I have long been an advocate of arming as many willing teachers as possible with concealed handguns, most recently on May 31 post here at TTAG with “School Shootings: A Model Principle and Policy.” Where school safety is concerned, the primary question that truly matters is when deterrence has failed, what will schools do, then and there, to save the lives of children and teachers? In that article I introduced a model, primary principle . . .
In this particular debate, too many have no idea of the primary principle, or all too often, ignore it: the sole justification for armed school staff is to deter attacks on schools, and when an attack occurs, to minimize injury and loss of life. All others policies must flow from this.
Keeping the first principle — the first thing — first must be done if attacks are to be deterred and lives are to be saved. Only allowing willing staff to carry concealed handguns, and repeatedly and widely publicizing that fact while keeping confidential the names, numbers, and distribution of those staff members throughout a school district can actually deter attacks, and stop them if deterrence fails.
Resistance to this inescapable reality is slowly diminishing, and more and more schools across America are acknowledging the first principle and implementing proper policies. But there is still resistance. Some suggest that any teacher carrying a concealed weapon must be trained to the same standards as police officers, and some states actually insist that teachers become certified “special” police officers.
For anti-gun advocates this is a subterfuge, a way to avoid admitting that guns can be used for good. It’s a way to obstruct or prevent teachers from saving lives by imposing unnecessary training and certification. In truth, a teacher carrying a concealed handgun must be responsible for very few things. Among them:
- Keeping their weapon absolutely concealed and on their person, safe and secure at all times.
- Knowing state laws relating to the use of force.
- Maintaining shooting skills.
- Drawing and employing their handgun only to deal with an imminent threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or others.
Police officers are extensively trained because their jobs are far more complex than the few and specific responsibilities assumed by armed teachers. The overwhelming majority of armed teachers will never draw their handgun during their career, and none of their students need ever know they were armed. But they carry concealed handguns because even though the odds are in their favor, some teachers and students, somewhere, will always fall on the wrong side of the odds, and there is nothing preventing that from happening to any school, anywhere, particularly if all that school has to protect it are a few “gun-free school zone” signs.
But there is another, very compelling reason for teachers, particularly female teachers, to be armed: active shooters aren’t the only potentially deadly violence associated with schools. They aren’t even the most frequent and persistent danger. Consider this from The National Center For Education Statistics (2012):
During the 2007–08 school year, a smaller percentage of teachers (7 percent) were threatened with injury by a student from their school than in 1993–94 (12 percent) and 1999–2000 (9 percent), though this percentage was not measurably different from the percentage in 2003–04 (7 percent). The percentage of teachers reporting that they had been physically attacked by a student from their school (4 percent) was not measurably different in 2007–08 than in any previous survey year.’
‘From July 1, 2010, through June 30, 2011, there were 31 school-associated violent deaths in elementary and secondary schools in the United States. Of the 31 student, staff, and nonstudent school-associated violent deaths occurring between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2011, there were 25 homicides and 6 suicides.
And consider this from The American Psychological Association (2010):
A recent APA Classroom Violence Directed Against Teachers Task Force Report (2010) suggests teacher victimization is a major issue that deserves urgent attention, yet there is a dearth of research on violence directed against K-12 teachers…
Much of what is known nationally about teacher victimization is reported in the annual School Crime and Safety Report (National Center For Education Statistics) which included data from a variety of national surveys of students, teachers, and principals. According to the most recent release of this report, 11% of public school principals reported students engaging in acts of disrespect on a daily or weekly basis, and 6% reported students engaging in verbal abuse directed toward their teachers (Robers et al., 2010). During 2007-2008, 7% of teacher reported being threatened with injury by a student at their school and 4% reported being physically attacked; reports of threat and injury are highest in urban school, public schools, and among male teachers (Robers et al., 2010). Further Elliot, Hamburg and Williams (1998) indicated that 56% of teacher report not feeling safe at school, and 33% report being less eager to go to school due to threat of violence (Elliot, Hamburg, & Williams, 1998). Overall, these data suggest that a significant number of teachers experience victimization, and perceptions of safety suggest that rates of victimization may be higher than previously reported.
I have no doubt that there are more assaults and other crimes committed against teachers than are reported. Many principals and school administrators are loath to admit that there is crime, particularly serious crime, occurring in their schools. As a result, many try to deal with actual felonies without involving the police, and serious crimes are often reported, when they’re reported at all, with far less serious crime classifications: an aggravated assault might become a “disturbance.”
Most teachers are female, and in violent encounters, particularly with older students, women are at a real, and potentially deadly, disadvantage, as in the case of 24-year old Massachusetts high school math teacher Coleen Ritzer.
On October 24, 2013, 14 year-old Phillip Chism, a 6’2”. large, athletic and strong student, followed Ritzer into a bathroom after school:
Philip Chism left a folded piece of paper with the words ‘I hate you all’ next to the corpse of Colleen Ritzer after he slit her throat in a bathroom and left her body in a ‘sexually staged’ position at Danvers High School in Massachusetts, according to court court papers.
The documents also describe how Chism’s parents were going through a difficult divorce and the student had become visibly upset at Miss Ritzer after she asked him to stay behind after class on the day of the killing, according to the Boston Herald.
Miss Ritzer, 24, had asked Chism and another student to stay behind on 22 October and began talking about Tennessee – the state where Chism used to live – causing him to become distressed.
Chism, whose mother left his father and moved away this summer, was seen talking to himself quietly after his teacher changed the subject.
He wore gloves and a mask as he followed Ritzer into a second-floor bathroom after the argument armed with a box cutter.
He raped her, slit her throat with the box cutter, wheeled her body outside in a large recycling bin and dumped it in the woods behind the school. Her body was found naked from the waist down with the three foot branch still inside her corpse, which was covered in leaves. Her Bra was pulled down and her top pulled up.
