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If we arm teachers, the list of what could go wrong is 'way too long,' says retired USAF officer and university professor

  • President Trump has recently put forward the notion that more guns, not fewer, are the solution to our national school shooting problem in America.
  • This is an essentially unworkable idea. Here's why.
Activists protest in front of Kalashnikov USA, a gun manufacturer that makes an AK-47 rifle, on February 25, 2018 in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Getty Images
Activists protest in front of Kalashnikov USA, a gun manufacturer that makes an AK-47 rifle, on February 25, 2018 in Pompano Beach, Florida.

President Donald Trump, at the urging of the National Rifle Association, has recently put forward the notion that more guns, not fewer, are the solution to our national school shooting problem. His claim is that a deranged individual with a semi-automatic assault rifle would never dare enter a school where a fraction of the teachers may be armed.

This is an essentially unworkable idea for several reasons.

First, though, my credentials. I am a retired United States military officer, having spent 20 years on active duty. I am also a professor of management, having taught for the past 28 years in an elite American university. My task each day is to enter a classroom with a couple of dozen exceptionally bright young people and teach them how critical thinking, rhetorical skill and subject matter expertise can be used to solve serious business problems.

As a military officer, I was required to qualify on the operation, disassembly, reassembly and maintenance of both sidearms and high muzzle-velocity assault weapons. The first caution my class of cadets received from our firing range superintendent was this: "If you do not pay very careful attention to me and do exactly as I say, when I say it, someone will go home today in a bag." That was only an introduction to the very lethal nature of the instruments we were being asked to master.

Shooting a weapon, like any military skill, requires two things to master. First, you must learn from an instructor who is highly competent, and, second, you must regularly sharpen your skill. Retired Air Force pilots are sometimes asked if they "still like to fly." The customary answer is "only as a passenger, ma'am." If you don't get a minimum of 10 hours first-stick time each month, you're dangerous. It's as simple as that.

"As a university professor, I have learned that people do not go into education – at any level – because they harbor a desire to control or even protect others. They're there to create knowledge (research), transfer knowledge (teaching), or develop character (mentoring). They leave security to trained professionals."

As a university professor, I have learned that people do not go into education – at any level – because they harbor a desire to control or even protect others. They're there to create knowledge (research), transfer knowledge (teaching), or develop character (mentoring). They leave security to trained professionals.

I do not own a gun, but am entirely sympathetic to those who love to hunt, participate in competitive target shooting, or keep a weapon for self-protection. We have no firearms in the house precisely because, as a qualified marksman, I know how dangerous they can be. Suicide and accidental discharges happen far more often than mass shootings, which now occur almost daily in the U.S. That's a calculated risk/reward decision on my part.

The vast majority of America's school teachers, along with virtually all of our university professors, oppose the idea of concealed carry in our classrooms.

The list of what could go wrong is just way too long. Teachers would require training that exceeds a twice-yearly trip to the range to see how many holes they can put in a paper target at 25-meters. Police tactical units actively train to take down a shooter using mobility, deception, speed, and highly sophisticated radio and video communication.

If I were a school teacher in an active-shooter situation, my greatest risk would come from the initial wave of first responders who might well misidentify me as the shooter. Add that to the astonishingly low rate of "moving target hits" that police and military will tell you about. This is a risky, dangerous proposition for all involved. And, of course, those wide-eyed, innocent students now realize that the fellow teaching Algebra or the woman instructing a choral group have somehow been transformed into "point security" for their school.

I've been at this nearly 50 years. I may not be the "genius" other people will claim for themselves, but I can tell you with rational clarity that facility security is best left to the professionals. If you tell me we can't afford it, I would say "find something else in the budget that can go – at least in the near term."

Every large corporation has its own security force. Small businesses and ordinary citizens alike depend on the police, sheriff, and highway patrol in their communities. Arming America's teachers is a dumb idea.

Commentary by James S. O'Rourke, IV, PhD, Lieutenant Colonel, USAF (Ret.) and professor of management at Notre Dame Univerity (USA) in England.

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