‘The day they ask me to carry a gun in the classroom is the last day I teach’
Kristen Frazier, an eighth-grade teacher in Fitchburg, accepts the grim possibility that she might have to risk her life and barricade a classroom door with her body in the event of a school shooting. She has also undergone training that helps teachers assess when they should flee, lock down, or try to fight back during an attack.
But as for President Trump’s suggestion that she and other teachers should be armed as a way to deter mass shootings like the one at a Florida high school last week? That crosses a line, Frazier said.
“The day they ask me to carry a gun in the classroom is the last day I teach,” she said. “Period. End of story.”
Trump’s call to arm teachers — which he mentioned at a Wednesday forum with shooting victims and their family members and reiterated in a series of tweets Thursday — drew swift and fierce opposition from teachers, school officials, and Governor Charlie Baker. Several denounced the idea as dangerous and misguided.
Jessica Tang, president of the Boston Teachers Union, said she does not know a single teacher who wants to carry a gun in school.
“That is not what we do as educators,” she said. “Our expertise, our job, our skill set is around teaching and instruction and supporting students and motivating them and inspiring them. It should not be part of our job description to learn how to shoot a gun. That’s what you do in the military, and that’s what you do as a police officer.”
Tommy Chang, superintendent of Boston Public Schools, also condemned the idea.
“The mere thought that teachers should be armed in order to ward off violence is utterly illogical and will only result in making our students and teachers less safe,” he said. “The real issue at hand continues to be access to guns.”
Baker, a Republican, registered his opposition, saying, “I don’t think more guns is the answer, in classrooms, to this problem.”
Baker noted that many districts, including the one in Swampscott where his children went to school, already have armed school resource officers, and that, “Police officers are one thing, but teachers should be teachers.”
Trump, seizing on the killing of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., said arming teachers could help prevent future attacks or stop school shooters before police arrive.
“If a potential ‘sicko shooter’ knows that a school has a large number of very weapons talented teachers (and others) who will be instantly shooting, the sicko will NEVER attack that school,” Trump wrote in a tweet promoting the idea. “Cowards won’t go there . . . problem solved. Must be offensive, defense alone won’t work!”
Trump’s suggestion echoes one made by an NRA-funded task force in 2013, several months after the massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The task force, led by Asa Hutchinson, now the Republican governor of Arkansas, said armed guards in schools have “proven to be an important layer of security for prevention and response in the case of an active threat on a school campus.”
At the Florida school last week, the only armed security guard on campus during the shooting “never went in” to a building to try to take down the shooting suspect, Sheriff Scott Israel of Broward County said at a news conference Thursday.
Scot Peterson, a sheriff’s deputy, resigned Thursday after Israel placed him under an internal affairs investigation for failing to meet the standards of the sheriff’s office.
Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners Action League of Massachusetts, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, said the idea would be to arm only those teachers, administrators, or security guards who are comfortable carrying firearms.
“I think it’s a good idea,” Wallace said. “I just don’t want to force people to do it who aren’t comfortable. That’s a bad idea.”
Wallace said the presence of armed staff might make a gunman think twice about launching an attack, or stop a mass shooter more quickly. “I always look at Newtown and other places,” Wallace said. “If there was just one more person in that lobby that had self-defense, that scene doesn’t happen.”
But Aaron Stone, a biology teacher at Boston Day & Evening Academy who served six years in the Marine Corps Reserve, said carrying a firearm in school would be difficult for teachers and staff because it requires “complete and positive awareness and control at all times.”
Stone also said arming teachers would “impact the relationship between an educator and their students,” particularly in urban schools where students have experienced gun violence.
“The appropriate bar to set is to negate and eliminate these situations entirely,” by helping teachers address their students’ social and emotional needs and “supporting our lawmakers to create gun laws that will allow us to avoid school shootings,” Stone said.
Other teachers said the Florida massacre had intensified their interest in fortifying the locked entryways and other physical security features at their schools.
And others want more school psychologists and counselors who could help troubled students like Nikolas Cruz, the accused Florida gunman who had been expelled from the school where he carried out the attack and was known to post pictures of guns and dead animals on social media.
“The one thing everyone knows is that something has to happen,” said Diana Marcus, a mobile learning coach who serves as president of the Burlington Educators Association. “This could be our school; these could be our students and colleagues, ourselves.”
Marcus said Burlington schools, like many since the Columbine massacre in 1999, routinely practice lockdown drills, during which “we get all the students behind closed doors, turn off lights, and are silent and wait.”
Marcus said she understands these drills to be part of her duty to safeguard the next generation. “As teachers, we are their protectors — that is our job when something like this happens,” she said. But it is not a teacher’s job, she said, to be an armed guard.
“I’m trained how to teach students how to read, how to treat each other with kindness, and how to learn — not to attack somebody with a gun,” Marcus said.
Frazier said the Parkland massacre motivated her to join Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a gun-control group that says it has added 75,000 new members nationwide in the last four days.
On Wednesday night, Frazier was among more than 100 new members who packed a meeting of the group’s Massachusetts chapter at the Shrewsbury Public Library.
“I should not have to go into school saying, ‘Is this the day that I’m going to have to be standing behind a door, holding it shut to protect a bunch of my kids, and putting my own life out there?’ ” Frazier said.
“That’s scary. And it’s time to say enough is enough. We have to stop this now.”