School should be a place for learning, but the shootings and violence that have been taking place on campuses across the nation seem to be turning schools into war zones. Every state is being forced to deal with the issue, and the Georgia House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 875, called the Safe Carry Act. HB 875 proposes allowing school systems to arm principals and teachers and use force to protect students. The bill went to the Senate for debate on March 11.
As a parent of a fourth-grader, I’m horrified at what I see on the television news every time another school shooting takes place. Like all parents, I want my child to be safe and have peace of mind when he’s at school. However, I’m not sure arming teachers is the answer. Even with firearms training and safety procedures in place as to who is authorized to handle a weapon, not all educators will be comfortable carrying a gun around school grounds.
Instead of having a calming influence, the sight of teachers carrying guns could backfire and increase the tension level. Student attention could be drawn away from the lessons, and focus instead on what teacher is carrying a gun and patrolling the grounds. Seeing this can be unnerving to children, and not all parents are on board with the new legislation. “If a teacher had a gun it would be somewhat safer, but then you have all the young’uns in there, but some kid tying to be macho or tough, just a kid being able to get a hold of it could create more problems,” says Angela Browning, who has two elementary school-age children in the St. Marys school system.
School systems across Georgia already have School Resource Officers, specially trained police officers whose beats are the campuses. Even the very presence of police in schools may send the wrong message, but at least having them there means the guns will be in their hands, not the teachers’. The officers can protect teachers from students, students from each other and the school community from outside threats. As far as safety measures, this is more realistic and less of a knee-jerk reaction.
Other alternatives are to ensure schools are harder to enter at all, and to focus on educator preparedness. Last year my son’s school had a buzzer system installed requiring all visitors to ring the bell to be allowed entry through the front door after a certain time, because all doors were automatically locked. Recently the school had what it called a “soft lockdown” when shots were heard in the woods behind the property. Police responded and made an arrest, and students were prevented from leaving their classrooms because the teachers were trained in how to respond in the situation.
If the Safe Carry Act makes it to the governor’s desk to sign, there are still plenty of gray areas to clear up. The decision whether to carry a weapon at all will be left up to the individual school system, so that will be a topic of discussion during many a board of education meeting. Even if I see teachers at my child’s school carrying guns eventually, it still won’t take the place of common sense and the need for an emergency plan to be in place.