Arm the teachers! cry the gun nuts who can’t face the fact that guns (and the normalization of guns and mass murder) are part of the problem, not the solution to violence in America. But Texas and South Dakota have both had programs to train and certify school staff to carry guns in school since 2013, and very few educators have shown interest in this deadly proposition. Texas has 327,000 teachers; fewer than 0.1% of them have signed on to Texas’s killer-teacher program:
But Texas, a state with a fabled gun culture, has allowed teachers to sign up as campus “marshals” since 2013 through a program signed into law after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. The initiative has seen fewer than 300 educators sign up across 62 school districts, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, even after some restrictions around the program were loosened following a deadly 2018 mass shooting at a Houston-area high school [Juan Perez, Jr., “Arming Teachers Is Hard, Even in Gun-Loving Texas,” Politico, 2022.05.27].
South Dakota also responded to the Sandy Hook murders by passing a similar school gunslinger law in 2013. This counterproductive bill drew little interest from the start. There’s so little interest now that the state canceled this year’s school gunslinger training:
And despite the heightened conversation around school safety and gun control because of the tragedy, a school sentinel training planned for this summer in South Dakota has been canceled “due to a lack of interest,” said Timothy Bormann, chief of staff in the attorney general’s office said.
…Bormann explained since only a single-digit number of educators signed up for the training, it isn’t cost-effective or adequate to have the class.
Five districts have taken part in the 80-hour training program throughout the course of the program since it started in 2013, he said, training a total of 20 school staff members across the state. Only eight of those trainees are currently active as school sentinels across the state, Bormann said, refusing to specify which districts had training.
The Tri-Valley School District became the first to go through the required state training for the program in 2016, three years after the state passed its school sentinel law in March 2013. Northwestern Area School District had approved a policy allowing staff members and volunteers to become sentinels shortly after Tri-Valley did.
Frederick Area School District, Oglala Lakota County schools, Lake Preston School District, Northwestern and Tri-Valley had all participated in the program, as of 2018 [Morgan Matzen, “Here’s Why South Dakota’s Program to Arm School Employees Was Canceled for the Summer,” Sioux Falls Argus Leader, 2022.06.01].
That single digit may have been 4: SDAR 2:01:16:04 sets the minimum class size for school gunslinger training at 5. Nearly 10,000 teachers in the state, plus paraprofessionals, administrators, support staff, and not even five of them want to train to pack heat and kill armed intruders at school.
Only five districts out of 149 have sent staff for gunslinger training, and those five do not include Harrisburg, the only school district in South Dakota to experience a shooting in this century. And remember: the only person shot in that incident, the principal of Harrisburg High School, said arming school staff is unnecessary and ineffective.
The National Education Association agrees with the overwhelming majority of teachers in South Dakota and Texas—guns are a dangerous distraction from real solutions to murder and violence:
Our public schools should be the safest places for students and educators, yet the gunshots from a lone shooter armed with a military-grade weapon shattered the physical safety of the school community in Uvalde, Texas. The powerful gun lobby and their allies did not waste a second after the horrific killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School to call for arming teachers. Bringing more guns into schools makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence. We need fewer guns in schools, not more. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guards.
We need common-sense solutions now. Schools need more mental health professionals, not pistols; teachers need more resources, not revolvers. Arming teachers makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to protect students and their families when they go off to school, shop at the grocery store, attend church services, ride the subway, or simply walk down the streets of their neighborhoods. Those lawmakers pushing to arm teachers and fortify school buildings are simply trying to distract us from their failure to prevent another mass shooting.
Educators and parents overwhelmingly reject the idea of arming school staff. Rather than arming educators with guns, we need to be giving them the tools needed to inspire their students. Rather than putting the responsibility on individual teachers, our elected leaders need to pass laws that protect children from gun violence and bring an end to senseless and preventable killings. Americans want the carnage to stop. My message to Congress: What are you waiting for? [NEA President Becky Pringle, press release, 2022.05.25]
Let’s hope South Dakota’s school gunslinger program remains dead for lack of interest.