Armed guards and schools: The questions we need to ask

Tonight I saw a Facebook post that said schools need armed security guards to prevent shootings. The rationale was that guns protect the president, members of Congress, celebrities, etc. etc., so of course they should be used to guard children as well.

Let’s think critically about this for a moment: In how many situations in life do you best solve a problem (in this case guns in schools) by adding *more* of the problem to the original problem?

(I know what you’re thinking: Fire. “Fight fire with fire.” I realize that in a very small percentage of fires, that strategy works — but typically it would not. If your house were burning, you wouldn’t want a firetruck to pull up and begin dousing it with a flamethrower.)

But let’s say every school does get an armed guard. What would prevent a shooter from shooting the guard, then entering the school and doing more harm? That has actually happened. One case occurred in Red Lake, Minnesota, nine years ago, when 16-year-old student Jeffrey Weise walked into Red Lake High School and fatally shot an unarmed guard, then killed eight other people before taking his own life.

But that guard was unarmed. Let’s think about that for a moment. What if he were armed — would that have reasonably prevented what, at that time, was the deadliest school shooting since Columbine? To believe an armed guard at Red Lake (or any school) would have prevented the shooting, you would have to believe that the guard would have successfully recognized the threat and stopped it, all in the span of mere seconds. That’s no sure thing.

Every hypothetical pushes us deeper down the rabbit hole. In our scenario, if the shooter were a teenage like Wiese, who was armed with a Glock and a shotgun, would be easier for a guard to stop him? Or would it be more difficult since he would blend right into a high school setting?

If you believe in the idea of armed security guards in schools, how do you answer to the fact that the presence of a full-time armed sheriff’s deputy who worked at Columbine High did not stop the attack there? And that other officers who happened to be near the school were on the scene within moments, yet amid the chaos and confusion, could not prevent the gunmen from killing 13 people before committing suicide?

Do you believe that an armed school guard would have stopped the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut? At the time of the shooting, almost three years ago, Sandy Hook had just upgraded its security procedures; visitors were admitted after checking in via a video monitor, and the entrance doors were locked at 9:30 each morning. But against someone bent on mass murder and armed with an AR-15-style Bushmaster semiautomatic rifle, those security measures were useless — he just shot his way through them.

What would prevent someone like him, armed with a high-powered weapon, from doing the same thing with an armed security guard?

And if you believe the argument that schools really should have armed guards because armed guards also protect the president, celebrities, etc., doesn’t it logically follow that everyone responsible for a child should be armed at all times — not just in schools, but everywhere?

I have other questions too about armed guards in schools. Is this kind of dystopian setting really what we as a society want as the place of learning and education? Should going to school be like going through airport security, with armed guards, metal detectors, shoe removal, lines and general tension and misery? Kids spend most of their waking lives in school — what psychological effects would dealing with that kind of atmosphere every day have on them?

I ask these questions because I think they are important and because they will foster dialogue. It’s easy to spin any issue involving guns into an emotional appeal, and in the age of social media, emotional appeals seem to have more power than ever before. Clicking “like” is easy; thinking critically is hard.

The plague of school shootings, and mass shootings in general, in this country will not be solved by emotional appeals, propaganda or blind adherence to any one position. It will not be solved by people who are self-serving, and it will not be solved by an “us vs. them” mentality, which breeds more conflict from existing conflict.

It will be solved by thinking about all of the questions in this post — which are just a starting point — and having meaningful, thoughtful dialogue.


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