As a high school teacher in Hong Kong International School long ago, I had a wonderful senior student from Israel. When I asked her why she was not applying to colleges, she explained that at 18 she would have to serve a year-and-a-half in the Israeli military before continuing her education. Israeli men serve three years.
Today, there is a video that some gun proponents show of students on a field trip in Israel, escorted by a teacher with an Uzi machine gun slung over her shoulder. So Israeli teachers received substantial training in military weapons, training that nearly all American teachers lack. Gun proponents today don't stop to consider the war zone atmosphere of the Middle East.
Anyone who suggests that school personnel should be armed does not understand the heart and soul, the character and mission, of the vast majority of American teachers. They do not understand the dramatic change this would cause in school atmosphere. And they are ignoring the massive firepower that recent school shooters have used and the firepower that police must use in response.
This is not an abstract argument. On April 20, 1999, school climates changed across America overnight. The Columbine High School shootings were to school building security what the 9/11 assault was to airport security. The deaths of 12 students and a teacher and the injury of two dozen more students at Columbine resulted in the fortressing of schools nationwide. Often only the front entrance could be entered from outside, sometimes requiring a button-call to the office once classes were in session. Cameras were installed to monitor entrances. Some urban schools installed metal detectors at the entrance. Our schools began to feel like prisons.
Since then, the atmosphere has normalized at many smaller rural schools. But many larger schools have not returned to pre-Columbine openness.
What gun proponents ignore is that Columbine did have a “school resource officer,” an on-site police officer. But his service pistol was no match for the semi-automatic pistols and shotgun of the two student attackers.
American police departments had just learned this lesson the hard way when on March 3, 1997, Los Angeles police armed with service pistols engaged with two bank robbers wearing body armor and wielding AK-47 assault rifles. The police were severely outgunned. To stop a bad guy with a high powered gun, takes good guys with high powered guns and body armor — and that is the police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams.
In December 2012, 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. On nearly that very same date in China, 22 school children and one adult were slashed by an attacker who entered a school. But in China, everyone survived.
The difference is not that American children are weaker or that the Chinese attacker was less driven. The difference is in the amount of killing power that we allow in the hands of our citizens. The Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, a variation on the AR-15, is far more deadly than a hand-held knife. There have been other knife attacks in schools in China — they are rare. But they are rarely fatal compared to the slaughter possible with military-style weapons.
There is no reason to allow a civilian to purchase an Abrams tank or a bazooka. And there is likewise no legitimate reason for civilians to possess military semi-automatic weapons. But our Second Amendment, written for a time of one-shot muskets, does not translate well in today’s advanced-technology world. This issue is complex, and discussed in the book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” by retired Supreme Court Judge John Paul Stevens.
Meanwhile, proposals to have teachers carry firearms are unrealistic; teachers would have to be well-trained, carry large semi-automatic rifles and “armor up.” And the number of school buildings in America far exceeds our ability to arm them; the U.S. is not Israel.
Teachers enter teaching to nurture students, not to kill people. I recently asked one veteran teacher what she would do if she was required to carry a gun in school. Her reply was: “Can I remove the bullets from the gun?”
Dr. John Richard Schrock is the editor of the Kansas School Naturalist and former chairman of the Biology Department at Emporia State University.