Tuesday, 20 March 2018
After the latest in a long line of school massacres in the US, we’re hearing that arming teachers is proposed as a possible solution.
It’s asserted by gun rights activists and the NRA, that the presence of an armed teacher would deter a shooter, or if one actually turned up, that this same teacher would be able to shoot back, and lives would be saved.
Let’s do a little common-sensed analysis of these propositions.
The first is that the knowledge that teachers may be armed would deter a prospective shooter.
That is a very frail assumption. History shows that most active school shooters either die by their own hand, or are shot by armed police. They’ve usually killed a number of staff and students prior to being shot or suiciding. It’s completely implausible that an individual who is prepared to shoot himself, or take on armed police is going to be deterred by the possibility of being confronted by an armed teacher. Such an individual is, by definition, not behaving rationally. In some cases, the expectation that he may have to engage in a firefight with an armed teacher might well constitute extra motivation. Shooters have equipped themselves with flak jackets and protective gear. They’re typically up for a fight with no rational fear of consequences.
Then there is the contention that the armed teacher will have the realistic capacity to prevent a rampage by shooting back.
You'd have to be kidding yourself to swallow that proposition..
Let’s assume that the teacher is carrying a concealable firearm. Obviously concealed carry by teachers who have to operate in the classroom unhampered is practicable only with short barrelled weapons. These weapons are notoriously inaccurate except at very close quarters and aren’t as powerful as say, an AK47 or AR15. The shooter will always have the advantage of surprise, and no doubt would be cunning enough (if he assumes the teacher is armed) to use this surprise, as well as concealment, in initiating the attack. The first person most likely to be targeted would be the armed teacher. The shooter would be ready - the teacher, most likely, would not.
If you believe that someone packing (say) a 9mm Browning would have a fighting chance against an assailant with an AR15 or AK47, you obviously have little real understanding of firearms. Or perhaps you’ve watched too many movies where the good guys always win.
In the army I was trained on long barrelled semi-autos (FN 7.62, which we called “SLR”) and full auto sub machine guns (M16). We were also trained on the 9mm Browning (sometimes carried by chopper pilots and tank crew).
This training, and my experience in as a rifleman in Vietnam where people actually shot back, has given me a clear appreciation of the relative lethality of the two classes of weapons. A pistol, pitched against a long barrelled auto or semi-auto is a very bad joke. The only people happy to use pistols in Vietnam were tunnel rats. A long arm is a liability down a tunnel.
So the proposition that a teacher with a handgun is going to deter a shooter is simply invalid, taking into account the relative capacity and power of the weapons, the element of surprise, and the murderous intent of the shooter. Then there are a whole range of other real world factors to be considered.
These factors are cheerfully glossed over by the proponents of arming teachers. The first of these is the built environment. Schools are typically rich in concrete, glass and steel. The behaviour of a spent round striking these hard surfaces is totally unpredictable. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a better definition of chaos than a firefight in a school building. The risk of death and injury from ricochet and dislodged glass or other fragments is real. Ricochet killed one of the armed serge hostages in the Sydney Lindt cafe siege.
Assuming that the armed teacher has the opportunity for a clear shot at the attacker, that same teacher would have to be sure that no student or staff member was likely to be harmed by overshoot or ricochet. The shooter would have no such concern.
The human element - panic, the adrenaline rush, the unpredictability of the situation, all combine to make any firefight a deadly lottery. This was brought home to me nearly fifty years ago when the digger standing next to me was hit by friendly fire. Standing a metre from the cone of fire of an M60 as it brings down branches and foliage from stout looking trees concentrates the mind somewhat.
Of course, a school inhabited by teachers bearing arms is a very different place from a gun-free school. With over twenty years’ experience as a school administrator in our Australian gun-free community, I can imagine that managing a situation where staff are armed would be daunting. It’s challenging enough without firearms.
Weapon security would be an element of school management with horrendous outcomes should it break down. My experience in Vietnam reminds me of accidental discharges, mislaid or stolen weapons, and ammunition security issues. Visiting this scenario on a location teeming with children, families, teenagers, the usual mix of school staff, stressed individuals, distracted individuals and the statistical small percentage of people with mental illness would be, put simply, an administrative nightmare. All of these factors are part and parcel of any modern school community.
The plaintiff lawyers are probably rubbing their hands in anticipation.
The “solution” of arming teachers is a pretty fair barometer of the level of desperation that US gun culture has visited on its citizens. Whatever the remedy, it sure as shooting (sorry) isn’t this one.
From where I sit in school massacre free Australia, I can feel only profound sympathy. The Americans have let the genie out of the bottle. Or, to use a more appropriate metaphor, they've shot themselves in the foot.
The best we can hope for on this side of the Pacific is that the school massacre nightmare doesn’t cross the Pacific.
Keep your fingers crossed.
We’ve done a pretty good job of it so far - since 1996.
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