For American parents, school shootings are a very real threat, the kind that keeps you awake at night.
Sadly, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has responded with a ridiculous plan that will make our children less safe while siphoning federal dollars away from underfunded school programs. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Senate has disgracefully approved a bill to allow school personnel to carry firearms. As parents and local leaders, we emphatically reject these proposals and urge you to join us in speaking up.
DeVos has indicated she will allow states to arm school teachers and staff with Title IV-A federal grant dollars designated for "improving school conditions." She claims this interpretation of federal law is not new, but it comes at a time when states, such as Texas, have asked for guidance on whether the funds can be used to arm school personnel.
These proposals are dangerous. Allowing school personnel to carry guns and then paying for those guns with federal dollars will make schools less safe. And it will divert funds away from resources that are proven to enhance student safety.
First, psychologists have observed that mass murderers often intend to die at the scene of the massacre – a phenomenon sometimes referred to as "suicide by cop." Accordingly, the presence of armed personnel is an attraction, not a deterrent. And once mass shootings begin, they are very difficult to stop.
Sheldon Greenberg, a Johns Hopkins University education professor and former police officer, notes in a recent paper that armed security officers at schools have repeatedly failed to prevent or stop school shootings. Indeed, several law enforcement officers were present during the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School but were unable to stop the mass shooting, which claimed 17 lives. If highly trained officers regularly fail in the fast-paced, high-stress context of a mass shooting, how can we expect teachers and school staff to succeed? How can we expect law enforcement to distinguish between a shooter and an armed teacher? How can an armed teacher distinguish between a shooter and a plainclothes law enforcement officer?
Moreover, armed school personnel will inevitably use guns in altercations with colleagues, students, and parents. As "stand your ground" and permit-less carry laws have shown, an armed society is an aggressive society. When guns are involved, everyday confrontations have the potential for deadly escalation.
Guns in schools also create the additional danger of accidental gun violence. Earlier this year, an Associated Press report found that policies allowing guns in schools have resulted in an array of dangerous situations. They included accidental firings by school personnel and children finding firearms left unsecured in school locker rooms and restrooms. The report reviewed 30 such incidents, which injured at least nine people. Those are not conditions fit for our children.
Finally, money spent on guns is money stolen from resources that promote school safety. In July, the Secret Service and the Department of Homeland Security published a joint report on school safety, focusing on threat assessment and response. The report emphasized that most school shootings could be prevented by promoting trusting, responsive school environments where there are coordinated efforts to promptly identify at-risk students and intervene. It's self-evident that this is the type of work that Title IV-A funds should support. Our students need anti-bullying resources, mental health supports, and after-school programs. Not armed teachers and staff.
That's why teacher groups and law enforcement organizations across the country—including the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers—broadly oppose policies that would put guns in schools.
Meanwhile, students across the country have become increasingly vocal about gun violence. Their message has been loud and clear: More guns are not the answer. Let's listen to our kids and tell the Trump administration and the Pennsylvania General Assembly to keep guns out of our schools.
Kenyatta Johnson is the city councilman for Philadelphia's Second Council District and co-chair of Council's Special Committee on Gun Violence.
Jerry T. Jordan is president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers and vice president of the executive council of the American Federation of Teachers.