The return to school after a much needed spring break is a commonly dreaded occasion, one where familiar routines are reluctantly resumed. But for students at Marjory Stoneman High School, this return involved some new unsettling changes: clear backpacks, identification badges and additional security guards.
These new security measures are based on good intentions, but they are a poor resolution to a deeper problem. Schools ought to be a place of safety, support and empowerment, not prison-like protocols.
Ultimately, directing attention and state funds toward increasing school security is only a diversion from the real issue that needs to be addressed: gun control.
Since the Parkland, Florida shooting, concerns over school security have been voiced by people across the country including parents, school districts and state legislators. Many of their concerns have led to increasing support for school metal detectors, perimeter fencing, shatter-resistant glass and armed teachers.
Justin Tucker, associate professor of political science at Cal State Fullerton, said these measures are merely a Band-Aid on a bigger societal problem.
“People have become less compassionate toward one another. They don’t feel like they have good conflict-resolution skills and I don’t think there’s a lot of empathy for people who are suffering or struggling,” Tucker said.
In terms of having a gun in the classroom, Tucker said having honest discussions about active shooter situations would prove more effective than any individual gun.
Sarah Lerner, a high school teacher at Marjory Stoneman High School, echoed similar sentiments in an NBC interview March 24.
“I don’t own a gun, I don’t want a gun. I went to college to be a teacher not a police officer,” Lerner said in the interview.
The campaign to arm teachers gained traction following the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting when the National Rifle Association Executive Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, said more “good guys” with guns is the only way to stop a “bad guy.” In recent weeks, this idea has been reiterated by President Donald Trump who proposed giving bonuses to teachers who receive gun training.
“If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” Trump said following the Parkland shooting.
On the surface, this heroic western-like tale seems tempting to buy into — an easy, foolproof strategy to disarm all forms of evil. But portraying teachers as gun-wielding heroes poses a simple solution to a complex issue and is a deflection from reality that only pushes an agenda to have more guns in circulation.
Placing this responsibility on teachers conveniently pivots the conversation away from comprehensive gun control laws. On top of that, the effect of arming teachers is still unknown with little research to substantiate its claim of being a viable solution.
In contrast, research indicates that increased gun presence at schools could pose a greater risk to students with more accidental misfirings taking place, according to Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, which aims to represent an accurate portrayal of gun violence.
In the last decade, armed security personnel has increased in primary schools from 26 to 45 percent and in secondary schools from 63 to 72 percent, according to a report released Thursday by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Although the overall expansion of school security is rooted in legitimate concerns, many proponents of it underestimate its negative effects on students.
On Thursday, a group of black students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High called a press conference to voice their own concerns about the security measures, ones that have not been reflected in their white peers.
Kai Koerber, a 17-year-old, was among the students and told those in attendance that he worried an expanded law enforcement at a predominately white school would result in their treatment as “potential criminals.”
“It’s bad enough we have to return with clear backpacks,” Koerber said. “Should we also return with our hands up?”
Essentially, what many of these new measures do is offer the illusion of security. Protecting the the safety of students and people all over the country from gun violence requires a dedication to long-term productive strategies with a central focus on gun regulation.
Soon after the school shooting, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed a school safety bill that raises the age to purchase a firearm to 21 in the state, allowing some teachers to be armed and allocating $98 million to the task of toughening school security infrastructure.
The National Rifle Association immediately filed a lawsuit on behalf of the age minimum.
It’s clear that any legislation with an intent to reduce gun circulation is a threat to special-interest groups. Moving forward, lawmakers must create legislation reflective of everyone who is affected by gun violence and concentrate on resolutions that tackle the root of the problem: an overabundance of guns.
“Gun policy is very complex because it deals with very emotional issues, including rights of people to own firearms, but also the interest of society as a whole,” Tucker said. “I don’t think (arming teachers) is a great policy. There are accidents that can take place and I don’t think teachers signed up to be law enforcement officers at the same time.”
When it comes to school shootings, teachers shouldn’t be expected to be the hero of the story and schools shouldn’t rely on clear backpacks or metal detectors to get a job done that lawmakers can’t. In the end, students deserve a sanctuary, not a prison and a place of hope, not fear.