Mastriano’s plan to arm teachers is the ultimate madness | Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Teachers are already leaving the profession in waves. This will only hasten the exodus

July 27, 2022 6:30 am

UVALDE, TEXAS – MAY 25: A child crosses under caution tape at Robb Elementary School on May 25, 2022 in Uvalde, Texas. According to reports, during the mass shooting, 19 students and 2 adults were killed, with the gunman fatally shot by law enforcement. (Photo by Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

“Mastriano calls for arming school employees to protect kids” blazed the headline of an article I encountered as I was perusing my morning news sites earlier this week. 

“School employees with a license to carry a firearm would be permitted to carry a weapon at work under legislation introduced on late last week by state senator and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Doug Mastriano,” PennLive reporter Jan Murphy  wrote.

Here we go again. And again. Madness erupts.

Whenever the issue of school safety arises, some politicians who are so far right on the ideological spectrum that they have left reality propose arming teachers. It was a dunderheaded idea back in 2014, when I first wrote about such a proposal, and it is just as doltish today.

Eight years ago I wrote that:

“[Former] Pennsylvania state Sen. Don White has proffered Senate Bill 1193 which would, according to White’s website, “ . . . allow school personnel to have access to firearms in school safety zones if school districts establish proper guidelines and they are licensed to carry a concealed firearm and have met certain training requirements in the use and handling of firearms.”

At that time I noted, “I speak as a teacher, a father, a grandfather, and a gun owner — but not a member of the demagogic NRA –when I say this is a hare-brained proposition.

“I spent half of my life in a public school classroom and have come to know scores of other teachers.  All but a few of them proved themselves to be skilled instructors, devoted public servants, solid citizens, and fine people.

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“What they do not embody are temperaments that make them suited to keeping a Ruger® or Smith and Wesson® loaded in their classrooms, their second homes.  Despite the occasional bluster they manifest, good teachers are, by nature, nurturers, trained to address problems and struggles in thoughtful, peaceful ways; they are not mercenaries hired and trained to man scholastic battlefields.

“Today’s teachers build emotional connections with their pupils; they encourage feelings of trust and confidence.  Confronting an armed malefactor requires emotional detachment and steely resolve, character traits demanded of police officers and members of the military, not of second-grade music teachers or ninth-grade English pedagogues.”

I am not the only one who feels teachers should not be armed. Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services, in response to the national discussion on arming teachers and school staff, and armed volunteers in schools, advises school districts against allowing teachers and school staff to be armed. He wrote, “The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not guns.”

Trump continues, “Suggesting that by providing teachers, principals, custodians, or other school staff with 8, 16, 40, or even 60 hours of firearms training on firing, handling, and holstering a gun somehow makes a non-law enforcement officer suddenly qualified to provide public safety services devalues our highly trained police professionals and is a high-risk to the safety of students, teachers, and other school staff.”

Even more perilous than the physical dangers of arming teachers are the psychological torments suffered by students in teacher-armed classrooms.

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Eight years ago I cited Kathy Cowan of the National Association of School Psychologists who reported, “It’s a natural instinct to think that if you have someone armed you are safer. Guns and other excessive security measures do not make kids feel safer [but] increase their perception that they are unsafe,” she said. “If they have to go through metal detectors or pass by an armed guard, they believe they are not in a safe place.”

Continuing studies since Dr. Cowan’s findings verify her views.

For instance, Sonali Rajan, an assistant professor of Health Education at Teachers’ College at Columbia University, summarizes her studies by writing, “Arming teachers will not solve gun violence in schools. Research unequivocally illustrates that increased gun access and gun possession are associated with heightened violence, thereby suggesting that increasing the presence of guns in schools is likely to have harmful effects on our nation’s students.”

Students in armed classrooms are not the only ones vulnerable to mental health issues; the armed teachers themselves are at risk of emotional consequences.

Linda Woolf, Ph.D., professor of psychology at Webster University, in the Psychology Today article “Arming Teachers: Good or Bad Idea?” answers the question this way:

“So what is the impact on armed teachers? There appears to be the idea that with just a little bit of training and the provision of a handgun, teachers will be able to do the job of the police, specifically SWAT, or the military. It is assumed that a teacher whose job is imbued with love for children and the community will somehow be able to take on the calculating persona needed to track and shoot another human being. It is assumed that in the blink of an eye during an incredibly stressful, noisy, chaotic environment, a teacher will be able to instantly transition from reading haikus to becoming a skilled security force and killer. These are unrealistic assumptions.”

Unrealistic indeed.

Nowadays our society has maddeningly placed so many other unrealistic demands on our public school teachers; in addition to their instructional duties, our society has foisted upon them demands to be social workers, standardized test tutors, paternal or maternal surrogates, classroom materials suppliers, and angry parental tirades targets.

It is small wonder that a staggering 55 percent of educators are thinking about leaving the profession earlier than they had planned according to a February, 2022, survey.  If arming teachers becomes a reality in Pennsylvania and elsewhere, I predict that number of disenchanted educators will rise even higher.

David W. Johnson, Ed.D. of the University of Minnesota sums up the worth of these egregious proposals: “There is considerable downside to arming teachers will guns. The dangers of doing so far outweigh the potential advantages. What will make schools safer is for Congress to ban all assault weapons and require a license to own a gun. It is the failure of our government that is the problem, not the absence of guns in schools.”

We have fallen down the rabbit hole. In a world where a kindergartner is suspended for pointing a “finger gun” at a classmate, we still have politicians who propose that Pennsylvania public school teachers be permitted to pack heat in their schoolrooms.

Writer Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) might have been a seer, too; after all, he did pen, “But I don’t want to go among mad people,” said Alice. 

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat. “We’re all mad here.”

“But I don’t want to go among mad people,” Alice remarked.

“Oh, you can’t help that,” said the Cat: “we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.”

“How do you know I’m mad?” said Alice.

“You must be,” said the Cat, “or you wouldn’t have come here.”  

Nor would we elect mad officials who, like MAGA sycophant Mastriano, proffer such inane, reckless propositions.

Do not become part of this madness. Our children and their futures are the ones who will suffer. Send these gun-toting, NRA worshiping politicians packing and elect officials who hold our citizens’ and nation’s well-being and safety sacrosanct.

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Lloyd E. Sheaffer
Lloyd E. Sheaffer

Opinion contributor Lloyd E. Sheaffer, a retired English and Humanities teacher, writes from North Middleton Township, Pa. His work appears monthly on the Pennsylvania Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected].