After the school shooting in my adopted state of Florida, the state legislature acted by proposing an increase in the minimum age for purchasing a rifle, a three-day waiting period on rifles, and a program for arming teachers. Teachers can elect to participate in the program and there has been some talk of providing financial incentives. Since Florida consistently underfunds education, this does have some appeal to poorly-paid teachers.
As would be suspected, pro-gun people and the NRA generally favor arming teachers while those who are anti-gun oppose it. It is also not surprising that many in the middle are not enamored of the idea of arming teachers. In general, teachers do not seem thrilled with the idea.
While people tend to line up on this issue in accord with their ideology, the matter should be given due consideration in as objective a manner as possible. I will endeavor to do just that, with focus on both the practical and moral aspects of the matter.
From a purely practical standpoint, the main question is whether arming teachers would make students safer. Under this broad consideration are various practical concerns. For example, one obvious concern is whether an average teacher who lacks military or police experience would be able to operate in a combat effective manner against likely attackers. On the positive side, school shooters tend to be inexperienced and untrained—as such, a teacher with some training would probably be equal or better in skill than the typical attacker in a school setting. On the negative side, school shooters tend to use assault rifles, and this would give them a firepower advantage (range, accuracy, damage and magazine size) over teachers armed with pistols. But, a pistol is still better than being unarmed.
As such, an armed teacher would be objectively better than an unarmed teacher in terms of engaging a shooter. But, the engagement would not be like a shootout in a Western, with both gunslingers facing each other across an empty space. It is likely the engagement would take place with students all around and this raises the concern that the armed teacher will miss the shooter and hit students. Even trained professionals tend to miss most pistol shots in an active engagement; a teacher with some basic firearm training will presumably miss more often. This leads to the practical and moral question of whether this engagement would make students safer than not arming teachers. The practical matter is an empirical question: would an armed teacher reduce casualties by either taking out the shooter or keeping their attention long enough to allow more people to escape or would they increase the body count by wounding and killing students with missed shots? We will presumably have some data on this soon.
The moral concern is probably best put in utilitarian terms: if there is a reduction in deaths due to armed teacher intervention, would this outweigh unintended injuries and deaths caused by the teacher? On the face of it, a utilitarian calculation would find the action morally good, provided that the teacher’s actions saved more students than not having an armed engagement. However, there is still the non-utilitarian moral concern about the possibility of teachers unintentionally killing or wounding students they are trying to save. But, on the face of it, I would be inclined to say that engaging a shooter would be the right thing to do, even if there are the inevitable unintentional casualties. [Read more…] about Arming Teachers