Kathleen Sassara; Co-Content Editor
The decision regarding whether or not to arm teachers is a highly complex and multifaceted issue that has gripped the country since the Parkland shooting on February 14. For many, the answer is clear: guns do not belong in our classrooms.
“Even with training, a teacher is there to help students, not necessarily to take their life if they had to,” said senior Ethan Starr.
Starr is considering a career in law enforcement and has grown up target shooting and has long appreciated guns for their recreational use, and yet with one statement, he sums up what has become the crux of a nationwide debate for many people.
For Kevin Jones, island resident and founder of Invisible Vashon, the answer lies in student safety and minimizing the number of bullets that fly.
“I’ve been through [active shooter training],” Jones said. “Some of the things [they say are] don’t lie down on the floor. Squat down on the floor, so that you have less of your body exposed to bullets that are sliding across the floor. Those training sessions are clearly aware of the risk of projectiles flying through the air, so in my opinion, fewer bullets means greater safety.”
Surviving an active shooter situation doesn’t only depend on the number of bullets, however. It also depends on law enforcement’s ability to respond effectively at the scene.
“If you have a plain-clothes person with a gun while there’s a shooting going on, that creates more problems than it’s solving,” Starr said. “It can confuse law enforcement. You go in hearing there’s a shooter — you don’t know necessarily what’s going on. You see a person with a gun that doesn’t have any [law-enforcement labeling] — you don’t know who’s friendly or who could be the potential shooter.”
This kind of confusion could at the very least lead to an undue level of complexity in an already dangerous situation. If things went severely wrong, it could lead to greater numbers of unnecessary wounds or deaths.
For many students, the issue lies less with the danger of extra weapons during the event itself, and more with the thought of having guns in classrooms at all times. Scenarios ranging from accidents at the hands of students, to teachers losing control, to dangerous students getting access to the weapon become possibilities when storing firearms in classrooms.
“Kids can accidentally hurt themselves just fine with plenty of random objects,” freshman Adrien Burgess wrote. “It’s not reasonable to add another way for children to be harmed in schools.”
“People are unpredictable,” junior Fiona Westphal said. “Even a person well-trained in arms can still kill unnecessarily.”
Westphal also spoke to the classroom environment that would result from a situation like this.
“The extreme power imbalance would make an atmosphere where students are more focused on the security of their lives than learning,” she said. “It [causes] teachers to limit the mental freedom of students.”
A significant number of anonymous students also expressed opinions regarding the level of distrust they would feel with any teacher who had access to a weapon, with several emphasizing that “we’re all human,” and that no one is completely immune to rash decisions in a moment of temper.
Students also expressed a concern for teachers who would be forced to shoulder this responsibility.
“Teachers should not be given the power to hold students’ lives in their hands,” Westphal said. “Teachers should also not be obligated to hold that responsibility.”
Iris Sackman, senior and organizer of the March 17 VHS walkout, felt much the same way.
“From an educator’s standpoint, I feel like if I went into teaching, I wouldn’t go into it with the expectation that it was part of my job that I might have to kill a student to protect other students,” Sackman said. “You can’t really prepare someone who didn’t sign up to be someone armed as a protector to hurt someone.”
Sackman also questioned how guns would be implemented in schools.
“Who’s going to pay for the guns?” Sackman said. “How are you going to train the teachers? How are you going to ensure that a student doesn’t get ahold of the gun? Is the gun going to be in a lockbox or is it going to be on the person?”
These questions and many more have gone unanswered as of yet.
Having guns in classrooms will also provide a distraction from students’ ability to learn.
“It’s important that [everyone feels] that they’re in a safe environment,” Jones said. “Particularly if you’re basically opening up your mind to learn, because it takes an awful lot of focus. You can’t maintain all of your defenses and open up your mind to learning at the same time.”
The root of this debate lies in the shift in our culture. While the U.S. has always had a culture uniquely focused on guns, shootings have only recently become such a prominent aspect of our national conscience.
According to “Time Magazine” there were an average of 12.3 deaths per year due to mass shootings between 1982 and 1992, and an average of 47.5 deaths between 2007 and 2017. That’s a 294 percent increase in deaths due to mass shootings.
According to Jones, Sackman and Starr, limiting civilian access to assault-style rifles could be an answer.
“Personally, I don’t believe AR-15-type weapons are appropriate … to have in our society,” Jones said. “Somewhere you have to draw the line, and I respect that there are people who have different views of where that line is.”
“I think there’s definitely a difference between needing a gun and wanting a gun,” Sackman said. “I think that people whose livelihoods depend on it should still be able to have access, but I don’t think that you need to kill seventeen squirrels in a minute. I would prefer if semi-automatic and automatic weapons weren’t available at all for [public] purchase, but that’s not the way it is right now.”
Starr observed that, had the AR-15 rifle not been introduced to the civilian market, people wouldn’t be raising the complaints they currently are. Additionally, now that they are in circulation, they would be much harder to control even if regulation were to occur.
“If you put an outright ban on, say assault-style weapons, that’s difficult because … what do you do with those people who already have them?” Starr said. “There’re already so many in circulation, how do you completely get rid of them?”
None of the three think that that kind of legislation is likely in the very near future, seeing as compromise is, as always, the name of the game. However, Sackman does have some short-term goals in mind.
“The preventative measures, I think, would be [requiring] stricter background checks [and] getting rid of loopholes regarding purchasing at gun shows or purchasing privately between parties,” she said.
Sackman also brought up longer waiting periods for gun purchases, while Starr mentioned gun-safety courses that teach responsible gun ownership and minimize reckless behavior.
Sackman’s final words were for our lawmakers.
“[Gun control is] realistically a difficult thing to deal with because there are so many people with strong polarized feelings about it that it’s gonna be really hard to come to a compromise,” she said. “And I think it really depends on how willing our lawmakers are to work together and figure that out.”