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- President Donald Trump said having “highly trained” teachers armed with guns in class could help prevent tragedies like the deadly Florida school shooting.
- Trump said he’d support spending federal dollars to give “expert teachers” special training to carry guns in the classroom.
- Shortly after Trump’s announcement, a California high school teacher accidentally fired a gun his classroom, injuring a student.
- Scientific research suggests that having more guns in schools won’t help prevent mass shootings, and could lead to more violence.
Just days after President Donald Trump proposed giving teachers guns to better protect their classrooms from school shootings, a California teacher fired a bullet from his semi-automatic handgun in class, injuring one of his students.
Local TV station KSBW reported that the incident happened Tuesday at Seaside High School, where reserve police officer Dennis Alexander was teaching a class about gun safety.
A parent told KSBW that Alexander had just finished explaining to the class that he wanted to check and make sure his gun wasn’t loaded when it went off.
The bullet ricocheted off the ceiling, and one 17-year-old student was injured in the neck. Although his injuries were minor, the student went home with blood on his shirt. Alexander has been placed on administrative leave while the case is investigated.
Elsewhere around the US, students are calling for new measures on gun control. On Wednesday, during National Walkout Day, students across the country took a knee, laid on the ground, and walked out of their schools in a synchronized protest against deadly gun violence.
The day of action came exactly a month after the Parkland, Florida school shooting that killed 17 people.
The protests and the accidental shooting in California both seem to counter the most controversial part of Trump’s proposals on guns: getting more loaded firearms into the nation’s classrooms.
The president said earlier this week that he’d like to arm a nationwide band of “highly trained” teachers and school security guards, who would carry their concealed weapons in class:
Trump has suggested that an armed teacher would have stopped the attacker at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who killed 17 people on Valentine’s Day.
“A teacher would’ve shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump said at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.
But during the Parkland shooting, an armed guard was on duty at the school and didn’t confront the shooter. “He certainly did a poor job,” Trump said.
The president said he’d be willing to devote government cash to training more teachers to carry guns. That’s an idea that a majority of US gun owners would support, according to surveys from the Pew Research Center.
But study after study suggests that most educators aren’t interested in having guns in class. And very little research has been done to figure out whether having guns in schools increases student safety; so far, there’s no evidence that it helps.
What we know about guns and schools
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Research consistently finds a simple trend: where there are more guns, there are more deaths. That’s true everywhere in the world, and it’s true in the classroom, too.
A cross-national study of weapons in schools found that when there are more weapons in class – whether in the US, Portugal, or Israel – there are more hospitalizations and more medical treatment. Researchers in that study concluded that carrying guns, knives, and other arms is an indicator that physical violence and injuries are more likely for young people.
On some college campuses, students already carry concealed guns to class. Since 2003, 10 US states have started allowing guns on public postsecondary school campuses. But there’s been little study of how that affects a school’s safety.
One 2011 survey of students in Texas – before that state legalized conceal carry on campus – found that letting students carry guns to class would mean that some classrooms might wind up with a handful of guns, while others would have none. It’d be difficult to ensure that guns were dispatched exactly where and when they were needed, then discharged appropriately during a shooting. And conceal-carry laws aren’t good for any kind of violent crime: 2018 research suggests that states with conceal-carry measures on the books have higher violent crime rates, a trend that gets worse the longer the laws are in effect.
For these and other reasons, many teachers have lambasted Trump’s idea, which was also promoted by the NRA after a shooter killed 27 people, including elementary-school kids and teachers, at Sandy Hook in 2012. Even teachers who own guns and have military training have said they weren’t confident that having a gun in class would help them defend their students.
High school English teacher Benjamin Gorman said on Twitter: “I’m a teacher and a gun owner with a concealed & carry permit, and I’d never want to bring a gun to my classroom. My kids need to feel safe & I should be thinking about content and not worrying about someone grabbing my pistol.”
There is a strategy that might work, but it doesn’t involve more weapons
Between 1999 and 2012, Germany saw a rash of deadly school shootings – worse than any other country except the US. After that, Germans started training teachers and students to look out for what they call “leaking” behaviors that might indicate that a student is planning a future violent attack.
These signs can include written, spoken, or even drawn hints from students about violent intentions or fantasies. Such clues can come in the form of threats against the school or other students, demonstrations of a weapon, posts online, or lists of names of certain classmates.
Researchers found that within just seven months of starting that training program, at least 19 high-risk cases were identified across the country, and those students were offered help.
It’s a technique that might’ve made a difference in Florida: details that came to light after the deadly massacre showed that the shooter exhibited clear “leaking” signs. One of Nikolas Cruz’s classmates said she called the FBI in early January and told the agency that Cruz was posting threatening messages on his Instagram account about killing himself and others, The Wall Street Journal reported.
For now, Trump’s armed teacher idea is just a proposal. He is also floating other possibilities to Congress, like training teachers, students, and school staff to spot the early warning signs of violence. That’s something German data suggests might work better.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers are pushing other targeted gun-control measures. Oregon was the first state to enact a new gun-control bill since the deadly shooting in Florida. The law – known as the “boyfriend loophole bill” – prevents people who’ve been convicted of stalking or domestic violence, as well as those under restraining orders, from owning or buying guns or ammunition.
Florida followed suit last week by raising the minimum age for purchasing assault weapons to 21, while also creating a program that will let some teachers carry guns to school.