Two school districts, one in Kern County and one in Hanover, Colorado, voted recently to let teachers and some staff carry guns on campus — decisions which have divided parents, students, staff and board members.
In both counties, the school board votes came down to a 3-2 split, and a survey of Hanover residents found 126 in favor and 123 against. Moreover, opponents of the move by Kern High School District have kicked off a petition drive to overturn the vote, while other Kern staff, including bus drivers, are asking for permission to carry weapons, too.
The larger context of recent school shootings has created a divide over how best to protect students. Proponents of arming staff have argued that some schools, often in rural areas, can’t afford armed security and need to take measures into their own hands, while those against say the presence of guns on campus is an even bigger threat to children.
Steve Dulan, member of the board of directors of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners, told AirTalk host Larry Mantle that even though campus shootings aren’t that common, their seriousness justifies arming teachers.
“It's kind of like having fire extinguishers. Schools almost never burn down anymore, but they have fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, fire alarms,” he said.
As for the concern that a teacher might harm a student, Dulan said numbers show that “people with concealed licenses are essentially the most law-abiding portion of the population.” Additionally, most schools don’t have metal detectors, so if a teacher truly wanted to harm a student, they could bring a gun to school regardless of policy.
Laura Cutilletta, managing attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said she’s more concerned about unintentional shootings.
“Studies have existed for decades [showing] that a gun in the home, for example, doesn’t usually get used against an intruder — it gets used against the people in the home, because of an unintentional shooting,” she said.
Dulan said concerns over accidents can be solved through technology.
“You probably wouldn’t want the teacher carrying it on his or her person in every case,” he said. “Sometimes they're going to want to put it in storage, and there are very affordable systems that use fingerprint IDs or a quick combination code — lockboxes where the gun could be stored.”
But Cutilletta said the level of distraction that teachers have to deal with make having a gun too much of a liability.
“Teachers’ hands are full ... with teaching and classroom discipline. And to expect them to also be worried about having a loaded gun in the classroom, I think, is irresponsible ... even if they have training.”
There are currently three other districts in California — Folsom Cordova Unified School District, Kingsburg Joint Union High School District and Anderson Union High School District — that allow staff to bring guns to campus.
Click the blue play button above to listen to the full discussion.
Steve Dulan, member of the board of directors of the Michigan Coalition for Responsible Gun Owners and an adjunct professor at the Cooley Law School at Western Michigan University
Laura Cutilletta, managing attorney, Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence