Maybe – just maybe – having guns in schools will help

The other day an old friend asked me to drive him to the airport, and I agreed but said he had to do something in return. I told him that in my next blog post I was going to make the case for allowing guns in schools and his job was to talk me out of it. He’s an attorney, a liberal and no friend of the 2nd Amendment, so he was eager to oblige. So on the way to the airport he threw out all the arguments he could muster on why guns in schools was a bad idea, and each one was perfectly valid, but even so he was unable to convince me – or even himself as it turned out – that there was no merit to the idea. So here I am.

Let me state up front that I’m no friend of the 2nd Amendment either. I believe that it was a mistake for the founding fathers to have included it, at least as written, and that the country would be better off if it had been left out. At the same time I am a realist, and I recognize that it’s there and it’s not going away, so we need to deal with it.

Ever since the Sandy Hook shooting I, along with many others have pleaded for an adult conversation about guns in America. I even laid out some rules that I felt were critical to having such a discussion. In particular I said that we must acknowledge legitimate arguments that come from the other side and that we must recognize that there is no perfect solution.

With that in mind let me make a case for having some kind of approach that allows school personnel access to weapons at school. Let me begin by walking through the events of that sad day in Connecticut, at least as I understand them to be at this time.  Early in the morning after classes had started and the building locked down, Adam Lanza walked up to the school building and simply shot his way through the locked front doors. The principal, hearing the gun shots, the breaking glass, and the security alarms, got up from a meeting she was having, walked into the hallway to investigate, confronted the shooter and was quickly shot dead.

Now let’s imagine a slightly different scenario. The principal, upon hearing the gun shots, breaking glass and alarms, grabs the keys to her desk, unlocks the drawer where a gun is kept, walks into the hallway, and confronts the shooter just as before as before, but she is now armed with a handgun. What happens in the next one or two seconds is anybody’s guess but it is critical to the outcome. If we had the ability to set up some kind of virtual reality in which we ran through that scenario a dozen or more times, we would probably see many different outcomes. In some cases the shooter would kill the principal before she had time to react and would go about his grisly task just as it happened in reality. In some cases the principal would get off a couple of wild shots perhaps killing or injuring even more students before being killed herself. But in some cases the principal would be able to kill or injure the shooter or otherwise stop or limit the carnage.

No matter what side of the debate you are on you have to acknowledge that each of those outcomes will occur some percent of the time. Just what those percentages are is unknown. Even if you could calculate the odds in that limited scenario you still have to consider the broader issues. If we run our virtual reality experiment not just for those few critical minutes but for many years, how often will the principal become unstable and become the shooter herself? That will happen. How often will a student break into the desk drawer, pull out the gun and start shooting? That will happen, also. Any scenario that can happen will happen over enough trials, and the very real likelihood of all of these possible outcomes has to be taken into consideration.

Taken one at a time, none of the objections that my friend made to my “more guns at school” argument was convincing. It was only when taken at the aggregate that his opposition gained traction. This is how adult conversations work. You listen to the other side, acknowledge those point that are valid, challenge those that aren’t, and in the end at least you’ll both understand the issue better.

Let me be clear, I’m not suggesting that we arm all of our principals, neither am I suggesting that we don’t. I’m hardly suggesting anything other than we need to be open minded about how we address the problem of mass shootings in America. Really, you’d think that that wouldn’t be important enough to spend this much time on, but apparently it needs to be said. Take a look at this video in which Piers Morgan interviews Larry Pratt, the Executive Director of Gun Owners of America. Before it’s all over each man has become intransigent in his own position, and Morgan, normally a reasonable guy, ends the interview by calling Pratt an idiot. This is not the kind of conversation I was hoping for.

Still, I understand Morgan’s frustration. The NRA and Larry Pratts of the world have for decades refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of any opposition to their cause. But really, after decades of trying to have an adult conversation with these people, what do you expect?