An unidentified woman also walked into the bathroom as Chism committed his terrible crime at 3pm, but left quickly when she saw his naked behind and clothes on the floor. She told police that she assumed someone was changing in the bathroom.
Chism was also seen on CCTV emerging from the bathroom after killing Miss Ritzer, leaving the building and using a service elevator to return with a recycling bin in which he stuffed her body.
The new details come after Chism was indicted in a Massachusetts court on charges of murder, aggravated rape and armed robbery on Thursday.
Philip Chism has confessed to the murder of Ritzer, a loved and respected teacher, but his story is far from over:
Prosecutors have asked for strict security for a Danvers teenager charged with killing his teacher after he allegedly attacked a female youth worker this month.
In court papers released Thursday at the request of The Salem News, Essex County prosecutors said 15-year-old Philip Chism slipped away from caregivers before the June 2  incident at a youth facility in Boston.
Prosecutor Kate MacDougall said Chism crept along a common hallway ‘crouched down out of view,’ followed the woman to a locker room and tried to choke her while holding a pencil. Other workers came to the woman’s aid when she screamed.
Chism is at Worcester State Hospital for evaluation.
Philip Chism, a 14-year old in the body of a man, is a sexual predator, probably a serial killer in training hoping for the opportunity to kill again. The woman he attacked while under “evaluation”–it will be interesting to learn what the shrink’s “evaluation” of Chism’s most recent attempt at a possible sexual murder concludes–is fortunate to be alive. There are many more predators like Philip Chism in America’s schools.
Juvenile criminals are no less dangerous than adult criminals. Often, because they are more impulsive, less able to connect their actions with consequences, they are more dangerous. Criminals often act for no reason other than that they want to do it. No more complex motivations are necessary.
Rapists like to rape, to beat, torture and hurt their victims. They derive immense pleasure from their acts. Even burglars, thieves and non-violent criminals act because they enjoy what they do, often deriving a kind of sexual thrill. They often think themselves smarter, more cunning than others. They may think themselves superior, possessed of a kind of insight others lack, but ultimately, they do it because they want to do it and they like it.
It’s scary because there is no way to prevent that kind of behavior. In most cases, there is no way to predict it. As in similar cases, those that knew Chism, his soccer coach, fellow players, classmates, even his parents, can’t understand why Chism murdered Ritzer. They say he was the nicest kid on the soccer team, quiet, never violent, the last person anyone would suspect. This too is common and makes this kind of violence so hard for many to understand.
Chism has confessed in full, but has refused to explain why he did it. This too is common. Killers and other criminals often delight in withholding that kind of information, knowing that it continues to hurt the survivors of their crimes and vexes the police. They delight in exercising control over others, in torturing others in any way they can.
Coleen Ritzer spoke of leaving a positive legacy behind. Perhaps a part of that legacy can be knowledge that can help prevent what happened to her. There are lessons to be learned, lessons that can save lives.
Lesson 1: Sociopaths and criminals of all types surround us. They are everywhere. We pass them on sidewalks; we stand in front of them in lines at supermarkets and movies. We don’t hear their thoughts as they imagine what they’d do to us and our wives and children if they had the chance, but they think them just the same. They don’t look like sociopaths; they look normal. We virtually never find out who they are until they act, and even then, in many cases, not until they have acted many, many times, leaving a bloody trail of misery and destruction.
Lesson 2: Juveniles are as dangerous, even more dangerous, than adult criminals. In the Trayvon Martin case, the media played up the false narrative that Martin was a tiny, harmless, cherubic child, much smaller and lighter than George Zimmerman. In fact, he was much taller and not much lighter than Zimmerman. In addition, he had the lean musculature and strength of a young athlete and the lack of experience and impulse control common in teenagers.
Phillip Chism was 6’2” tall and obviously strong. Any such teenager will be able to overpower and seriously hurt, even kill, most adult women. The male advantage in upper body strength, aggressiveness, and propensity to violence is an overwhelming factor in any confrontation between men and women, and it applies with most teenagers.
Lesson 3: There is only one means of equalizing the force disparity between men and women: concealed handguns. Chism initially struck Ritzer in the face, obviously stunning her, but had she been armed, the encounter may have turned out very differently. It’s possible that she was unconscious from the first blow, but she was denied the ability to protect her life. She had no choice, no chance.
The other related issue is that if people know their victims may be armed, they may be deterred. This is the advantage of concealed carry. In states where criminals know citizens can carry concealed firearms, they have to behave as though everyone was carrying. This gives an advantage to even unarmed citizens, but particularly to those who are carrying. In most contemporary schools, criminals can be assured their victims are unarmed.
Lesson 4: “Gun-free” zones deprive the law-abiding of the ability to protect their lives as effectively as states that deny citizens the right to concealed carry in general. It is the law-abiding, those that threaten no one, that obey the law.
Teachers face threats not only from active shooters, but from the general student population. Any teacher can tell about students they keep an eye on, students they fear will one day do violence. These threats are worse in some parts of the country, such as inner city schools, or schools on the east and west coasts. It is particularly ironic that those schools are often full of people that would delight in denying others the right to protect their lives, people who think that “gun-free” zones magically prevent deadly violence despite the bodies of teachers and students that prove otherwise.
Guns–tools–are not the issue. Human nature is. Whether in ancient Greece or today, the only thing that will deter or stop evil people with weapons are good people with weapons. In any physical attack, armed or unarmed, women are at a deadly disadvantage to men, even most boys, whether in or out of school.
Those that claim to be supporters of women might wish to remember that, lest the ranks of women–particularly teachers–to be supported are diminished.