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As States Debate Arming Teachers, Opponents Detail Mishandling of Guns in Schools

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There have been more than 60 publicly reported incidents of mishandled guns in schools in the last five years, a gun-control group found in an analysis released this week.

Those firearms were carried by employees, including teachers and school police, often with permission from schools, says the report by the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

The report comes as Florida and Tennessee consider expanding the ability of teachers to carry guns in schools.

Supporters of such proposals, including a Federal School Safety Commission convened by President Donald Trump, say adding more armed adults to school buildings will cut down on response times in crisis situations and may deter would-be attackers.

Opponents, including education and law enforcement groups, say it's outside of teachers' responsibilities to carry weapons, and that they don't have time to keep up the rigorous training necessary to respond to an active shooter. Allowing more guns in schools will also increase the likelihood that they are misused, left unsecured, or accidentally fired, say opponents like the Giffords Law Center.

"Armed adults frequently mishandle their guns in schools," the analysis said. "Arming teachers wouldn't decrease risk to students—it would increase their risk."

The group's analysis relied on data from the Gun Violence Archive, an online database of gun incidents that relies on "over 2,500 law enforcement, media, government and commercial sources." The list of dozens of incidents includes unsecured guns that were accessible or visible to children, including the time a Miami 5th grader reported a gun left in a school restroom by a security guard; unintentional firing of weapons; times when teachers and school employees used weapons to harm themselves or threaten others; and times when firearms were mishandled during disciplinary incidents. In one high-profile incident, a security guard pulled his gun on a student after breaking up a fight at an Illinois school.

Some of the incidents in the analysis had little or nothing to do with the schools' policies, like those where teachers or substitute teachers chose to carry guns on campus or in their vehicles without authorization. 

Among current proposals to arm teachers and school staff or to loosen restrictions on their ability to carry firearms:

  • Florida lawmakers are considering a bill that would expand the state's school guardian program to allow screened and trained teachers to carry guns in schools. The guardian program was created last year after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. After backlash from opponents, including survivors of that shooting, lawmakers limited the training to non-instructional employees. A year later, they are considering expanding it. 
  • A Tennessee bill would permit employees with concealed-carry permits to carry firearms in schools, requiring no additional training to do so.
  • The Texas Senate has passed a bill that would allow school employees armed through the state's school marshal program to carry their weapons, rather than locking them up, as the law currently mandates.

There has also been action at the federal level. While creating no new mandates or funding, the federal school safety commission chaired by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, encouraged schools "to seriously consider the option of partnering with local law enforcement in the training and arming of school personnel."

"A teacher would have shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened," Trump said last spring, referring to the former student who is accused of the Parkland slayings.

And after a debate on the issue, some Democratic lawmakers have filed resolutions that would clarify that U.S. Department of Education cannot allow school districts to use federal funds to pay for firearms or firearms training for teachers.

Photo: Drug and gun-free school zone signs in Phoenix, Ariz. --Matt York/AP-File


Related reading on arming teachers:

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