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Should educators be armed?

If there's a shooting at a school, should educators be prepared to shoot back? Across the country, 15 states already allow concealed carry of some kind in schools, with lawmakers in many more states considering or having recently debated the idea. But all major teacher- and school-employee groups oppose the idea. Special correspondent Kavitha Cardoza of Education Week reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next week marks five years since the nation’s worst school shooting took place at Sandy Hook Elementary, killing 20 children and six staff members.

    The massacre didn’t, as some had hoped, become a transformative moment and lead to policies restricting gun access. But the killings did lead school districts to ramp up security measures, including lockdown drills, hiring police officers and installing cameras and metal detectors.

    Now, advocates in a growing number of states are pushing those efforts a step further by lobbying for state laws that would allow educators to carry concealed weapons in classrooms.

    Correspondent Kavitha Cardoza with our partner Education Week traveled to West Union, Ohio, for our weekly segment Making the Grade.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    It’s a peaceful morning on this lush 200-acre private property in rural Ohio, that is, until class starts.

    (GUNSHOTS)

  • Man:

    I want it dead center every time.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    The 200 students at this firing range all work for school districts. They’re teachers, principals, bus drivers.

  • Joe Eaton:

    We actually had the lunch lady in here, and, no, she didn’t wear her hairnet while she was doing the training.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Joe Eaton is the program director of this three-day training.

  • Joe Eaton:

    If I do a tap rack.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    FASTER Saves Lives.

  • Joe Eaton:

    It feels different.

    There’s no other emergency where we rely 100 percent on outside help. If a kid falls in a pool and starts to drown, we don’t simply dial 911 and wait for the paramedics to get there. We jump in the pool. We pull the kid out. We pray somebody knows CPR, and we start saving lives while we’re waiting for the professionals to get there.

    It’s the same thing with heart attacks or fires.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Eaton says school violence should be no different. He’s all for trying to prevent shootings, locking entrances, setting up tip lines and identifying troubled students, but he says it’s just as important that educators are prepared if there is a shooting.

    Just waiting for outside help? Eaton says that just means more deaths and injuries.

  • Lori Snyder-lowe:

    My number one concern in my district as a superintendent is student safety.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    That’s Lori Snyder-Lowe, the superintendent of Morgan Local School District. Her rural schools are spread out over more than 400 square miles, which makes them what she calls a soft target.

  • Lori Snyder-lowe:

    The response time for emergency services is rather long. And it can take somewhere — it can take a half-hour to get to the school, depending on where the sheriff’s department is in the rest of the county.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    School shootings, especially those like Columbine or Sandy Hook, are very rare. More than 55 million children go to school in the U.S. every day. And in the last five years, a firearm has been discharged 144 times at a school.

    But Erin Knox, a second grade teacher at a suburban school district, Fairfield City Schools, is still concerned. She learned to shoot when she was 9 years old and has long had a concealed carry permit.

  • Erin Knox:

    I carry everywhere I go in my personal life.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    So, grocery store, church?

  • Erin Knox:

    Yes, everywhere.

  • Kavitha Cardoza: 

    Except in her school. Knox’s district, like most across the country, doesn’t allow her to carry a gun when teaching. She’s hoping that will change.

  • Erin Knox: 

    It’s for selfish reasons. My own children go to my school. So, I want to know what to do if there would be an active killer and how to keep my kids safe and everyone else’s kids safe.

  • Man:

    If somebody hands you a gun with it closed, you always want to make sure it’s unloaded first.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Under Ohio law, local school boards can vote on whether to allow staff to carry guns. Board members can also decide whether or not to inform parents and school staff about their decision.

    Across the country, 15 states already allow concealed carry of some kind in schools. And just this year, two dozen states are considering or have recently considered these controversial policies. Most were defeated.

    The nonprofit Moms Demand Action was formed right after the Sandy Hook shootings. Since then, they have joined forces with Everytown for Gun Safety.

  • Jennifer Hoppe:

    I think the biggest misconception is the mind-set that a teacher could instantly move from a mind-set of teaching a classroom full of students to spring into action like a sharpshooter, in a very chaotic and crisis situation.

  • Kavitha Cardoza: 

    Jennifer Hoppe is the deputy director of Moms Demand Action. She says the focus should be on prevention.

  • Jennifer Hoppe:

    An educator is there to nurture and care for and educate students. And to put the burden of being a crisis responder on them, it just isn’t fair, especially when research has shown even trained — highly trained police officers, in crisis situations, frequently don’t hit their targets.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    But the notion of arming teachers is becoming very popular. Why do you think that is?

  • Jennifer Hoppe:

    I think that’s because the gun lobby, they have a priority of normalizing guns into every situation, into making us accept guns everywhere, for anyone, with no questions asked.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    According to a 2017 Pew study, 55 percent of adults are against allowing teachers and officials to carry guns in schools.

    In fact, all the major teacher, principal, school employee and security organizations oppose guns in schools, except when carried by a police or security officer. They say it would distract from teaching, lead to fatal accidents, as well as increase liability insurance costs.

    John Moffatt is a retired principal in Montana. Even though it’s been more than 30 years, he vividly remembers walking down a school hallway one day and seeing a student he knew carrying a gun.

  • John Moffatt:

    As he passed me, he fired a shot. It hit me in the side and went — passed right through my body and knocked me to the floor. He fired a second time.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Moffatt has been shooting since he was 12, but all his experience didn’t prepare him for terrified students, crying and screaming, as they rushed out the building.

  • John Moffatt:

    Absolute chaos, absolute pandemonium. Imagine what would happen if you introduce into that scene somebody on staff carrying a weapon and running adrenaline-charged into that scene. It’s almost impossible for me to imagine that it wouldn’t have been worse.

  • Man:

    Carry a concealed handgun in school.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Earlier this year, Montana lawmakers debated a measure that would have allowed staff to carry guns in schools.

  • Man:

    Guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens stop criminals from killing people. It’s that simple.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Moffatt, who volunteers for the organization Moms Demand Action, testified against the proposal. It didn’t pass. Moffatt says not allowing guns in schools is not about taking away anyone’s gun rights.

  • John Moffatt:

    I think we can have a balance in Montana, which has a strong and rich hunting tradition and gun ownership by responsible people. I’m not trying to change that at all. It’s just, this is not responsible. It’s not common sense.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    Lori Snyder-Lowe, the superintendent, is practicing an active shooter scenario. She wishes she didn’t have to worry about gun violence in schools, but wants to be prepared.

  • Lori Snyder-lowe:

    I was very terrified. I would agree that guns have no place in schools — in a perfect world, yes. But the reality is that, in today’s society, guns have been brought into school many, many times and caused very much death and injury to many children and staff members.

  • Kavitha Cardoza:

    For the PBS NewsHour and Education Week, I’m Kavitha Cardoza in West Union, Ohio.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And connected to this, online, a poet with a personal connection to the 2012 mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, shares a new anthology of poems and essays about gun violence.

    That’s at PBS.org/NewsHour.

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