By Chris B.
In December of 2012 I graduated with a degree in Social Science Education from a South Dakota university, one day after the massacre at Sandy Hook. Three months later, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard signed into law HB1087 (more commonly referred to as the Sentinel Bill), which would provide for armed faculty and staff inside public schools. As an aspiring educator and concealed permit holder, the passage of this bill excited me. It would finally allow me and other defense-minded teachers to carry a firearm in the classroom, providing a safe and secure environment for students to learn. But it is not that simple . . .
The Sentinel Bill has several key components that provide for the appropriate and responsible placement of armed sentinels within a school’s premises. The language in the bill was wisely chosen and concisely demonstrates the goals of the program. The entire bill can be read here, but I will cover the major points:
- The school board must approve whether they wish to have a sentinel program in their district. It was not a mandate laid down by the state of South Dakota. (In the same regard, teachers or staff would not be forced to participate in the program; it is completely voluntary).
- The school board must obtain permission from the county sheriff who has jurisdiction over the school district. The sheriff’s department must also approve of the sentinel program set up by the district and provide adequate training for the individuals choosing to be armed.
- Each individual choosing to be involved in the program must meet the requirements for a South Dakota Concealed Carry Permit. (Which is incredibly easy to obtain, and any person that passes the FBI background check required to teach in South Dakota will have no trouble passing the background check for a CCP).
The Sentinel Program set up by each school district would complement and enhance the lock down and intruder procedures already in place. It would allow the staff to decidedly amend the conditions of a confrontation with an armed intruder or intruders. Students would be in a safer situation should the worst arise.
Although student safety has been a hot topic of political discussion over the past six months, most do not truly understand how truly crucial it is to the learning process. Speaking as an educator, making sure that a student is in a safe and protected environment is paramount in in order for students to learn the material and better themselves individually.
One of the major aspects of modern educational psychology is the work of Dr. Abraham Maslow. He proposed that humans must fulfill their physiological needs before their psychological needs can be met. From this point they can improve themselves and achieve what he called self-actualization. These needs are organized into what is termed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
This perfectly translates to the necessities of a student within a school. A teacher must address these needs as they take on the responsibility of running a classroom. At the base are the simplest of human actions required to live – breathing, food, water, and homeostasis. Every student should have these once they enter your classroom. If not, a teacher would provide food or water.
Once these are established, the teacher must provide a safe and healthy environment for each student’s physical body. If a student does not feel safe, they will not be able to move up the pyramid and acquire the next needs, which include friendship, family, love, self-esteem, confidence, problem solving, creativity, and morality. These higher-level aspects of the pyramid are the skills and character traits that are obtained by students in a safe and loving classroom – the type of classroom that allows them to move seamlessly through these categories and move on to become humane and well-adjusted adults.
I wish to provide an additional amount of safety to my classroom by carrying a concealed pistol inside my waistband at 4 o’clock with an extra mag at 8 o’clock. I am also 6’ 5’’, well built, and who would fight any intruder wishing to harm my students. I would fight to the death with my bare hands to protect them, as would any teacher worth his or her salt. But a concealed firearm would give me an advantage that the intruder would not expect.
Since the passage HB1087 their has been a lull in the political discussion in South Dakota over guns in school. The bill was originally introduced in January (with one of the main sponsors being a representative from my district), and there was quite a bit of debate up until its signage, and then a sudden drop off. It’s as if after the bill was signed people assumed the argument was over, and all school boards would implement their own sentinel program without question.
But that did not happen.
From the other educators I’ve talked to, there is not widespread support within school systems to allow teachers to carry firearms in schools. The overlap of firearms enthusiasts who wish to see teachers carrying concealed in the classroom and teachers willing to do so is very narrow. I fit into that demographic, as does my wife and several other teachers I know, but the majority of teachers, administrators, school board members, and mostly importantly parents, do not want it to happen.
The parents fear that the worst will happen. They think that a teacher will accidentally shoot a student in the middle of a lecture (because as we all know, holstered firearms just go off for no reason). These people want their children to be protected, but are afraid to allow competently trained teachers the means to protect them. An administrator I talked to recently, who appeared to be fairly neutral on the topic, was worried about the liability that would fall onto the school district once firearms are allowed into the classroom. While this is a fair concern, the benefits greatly outweigh the risks in under these circumstances.
It’s not as if firearms are foreign to the individuals opposed. Firearms are a huge part of South Dakota’s culture. The state sports some of the best hunting in the nation – particularly pheasant hunting in the middle of October – and shooting culture in general is very healthy. I do not wish to generalize the great state of South Dakota. There are obviously outliers in every community and culture, and South Dakota is no exception. I know many people who think guns are evil and simply abhor the idea of a firearm entering school property in the possession of anyone but a police officer.
I think their apprehension stems from a fear of the unknown. They may not know the teacher. They may not know how their children are protected. They may not understand the facets of the Sentinel Program. They most certainly do not understand firearms. The key to fixing this is, of course, education. Advocates for the Sentinel Program must inform their friends, neighbors, and coworkers of the logic behind it. We must give a new face to the gun culture and demonstrate that we are not all gun-toting imbeciles that the media tries to portray. We must show that allowing teachers to carry a firearm within the school would only be beneficial for the safety of the students.
I understand how unlikely it is that I will ever need to use my pistol in a defensive situation, especially in a school. In my 4 years of carrying a concealed firearm I have not once had to remove my firearm from its holster and draw down on someone. I never want to. Ever. But should the situation arise in which my life or the lives of my students are in jeopardy, I want to be prepared to protect them to the best of my ability. I take the responsibility of providing a safe and loving classroom very seriously. It is a burden that every teacher will encounter, but few will take to heart.
I was recently hired to teach at a semi-rural school in South Dakota for the 2013-2014 school year. While this specific school district did not enact a Sentinel Program for this year, I have hopes for the future. The community is deeply rooted in the culture of firearms and modern shooting sports. It is also a community strongly in support of its school. My hope is that one day these two ideas converge, giving myself and other willing educators the opportunity to protect our students to the highest of our ability.
I have not even met my students yet, but I can tell you that I will show each of them as much love and kindness as I can. Even without a firearm with me, I will give them a learning environment that is a sanctuary from anything or anyone who might wish to harm them. And they will learn because they are safe and loved.