or may not make a difference.)

      My point is that arming teachers doesn’t make us any safer. How long before a teacher panics and shoots an innocent person? (What if it had been a police officer bursting in the door?) How long before a child somehow gets his or her hands on a gun accidentally?

      The only way to make everyone safer is to make it much, MUCH harder (or even illegal) for people to get their hands on the deadliest of guns — the ones specifically designed for killing as many people as quickly as possible — and to step up security measures at schools and other public buildings.

      • “The only way to make everyone safer is to make it much, MUCH harder (or even illegal) for people to get their hands on the deadliest of guns — the ones specifically designed for killing as many people as quickly as possible”

        There are 13 states that do not allow possession of a fully auto firearm, and in the 37 states that do, a full criminal background check along with fingerprinting is required as part of the application process. And with the Gun Control Act of 1986 civilians aren’t even allowed to purchase or possess fully auto firearms that were manufactured after 1986. Not to mention the ridiculous number of hoops one must jump through if one actually does possess a fully auto firearm. My point is, how much harder can the government make it to own these types of weapons without making them completely and totally illegal? More gun laws do not equal more protection.

    • wellokaythen says:

      I can easily imagine a scenario in which the Newtown’s shooter’s mom was a teacher. Presumably the Newtown shooter’s mom had those firearms in the house to keep him safe, and may have even told him at one point, “don’t worry, son, we’re all safe now….”

  8. Rozanne Gates says:

    Bill, in many ways I am glad I won’t be around to see the demise of this country – which will happen not from outsiders certainly but from the inside. The element of this citizenry that thinks guns are OK is exactly the element that will be responsible for its demise. Guns are not OK, guns should be made obsolete, destroyed, and replaced with intelligence. But as you can guess, that is no small task, and it is a lot easier to just shoot a gun than it is to be intelligent.

    • Rozanne- I share a wish that you have: violence replaced with intelligence. We should work to reduce violent conflict. However, I believe it is reality that many people will continue to perpetrate violence (including at schools) for a variety of reasons (anger/greed/envy/illness) that are not going away.

      You disparage with tremendous prejudice a huge set of individuals, like me, who believe that guns can be owned and used responsibly (hopefully never but prepared just in case). You will not persuade people by telling them that they/we are an element of demise and implying they/we are unintelligent.

      You do not offer here an alternative solution to armed teachers/guards/whatever. It is a lot easier to hope for an ideal than it is to handle an unwanted reality. Please, consider the reality that some people are malevolent and it takes lethal force to stop some of those bad people in this world.

      • Rozanne Gates says:

        Again, unequivocally, I state:

        GUNS – WE CAN LIVE WITHOUT THEM.

        No matter how you try to justify the existence of guns in private ownership, it is stupid to own a gun. Unless you are planning to kill someone or something, you don’t need a gun. If you are planning to kill someone or something, you should be investigated by the FBI as a domestic threat. In fact, the President is sworn to protect the people of the United States from threats both foreign and domestic. Anyone with a gun is a domestic threat and the President is obligated to protect us from those elements.

        • Rozanne- I would consider and respect your position as much as you do mine. However, you are not pitching an idea which will find adequate support for realization, nor working to find common ground. Such style of discourse perpetuates polarization and conflict in this country. Please reconsider how you discuss strong differences of opinion.

          • Rozanne Gates says:

            Here’s an idea – BAN ALL GUNS AND WATCH HOW MANY PEOPLE GET TO LIVE THEIR LIVES!
            And oh yes – Well-behaved women never made history.

            • Richard Aubrey says:

              Rozanne.
              How does banning work? The law is passed and then what? 300 million guns+, that we know about, all turn to dust? How about the ones we don’t know about?
              Then the small person, the woman, the elderly will be unable to protect themselves against the big, the strong, those armed with knives or clubs. Or bare hands.
              How many die of your idea?

            • Rozanne Gates says:

              300 million guns turning to dust starts with Gun #1 and just keeps going. Sounds great to me. How many people get to live with my idea? Or maybe you should seek the answer to that from those who have died by the gun.

            • Richard Aubrey says:

              Rozanne.
              Planet check: This is Earth. How do guns turn to dust because a law is passed?
              Oh, I get it. This is a joke. Aubrey’s sometimes thick as a brick. Sorry.

    • wellokaythen says:

      As I’ve written elsewhere, what may ultimately decide the issue is the question of insurance. Or, the issue of legal liability in case of an accidental death. Schools have to pay for insurance. I can’t imagine that the companies insuring schools will give you a good deal on insurance when you allow teachers to carry guns into the classroom. They would jack up the cost of insurance. The legal liability you take on would go through the roof.

      Parents today sue school districts for millions of dollars over the slightest little thing. Imagine a student shot in a crossfire. Cha-ching!

  9. Richard Aubrey says:

    Rozanne,

    If I get your point, cops will still have guns. Automatic, some of them. Semi-auto, all of them. Hi-cap mags.
    Cops are second on the scene. They can have guns, right?
    How about the first people on scene, aka potential victims? Why must they be disarmed?

