Columns » Ernest Dumas

Guns in school increase danger



If there is a good side to tragedies like the massacre of children at the Sandy Hook school, it is that they stir laudable impulses to fix things so that it never happens here.

But there is always the danger that the desperate fix itself will pose greater dangers than the distant chance that the horror will repeat itself right here, in your own school. Arming teachers, aides and principals to battle delusional people who enter the school with assault guns is just such a reaction.

School arsenals may be the wave of the future in Arkansas after the state board that regulates private security companies authorized 14 schools to risk violating the law by arming part of their staffs. It's illegal in Arkansas for employees to take guns to school. A state representative plans to revive legislation to change the law to let staffs carry sidearms in school, although it may be 2015 before he can get it introduced and passed. The legislature blocked the bill last spring.

Arming school staffs is the National Rifle Association's answer to the Connecticut massacre, the most horrific of the random school shootings the past 25 years. Gun-carrying teachers and administrators is a prospect that generally horrifies educators, including my own extended family of teachers, but the contemporary philosophy that the safest place in the world to be is where the most guns are usually carries the day when Southern and Western legislatures meet.

The slaughter of tiny children seemed for a while to galvanize the country. Polls showed overwhelming support for tough background checks on gun buyers and restrictions on the sale of military-type weapons that can kill lots of people in seconds, the kind that are usually involved in random killings at schools, plants and public places. But nothing came of it.

So you may understand why the school superintendent at small-town Clarksville, feeling it was a last resort for protecting the kids from unhinged townspeople, decided to arm people on his staff. The strapped schools don't have the money to hire resource officers and he won't have to supplement the paltry salaries of teachers who take on the extra duty of packing heat.

Here is the terrible truth about guns in schools or anywhere they are not in the control of lawmen and security officers: They raise, not diminish, the prospect of death and mayhem. If you carry a gun or keep one in the desk, at bedside or in the glove compartment, the chances go up that some circumstance will cause you to use it, perhaps purposely but also mistakenly or accidentally. Nowhere is that more true than in schools, where confrontations and disagreements, from kids bringing pistols to school to hallway fights and disputes with teachers, are everyday occurrences. They rarely end in killings.

But if you are armed and are commissioned by the school to protect everyone, using or simply displaying your weapon will not be the last resort. Things will too often escalate to that point and beyond.

A Bible-quoting 107-year-old man who kept a bedside pistol for his safety became unhinged when they came to move him to a new home in Pine Bluff last week and began firing wildly. They called the police, who saw nothing to do but kill him.

Last Sunday, a former collegiate athlete who was injured in a car wreck stumbled to a nearby house to get help, but the occupant was distressed by his appearance and called 911. When police arrived, the man shambled toward them and, figuring that he must have a pistol, they gunned him down. He didn't. All these were trained lawmen, not laymen, and they did what their training seemed to require under sudden pressure. Tempests escalate when the danger of guns is present. Schools will be no safe harbor.

Veteran schoolteachers know that and want no part of instant vigilante justice. They'll chance that their common sense and skills will handle situations and that providence will protect their charges from the rare madmen with assault rifles. A wise old country editor at Jonesboro, Roy Ockert Jr., had it right about having a school full of teachers and administrators toting heat: "The idea of having more than 20 armed guards in a school is as scary as having none."

A sign that shows up at all the gun rallies, again last weekend in Washington, says: "Guns Save Lives." They sometimes do, but of the 33,000 gun deaths each year in the United States — the second highest rate in the world after Mexico — not one occurs where there is a vacuum of guns.

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