By Rob Morse
Solid facts are rare in the ocean of opinion surrounding arming teachers. Allowing armed defenders in schools is a polarizing issue with plenty of passion on both sides of the question. The legacy news media feed us lots of emotion but relatively little data or informed analysis. I asked the best sources I could find if school staff should be armed to protect our students. Their answer was clear.
I spoke to the brain trust at Tactical Defense Institute (TDI). These men and women built the training curriculum recommended for school resource officers (SROs) across the country. Their analysts and instructors also provided regional training for SWAT officers. They take their classes across the US and train local law enforcement instructors and they train the trainers.
The instructors at TDI examine police reports to uncover what works and what doesn’t work. It is their job to study new threats on the street and recommend changes in the way law enforcement officers are trained. They looked at the attacks on our schools and have concluded that school resource officers alone aren’t enough to protect our students.
For one thing, there were too many times when SROs weren’t on campus. In addition, the SROs are an obvious target during an attack. The SROs were also spread too thin to respond quickly. Protecting students from a murderer is a battle against time.
The sooner the murderer is stopped, the fewer students will be injured or killed. The sooner the murderer is stopped, the faster we can treat the injured and save lives. One of the largest teacher training programs is called FASTER, though the acronym stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. FASTER trains first responders to stop the killer and treat the injured until help arrives.
What we’ve done in the past isn’t working any longer. A uniformed school resource officer is a visible sign of authority on campus. That’s an effective deterrent most of the time. That deterrent works right up until it doesn’t. We have many examples when attackers either waited for the uniformed officers to leave the school, or when murderers began their attack by killing the uniformed officer or driving him away from the school. Sadly, we have also seen recent examples of police officers who stayed outside the school while our children died inside.
One dedicated officer ran toward the sound of gunfire and arrived too late. Yes, he responded as fast as he could, but he also saw a student who was horribly wounded in the attack. That student would die a short time later at the hospital. This long-serving police officer and SWAT cop knows that a few seconds make the difference between life and death. Given his experience, this officer wants armed school staff to protect students. He knows that teachers are closer to the students than he is. Therefore, teachers can respond faster to an attack on their school.
That isn’t a feeling or an opinion. That’s the hard lesson this officer learned from an actual attack on a Colorado high school. Today, this officer instructs selected school staff on how to carry loaded firearm on campus. We might want to listen to him.
Lots of sheriffs will give you their opinion. But it’s more credible to ask sheriffs who have actual experience with armed staff in their county schools.
I went to Ohio where the FASTER program has trained over a thousand school staff members. Ohio sheriffs have seen the programs from beginning to end. Sheriffs are an active part of the screening and the training process for armed school staff.
Some of these sheriffs ran side-by-side tests comparing school staff and police officers in the same exercise. They looked at who got to the scene first. It usually takes officers a few extra minutes to arrive on scene. The sheriffs also looked at what the responders did once they arrived. I spoke with a deputy who started out opposed to armed school staff but became an advocate. He said, “I hope sheriffs look at this with an open mind.” Many have. Eighty-two of 88 Ohio sheriffs approve armed school staff in their counties.
While I was in Ohio, I participated in a refresher training class for school staff who are already protecting their students. These teachers were honest with me about the problems of being an armed defender and medical first responder. They said, “Of course, things could go wrong. I could get shot by the attacker, but it would be worse to do nothing and see my kids killed.” They take their responsibility seriously.
I was honored to be a student alongside these teachers and administrators. I’ve never carried a gun and bandages to save our students. I’m glad to learn from those who have.
If you want to know if school staff should be armed, you might want to learn from the cafeteria workers, custodians, teachers, principals, and school superintendents who volunteered to put their bodies between our kids and a bullet. They weighed the costs if they were armed and the costs if they were unarmed. They make the decision to be an armed protector every day.