COMMENTARY: Let’s pause a moment before we start arming teachers

On Dec. 14, 2012, I was driving home from work when I heard the news of the horror that had occurred that morning at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. I cried as I listened to the news on NPR, because as I listened to one of the teachers describing her first grade class in lockdown, all I could think of was my wife, herself a first-grade teacher. I could see her hiding in her classroom with her “kiddos,” focused on comforting their fears and shushing their mouths despite her own terror.

Last month, evil once again laid bare its fangs on the children and teachers of one of our schools, this time in Parkland, Fla. Since that horrible day, the only things that have changed since Sandy Hook are the volume of the same tired arguments (louder) and the ages of the participants (younger).

I’m not here to add a voice to the gun-control debate, which is one again locked in the same unproductive, unlistening, shouting-past-each-other cycle as every time before. But there is one issue within this debate that does merit comment, because as fiercely as it is being debated, there is one important consideration that has largely been ignored. When it comes to the idea of allowing teachers to arm themselves in the classroom, nobody is talking about what, exactly, we expect armed teachers to do.

This notion has become even more important now than in prior school shootings because of the failure of the armed Broward County deputies to enter the school and intervene as quickly as possible, despite being on scene within the first minutes of the 10-minute long shooting spree. (Which, it is worth noting, violates the modern training imperatives taken from the Columbine High School shooting in 1999.)

Here where I live in Butler County, our sheriff has made national news by offering free concealed-carry training to both teachers and non-teaching school personnel. He had to close the registration list after 300 educators and school employees signed up. President Trump has also advocated the arming of teachers as a response to the threat of the next school shooter (because, rest assured, he is already out there, nursing his emotional issues until they ferment into a twisted plan of homicide and infamy).

The arguments against and for arming teachers center around these two rhetorical camps:

• LEFT: “Teachers have a hard enough job teaching kids to read and do algebra. Now you want their job description to include confronting an AR-15-wielding lunatic with a homicidal death wish?”

• RIGHT: “When seconds count, the police are minutes away! Even if it fails, an armed teacher trying to stop the shooter has better chances of success than simply hiding and doing nothing, waiting to die or be rescued.”

Neither of these positions is fair to the other side. Of course, nobody really wants teachers to have to confront shooters — it is clearly an option of desperation in the face of this continued, unrelenting occurrence of evil. Likewise, just hiding and doing nothing is most definitely not the prescription for teachers who have received the best practices ALICE active-shooter training.

The real and thornier question nobody in this debate is talking about is this: arming a classroom teacher doesn’t magically change her primary responsibility in an active-shooter situation — which is protecting the students who are with her in her classroom. Nor should it.

Imagine the scene just as the horror begins: the sound of gunfire erupts, and the PA announcement initiates the school’s ALICE procedures. Your child’s teacher locks her classroom door, shepherds her students into the area of the classroom with as little visibility from the door’s window as possible. She then attempts to calm their fears and hush their natural urges to make the kinds of noise that will surely attract the shooter to their location. She has been trained and licensed to have her firearm in precisely this situation, so she accesses her handgun from a secure safe that can only be opened by her fingerprint.

Then what?

Based on the current debate, is the expectation that she will then venture out of her classroom and move towards the shooter, initiating a confrontation that will either be doomed to failure (per those on the left) or have a puncher’s chance of ending the incident sooner than it will take for police to arrive (per those on the right)? It sure seems so, but this idea ignores the professional obligations of that teacher as the only adult in a room with 25 terrified first-graders.

While at school, a teacher’s primary responsibility is for the students in her care. It is a duty my wife – and every other teacher out there, I am confident in saying – takes with serious professionalism. Being in favor of allowing qualified teachers to be armed is insufficient as a policy. Before we start down this road, advocates for this idea need to think through the point of arming teachers and discuss it with more clarity on two fronts:

1. The differences between arming a non-teaching member of the school staff (who will not have kids under their supervision when an active-shooter situation unfolds) vs. arming classroom teachers (who will);

2. The expectations of an armed teacher regarding using the firearm in a defensive posture to better protect the children already under her responsibility vs. using it in an offensive manner to better protect the entire school.

There are no easy answers to this modern form of evil. Even what appears to be simple first steps will have more complications to them than the shallow culture of our political debate will acknowledge. For once, let us as a society rise to the occasion and have the kinds of intellectually honest conversations required to reduce, if not solve, the occurrence of this particular American nightmare.

Lance Salyers is a former Butler and Montgomery County prosecutor who lives in Monroe.

When it comes to the idea of allowing teachers to arm themselves in the classroom, nobody is talking about what, exactly, we expect armed teachers to do.


As protests mount and the national debate continues about how to address mass shootings in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., tragedy, today we offer three views on the subject. We’ll continue to seek different voices and fresh ideas. Your thoughts? Email

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