OP-ED

Concealed weapons have no place in schools

Posted

Throughout my 30-year career, I have taught grades K-12 and I’ve seen how the conversation on how to keep our schools safe has changed. In 1999, when the Columbine students and teachers were murdered, those of us who go to work in schools every day were shocked. As teachers, we were horrified, afraid and began to wonder if we would be the next instructor to give up our lives to save our students. The thought of letting more guns into our schools never crossed our mind.

Then came the shooting at Sandy Hook school, a massacre that hit home for so many Americans, especially parents, teachers and students. For me, that’s when my fear became visceral. I cried for days after Sandy Hook. I drove to work every day with tears streaming down my face because I was afraid to be in a school. I kept my classroom door locked and closed all the time. I thought about how vulnerable my students and I were in my classroom, one of the closest to an entrance to the building. These are thoughts I shouldn’t have to have, but as a teacher in America today, it’s my reality.

What I know now is that the gun violence happening in our schools goes far beyond high-profile shootings that make headlines. In 2019 alone, there have been at least 43 instances of gunfire on or around school grounds, and with that, countless students, teachers and parents are affected. No matter how a gun finds its way into our schools, it always takes a toll on our community and makes our learning environments less safe. We need to do everything possible to give young people the best education possible. That’s why I support the legislation being considered this session that will prohibit people with concealed-carry permits from carrying hidden, loaded guns in our children’s schools.

The best way to keep our schools safe is by enacting common-sense measures that will keep guns out of our schools. Letting anyone with a concealed-carry permit in some of the most sensitive places in Rhode Island does not make schools safer. In fact, it does the opposite. No one outside of law enforcement or highly trained security officers should be allowed anywhere near a school with a firearm of any kind. Law enforcement officers have the expertise and training to handle guns when they get into our schools and we should respect their experience. Allowing more hidden, loaded weapons into our schools could open a door to so many horrifying outcomes.

A common argument I’ve heard from those who support allowing loaded, concealed weapons in our schools is that it will add more protection, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s been reported that armed civilians have even endangered law enforcement, delayed their responses, and posed a risk to innocent bystanders during active shooter crises. What’s more, the FBI found that in 250 active shooter incidents, there were only seven successful armed civilian interventions. In contrast, unarmed civilians successfully intervened in 22 incidents. It’s utterly false that someone who has a concealed carry permit would be able to protect our children from an active shooter.

Allowing guns into a school adds the risk of unintentional or intentional shooting – something no one wants to see. Research shows access to a gun increases the risk of homicide by two times and the risk of firearm suicide by three times. There is a reason why firearms are the second leading cause of death for American children and teens.

It’s a sad truth, but gun violence in our schools is a reality in America. That said, teachers and students should not have to go about their daily business in fear for their lives. H 5762 and S 636 would do more to keep our students, teachers and community safe by closing a gap in current law that allows more hidden, loaded guns into the schools where our children learn and play. I urge legislators to do the right thing and pass H 5762 and S 636, which will help make our schools the safe communities of learning and growing that they should be.

The author is a teacher and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She lives in Central Falls.

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DefconKeith (Keith Webb)

I appreciate Ms. Williams' concerns about the presence of firearms on campus. As a 25-year teacher myself (secondary English - American and British Lit), I am entirely familiar with the fear we experience every time our nation endures a mass casualty event in the form of a school shooting. However, I am also a pragmatist who wants to see more done to effectively stop mass killers from targeting our school children.

The points Ms. Williams makes in her column highlight a general misunderstanding of how laws work. H5762 and S636 won't change how mass shooters behave. Laws have no power to change behavior in and of themselves. Laws exist for two reasons: first to codify societal expectations for how people should conduct themselves, and second to codify punishment for those who violate said societal expectations.

When a shooter steps onto school grounds with a loaded firearm, he is already violating numerous laws involving weapons on campus. Entering the school and targeting innocent people is a further violation of the law. Do you honestly believe that someone who exhibits such contempt for human life and the laws of his state is going to be deterred by yet another law that declares carrying a concealed weapon on school grounds to be illegal?

Further, Ms. Williams states that only seven out of 250 active shooter events have been stopped by armed intervention. The logic here is glaringly simple: most active shooters - and all school shooters - target gun-free zones. Law-abiding concealed carry permit holders don't carry their weapons in such places, thus accounting for the low intervention rate. Ms. Williams wants to use the obedience of law-abiding gun owners against them. That is an unfair tactic.

In addition, Ms. Williams claims that armed police are superior to armed civilians due to training. Two problems there: first, many police receive scant amounts of active shooter training and even less live-fire training. Several of the officers with whom I have spoken over the years admit that they or their colleagues haven't fired their weapons in months (in some cases years). The assumption that police are more qualified for the actual shooting component of an armed confrontation is largely misguided.

Second, police need to actually be on site to intervene. The average police response time (nationally) is about eight to 10 minutes. At Sandy Hook, 26 innocent lives were taken in about six minutes. Further, having an officer on site doesn't necessarily result in thwarted attacks. School resource officers were present at Columbine, Virginia Tech, MSDHS (Parkland), Santa Fe, and a host of other attacks. The casualty counts for those incidents is exceptionally high in spite of the presence of armed police on campus.

Contrary to Ms. Williams' assertion about 'best ways to keep schools safe', the truth of the matter is this: the real first responders are the people in the school - students, teachers, and staff - and they need to be trained to effectively resist and/or aggress the shooter. If that means being permitted to carry a concealed firearm on campus, then so be it.

Friday, May 24