  10. Dan Flowers says:

    Self-protection is a fundamental right that cannot be denied to people because they happen to work in a school. We also trust them with the lives of our children daily. Some of them may be ok with the “wait-to-die” policies. Many are not. Because a person is not a cop does not mean that:
    1. They are automatically inept. My wife can shoot rings around most of the cops I know, and probably has better judgment than most.
    2. They they lack the discipline to train or become proficient. Most recreational shooters I know train more often than the cops I know, and do it on their own dime.
    3. That they do not have the will or intestinal fortitude to protect themselves or others… Teachers who are brave enough to shield students with their bodies are brave enough and dedicated enough to fight back if given the tools.
    4. That the chances of an accident or a bystander being injured or killed outweigh the benefit of being able to stop someone who might kill dozens otherwise. I’m sorry, but the “collateral damage” argument goes out the window during mass-murders considering the price of doing nothing. 75% of mass-killers shoot themselves as soon as they are opposed anyway.
    I wish Victoria Soto or any of the other teachers were still here to opine on whether they would have liked to have had a gun instead of being shot to death unarmed.

  11. wellokaythen says:

    It’s the classic “security dilemma” – how can I arm myself in self-defense without encouraging other people to arm themselves in fear of me? Countries and individuals both face this problem.

    Then there’s the corollary question – if I don’t believe in violence, then what am I supposed to do when confronted with someone who does?

  12. Dan Flowers says:

    What do you do? You die. That is the only option you have given yourself. You are a sheep before the wolf and you will die unless you are saved by a “sheepdog”. The sheepdog is not a predator, will never hurt the sheep, but is capable of righteous violence against the predators. We have been transformed from a nation of sheepdogs to one of sheep and wolves by the sheep who fear the teeth of the sheepdogs, and cannot distinguish them from wolves.

  13. Dan Flowers says:

    Then you still die, because at the end of the day, you have still chosen to be a sheep.

    • wellokaythen says:

      Seems to be an awkward metaphor, because for one thing there are clear visual differences between a sheepdog and a wolf, but not nearly as clear immediate visual difference between people equally armed for different purposes. Much easier to tell the difference between those two animals than telling the difference between a “good guy with a gun” on school grounds and a “bad guy with a gun” on school grounds. If only the Armed Private Citizens Defending Our Children looked noticeably different from the Gun-Wielding Maniac Here to Shoot Our Children.

      If an actual canine walked onto campus, I could tell just by looking at it if it’s a wolf or a sheepdog. Somebody walking down the hall with a gun, though — how do I tell the difference?

      It would work better as an analogy if sheepdogs could fire their fangs out and kill both wolves on purpose and sheep by accident. It would work better if there weren’t insane wolves out there convinced that they are in fact sheepdogs, or wolves pretending to be sheepdogs. It would make more sense as a metaphor if wolves could steal fangs from sheepdogs and use them against sheep and dog. It would make more sense if the wolf could not disguise himself as a sheepdog when he buys his fangs at a fang show.

  14. I would like to comment on James D. and his entry on January 22. Being the author of the original fictional piece, my entire focus was to provoke response, not in an aggressive tirade but in an effort to continue the conversation and the debate. We need to talk and listen, listen very carefully, and hear each other. We need to be willing to consider others opinions and if they challenge our own, to not close our minds, but to grapple with the difficulties that others’ opinions present to us. There are solutions here, that I truly believe. I am not sure where they lie, but I believe we can find them and be better, protect not only our children, which is essential, but protect ourselves in a deeper and more meaningful America.

  15. I guess I’m just a silly liberal. I think teachers should be able to teach sex ed but should not be armed with guns. Conservatives seem to think teachers should be armed with guns but not allowed not teach sex ed. I prefer guns silent and teachers talking about sex to guns fired and teachers silent about sex.

    Armed teachers will make their lives better, but teaching about natural selection and human sexuality will kill them?

  16. Dan Flowers says:

    wellokaythen – Its easy to tell the difference. If it is a bad guy, he’ll shoot you in the face. If he doesn’t, he obviously has a different agenda. You seem to want to cloud the water with all manner of hypotheticals. Here is the “ground truth”. Unarmed people have ZERO options to defend themselves. You either believe that you have the right to self-preservation or you don’t. If it truly is a right, government has no moral standing to deny you that right. I believe that the family of every person killed in a gun-free zone (which is where all but one of the mass-shootings of the last 20 years have happened) should file a civil suit against the government entity which denied them of their fundamental right to defend their own lives. Naturally, if armed you accept the personal responsibility for whatever damage occurs from your actions. I cannot however, in any of the instances or case studies I have read, find a single instance where the “collateral damage” from a civilian shooting could even come close to the type or carnage wrought by unopposed active shooters. Another interesting fact you might be interested in is that civilians who are in shooting situations actually have a 3x higher accuracy rate on shots fired than law-enforcement. At any rate, there is no perfect answer. The idea that people shoud not be allowed the means to protect themselves or to exercise the natural right to self-preservation; to be forced to die without any ability to resist is evil and irrational. I am sure the Jews on the edge of the mass graves waiting for the pistol-wielding Nazis or the teachers at Sandy Hook were saying…”I sure am glad I don’t have a gun, because if I shot it at the bad guy I might miss and accidently hit someone else”. Your assertions are absurd in the face of any logic.

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