Between the time of the ride out to the airport and the first draft of this post, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre made his press conference to address the Sandy Hook shootings. This was one of the most catastrophic public relations events in memory, and has been universally panned.  The New York Post headline read, “Gun nut! NRA loon in bizarre rant over Newtown” and the New York Daily News simply called him the “Craziest Man on Earth”. Ouch!  This is not the kind of reaction you want from your friends.

In the aftermath of that disaster, I was a bit reluctant to even post this in fear of being associated with this kind of mindset, but ultimately it seemed to be to make my own views even more important. So here it is.

As always, I want to know what you think. Comments are welcome.

3 thoughts on “Maybe – just maybe – having guns in schools will help

  1. Bill, I certainly respect your opinion on this matter and you’ve given it a lot of thought. I do wonder, though, how many principals you know personally. And my follow up question, Mr. President, is, “How many have you worked for?” I’ve worked for 18, none of whom needed to be anywhere near a loaded firearm. When the day comes that my principal has access to a loaded gun in a drawer, albeit a locked drawer, that will be the day that I quietly slip out to my car, gently start the engine, and slowly creep away, much like the closing scene of The Birds.

    Now, I have worked for some excellent principals. They are outnumbered, however. The chance that a principal could save the day may not play out just as you might hope. The chances are higher that placing a loaded gun at the disposal of public school principal many of whom would not make a C in my class and by the way, my class isn’t hard) could lead to unimaginable horror. You’d have to know some of the principals I’ve worked for to know just how passionately I feel that they should NOT be armed. Oh, most of them would forget where they put the gun anyway, so maybe everyone would stay safe. ,

    I certainly don’t have the answer to the problem of violence at school. Sandy Hook seems to have been as safe as a school could be. It’s a violent world, and often a crazy one. And some of the craziness is within the walls of the public school.

    Trust me when I say that the principal who should have a loaded gun handy is rare as hen’s teeth.

    I can be wrong, and I’m often wrong. Speaking from 30 years of teaching experience, though, I’m not working in a school where the principal has a gun. Not the characters I’ve worked for.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts, Mary. With 30 years of experience in public schools you have a better insight into this than most of the talking heads out there. I don’t know personally a single principal and not many teachers, so I have to rely on my memory of those from my own school years. When I try to imagine one of my old teachers confronting a school shooter, the first thing that pops into my head is an image of Mrs. Springfield with a loaded gun, and I can’t take anything seriously after that.

    I hope I didn’t leave you with the impression that I was advocating giving guns to teachers and principals. At the time I wrote this I was simply hoping for an adult conversation about guns. Alas, that didn’t happen, and voices of reason and moderation lost the debate – at least for the time being.

  3. I guess I did think you meant a principal would have access to a gun. I thought you referenced the Sandy Hook principal and how it might have played out differently. No, I never thought you meant teachers should. There would be few 8th graders left in the world if that happened. Of course, the teachers would leave their guns on the copy machine and then it would be fun for everybody.

    And by the way, your memory of teachers and of school in the 60’s is worth absolutely nothing now. Less than nothing. The only thing about public school that is remotely the same as it was then is the bus. It’s still yellow. That’s it. Oh….teenagers really aren’t so different. They still chew gum and write notes (of course, now the notes are on the cell phone and written in “text talk”) and they still need encouragement. But teaching and school administration are different.

    That’s all off the subject of your blog, however. Back to the subject…..I don’t know the answer. One of the excellent principals that I worked for agrees with you. Dr. Lyman is superintendent at Westwood ISD here in Palestine and I think they do have someone on each campus trained to use a gun that, I suppose, is there somewhere. It is his opinion that making that known will alert any psychopaths that Westwood will not be an easy target. I have never disagreed with Dr. Lyman on anything before, but I shudder to think of a loaded gun at a school. Dr. Lyman has been right about everything else I’ve ever discussed with him, and he may be right this time. He may have more confidence in principals than I do. And if it’s not the principal who has access to the gun, then who?

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