Last August, a private school in Arkansas put up new signs around campus for the upcoming school year. These weren’t welcome signs or new parking regulations but rather signs that read, “Staff is armed and trained — any attempt to harm children will be met with deadly force.”
About an hour drive away, sixteen staff members in the Clarksville school district — all types of faculty ranging from a kindergarten teacher to a janitor — were undergoing training to carry guns in their school district. Sixty hours of training later, these employees were permitted to carry a small 9 mm handgun each day to class, provided to them by school superintendent David Hopkins.
This decision was made by Hopkins due to lack of funding to hire security guards, and was accomplished through a series of legal loopholes. While the state law may prohibit guns on campus, Hopkins’ security plan uses a combination of “concealed-weapons laws, special law enforcement regulations and local school board policies to arm teachers,” according to the New York Times.
Here at City on a Hill Press, we feel that this practice is not only unacceptable, but also sets a dangerous precedent for other schools, public or private, to work around laws in order to arm teachers and other staff. Especially since the opinions of parents and students of the Clarksville district did not have an effect on this practice.
According to the New York Times, Clarksville currently has “special permission to use rules designed for private security firms to arm their staff members.” Before the school year began, this practice was temporarily suspended as a result of a complaint by Attorney General Dustin McDaniel which argued private security companies did not include school districts.
This past September the state board made the decision to allow thirteen Arkansas districts to use the law until legislature votes in two years. No new districts will be allowed to use this combination of laws until the vote.
The two years that these districts will be under the security of recently trained staff puts many students in great jeopardy. In light of recent events, a concern for safety is valid, but there are more responsible and safer ways to protect students.
In April 2013, Asa Hutchinson led the National Rifle Association’s school safety initiative, which advocated for armed security officers or teachers in every public school. With budget cuts common to public education, it is understandable that schools cannot afford to hire extra security. However, Hopkins said training and arming employees in his district cost $70,000. While $70,000 may not be enough money for security guards on each campus, it could provide safer security than arming teachers.
Training teachers to bear arms and use them takes time away from their actual purpose — to engage the minds of our youth and to encourage an environment of critical thought and reflection towards the world around them. If that $70,000 is to be spent on anything, it should be to send the teachers to conferences or workshops that aim to increase student engagement. Further, the presence of guns in a classroom seems problematic. According to a study conducted by the Academic Journal of Epidemiology in 2004, results showed that regardless of how a gun was stored, the gun type, or the number of firearms present, “having a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of firearm homicide and firearm suicide in the home.” We at City on a Hill Press believe it is reasonable that the presence of firearms in a classroom could have a similar affect.
Gregory Thomas, the former director of security for New York public schools, said he understood the nature of budget constraints, but he suggested that mitigation steps are safer than arming teachers.
Thomas references a Georgia elementary school bookkeeper, who, while working last summer, witnessed a man armed with an AK 47-style rifle and began firing shots in the school. She called 911, then successfully calmed the suspect down by telling him of her own past struggles and convincing him that hurting anyone was not productive. During that conversation, teachers were able to lock down classrooms as practiced in lockdown and emergency drills throughout the school year.
More guns does not mean safer schools and preventative measures can be key in protecting students. The legal loopholes that allow districts in Arkansas, like Clarksville, to arm teachers needs to be looked at more carefully. Laws are set in place for a reason and special regulations are not to be abused to get anything done by a public or private party.
Correction: The headline of this article has been edited for grammar and is different from the headline that ran in the print edition of City on a Hill Press.