On Saturday, I wrote an article on what I assumed would be almost universally regarded as an absurd and dangerous idea, that teachers should be armed. Teachers are neither trained nor paid to be the first line of defense against high-powered rifles. Out of one side of their mouths, the right is cutting school funding and attacking the teachers’ union and on the other side, they are wanting teachers to take on the responsibility of police and military sharpshooters. As one commenter posted, perhaps teachers should be bringing their guns into contract negotiations.
Unfortunately, the idea of arming teachers and schools seems to be catching fire.
One commonly held meme is that Israel arms all its teachers and well, they haven’t had a school shooting since 1974. Much of the right-wing’s attraction to the Israeli way of protecting our schools is couched in pure mythology. Here are the facts about the Israeli “armed” teachers and about arming teachers in general.
MYTH: Arming our teachers would be the same as arming Israeli teachers.
FACT: Each Israeli teacher goes through at least two years of military training. Our teachers have no such requirement (and see myth number four).
MYTH: Armed people don’t get killed.
FACT: Adam Lanza’s mother proves otherwise. She owned plenty of weapons and was still killed in her own home. Armed soldiers, unfortunately, are killed every day.
MYTH: An armed teacher would have saved lives.
FACT: Perhaps, but it’s as likely that crossfire could have cost more lives. In an extremely heated moment, bullets are the only thing flying faster than emotions. Trained police officers shoot the wrong people. How can we expect more of teachers?
MYTH: All Israeli teachers are armed.
FACT: With the exception of a few West Bank teachers, it’s simply not true.
What does Israel do? Well, they do have locked gates and security guards at schools. That’s certainly one option, although not one in line with the image most of us have of our country. Face it, despite the fact that we have by far the largest military in the world, most Americans don’t want our country to look like a militarized zone.
The one aspect of Israeli gun culture that the right conveniently overlooks is that they have strict gun control laws. It’s highly doubtful that Adam Lanza or for that matter, Adam Lanza’s mother, would have had access to an arsenal.
In Israel, gun owners are limited to one pistol and are subject to mental and physical tests. They are also required to be re-certified every three years.
Not all Israelis, however, may own guns. In order to own a pistol, an Israeli must for two years have been either a captain in the army or a former lieutenant colonel. Israelis with an equivalent rank in other security organizations may also own a pistol.
In addition, residents of West Bank settlements, and those who work there, may own pistols for self-defense.
Other groups of Israelis, such as professional hunters and sharpshooters, or people transporting dangerous goods, may also own firearms. And Israelis may keep unloaded guns they inherited or received as a gift.
In Israel, there are approximately 7.3 guns per 100 people. In 2008, there was less than one gun homicide per 100,000 people. In the U.S., there are 88.8 guns per 100 people and in 2008, there were over 3 gun homicides for each 100,000 people. Source, gunpolicy.org. This is despite the fact that some in Israel actually do live in a war zone.
Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from Israel.
How do teachers feel about the idea of being armed in their classrooms? While I wasn’t able to find polling, one teacher summed up what I presume must be the attitude of many, by saying,
I have been an educator for 32 years. That means I have been teaching through the era that includes West Paducah, Jonesboro, Columbine, Red Lake, Virginia Tech, West Nickle Mines, and now Sandy Hook. Never once during those dark times – as with this latest one – have I ever thought that arming myself or my colleagues would be an appropriate response. Put aside the fact, if you can, that I am a Quaker and a pacifist who takes it as a matter of my faith to believe in non-violence. Even if I wasn’t – I was a teacher before I became a Friend – I would feel the same way. Carrying a firearm into school would not be a sign of resistance but of surrender. It would not be an act of self-defense but an act of capitulation. It would be carrying the message that we really AREN’T any better than this, that this scourge of violence really is what we truly have become as a society. And that’s not a message I want to convey to my kids. Every day, I try to treat them with respect, to honor their individuality, to show them empathy and compassion. THAT’S why I became a teacher. Packing a handgun would erase that good work, in my mind, and it would be giving in to the same dark forces that drive some people to kill. I try to teach them that the world can be a better place, and that they can help change it. How can I then do something that basically says that that’s all a lie?
I don’t fear my students: I love them. I love the people they are and the people they will become. I refuse to fear them. And I refuse to let fear dominate how I live and especially how I teach. ~ David Austin