In response to the enormous tragedy of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut, the N.R.A. has proposed arming teachers as the olution to school shootings. I understand that on the surface there is some logic to this, after all, we trust teachers to educate and protect our kids at school… so why not trust them with a gun? The problem with this “logic” is that it ignores the fact that teachers are just regular people like the rest of us. We’ve all heard stories of teachers showing up to school drunk, having sex with students, helping kids cheat on tests, embezzling money, etc. So why do we assume it’s a fool-proof idea to arm them? Some people have told me recently that it’s a “laughable idea” that a teacher would open fire at school and clearly the N.R.A. is not worried about that. But I am… because I’ve seen it happen.
Allow me to share a very personal (but all too real) story with you. I was a senior in high school in 1993. This was an era before public shootings were common and the tragedy of Columbine had not happened yet. Nobody ever thought about a shooting at a school unless you lived in a gang-riddled inner city neighborhood. I did not; I lived in an idyllic small town in Michigan called Chelsea. It was the kind of town where everyone knew everyone else and crime was mainly limited to minor offenses. My graduating class had just over 100 kids and life at Chelsea High School was usually mundane. But all of that changed on December 17th 1993. I had been absent from school the day before and I missed an exam and had to stay after school in the administration building to complete it before the long Christmas break. As I started the test, some of the staff that I knew came into the building and stopped to say “hi” to me. They were superintendent Joseph Piasecki, Principal Ron Mead, English teacher Phil Jones and Science teacher Steven Leith. All four of them went into Mr. Piasecki’s office and closed the door. I continued on with my test, and a little while later, the door flew open and Mr. Leith stormed out of the building and left. About ten minutes after that I finished my test, earlier than I should have, because I kind of cheated. I had asked other students who took the test what was on it, so I finished quickly and then left the school myself. Shortly after I left, Mr. Leith came back into that same office. He had driven home and gotten his gun. He opened fire and shot Mr. Piasecki, Mr. Mead and Mr. Jones. He killed Mr. Piasecki and left the other two bleeding to death on the floor. Luckily, they were both saved by emergency surgery. But our superintendent was not so lucky. He was murdered at school that day by a teacher and left his wife and two kids behind. If I had not cheated on that test, I still would have been there when he came back and opened fire. Would he have shot me? I don’t know. Would a stray bullet have hit me? I don’t know. Perhaps I would have been “lucky” and only be traumatized for life by witnessing the murder of my superintendent (and next-door neighbor) and the carnage of two other teachers bleeding-out in front of me. There’s no way to know, but either way, I’m haunted by what was and what could have been.
You might think that Steven Leith was an angry Michigan redneck on the verge of exploding at any moment (see: Ted Nugent), but that couldn’t be further from the truth. He was a former hippie who still had a ponytail and was beloved by the student body. Phil Jones was his best friend, band mate & union rep… but that didn’t keep him out of the crosshairs. It’s proof that someone you would never suspect can just “snap”. The thing that may have saved my life that day is the fact that he had to go home to get a gun. If he only had to walk down the hall to his classroom to get a gun and ammo, I fear that there would have been a much bloodier outcome that day. So needless to say, a chill runs down my spine anytime I hear the suggestion that arming teachers is a great idea.
Even if you discount my story, there’s another flaw with putting guns into teachers’ hands… you can’t do it without putting guns in the schools and that creates another problem… Let’s say that someone wants to do a school shooting, but we’ve made it really hard with locked school doors, metal detectors and security guards checking everyone. But if there are guns already in the school, you create an opportunity for those willing to exploit it. There’s an image (the picture to the left) that went viral after the Sandy Hook shootings showing an armed teacher in Israel (with a gun over her shoulder) escorting kids into a classroom. What would stop anyone from calmly walking up to that teacher, sucker-punching her and taking the gun? Now they’re in the school, past security with a loaded weapon. You hear about stories like this in the news all the time, where someone’s own gun is used against them. The first time that happens would be the last as everyone would be forced to see the obvious flaw of putting guns into schools.
I wish there was a “one size fits all” solution to public shootings, but there isn’t. The N.R.A. is pretending that there is nothing wrong with the idea of arming teachers; I hope that after reading this, you will see that there is.