On March 8, South Dakota passed the first law that explicitly allows school staff to carry guns with them in their classrooms. The law gives school districts in South Dakota the right to “create, establish and supervise the arming of school employees, hired security personnel or volunteers.”
Eighteen states, including South Dakota, allow adults with written permission to carry loaded weapons on school campuses. Unlike South Dakota, these states do not explicitly state that school staff can carry guns on campus, but these states have no restrictions on firearm possession on campus.
The law in South Dakota includes a provision in which the school officials are given the option to promote a security guard of the school, assuming one exists, to become the “school sentinel.” This sentinel would undergo training and would be required to have prior experience with weapons. This provision is meant to give people a sense of security that the school staff member carrying the firearm knows how to use it, but bringing more guns onto the scene may not be safe or even rational.
Introducing guns in schools could offer more safety. If a dangerous person were on campus, having an armed guard or teacher can help protect the students. But introducing weapons can also increase the chances for disaster. There is no way to fully account for any misstep made by a teacher who is armed, which not only calls into question the efficacy of these programs, but also puts the students’ lives in further danger in a dangerous situation.
Gun-control advocates have become unsettled not only about the laws, but also the possible outcomes. In February of this year, when an East Texas sentinel program was in effect, a staff member accidentally shot himself while preparing to defend himself. Following the Newtown tragedy, a police officer assigned to patrol a school in New York City was suspended for accidentally firing his weapon in the school hallway.
Evidently, standard training programs are not effective. There is no guarantee that students will be safer. No statistics or credible studies have been done concerning the safety of children in a classroom with an armed teacher. No one can denote the “good in evil” in this situation. How can a law enforcement officer ensure that a teacher doesn’t have a mental breakdown, lapse in judgement or simple accident that leads them to act in dangerous ways?
Other solutions besides arming school staff are also available. While the NRA has raised the idea of creating a national registry for people with mental health issues, health care officials don’t generally associate mental illness with an increased risk of committing gun violence.
“Gun violence is a mental health issue only to a very small extent and to a much smaller extent than most people assume,” Paul Appelbaum, a psychiatrist and Columbia University director said in a Huffington Post article.
What officials should be doing is setting restrictions on ammunition. While the Constitution does ensure the right to bear arms for every individual, it does not explicitly state that ammunition must be freely available.
“While guns are ‘durable goods’ that can last centuries, bullets last only one shot, and the trail between purchaser and shooter is generally a short one, making it easier to follow,” Peter Henderson and Daniel Trotta wrote in their article “Gun Control Debate Neglects To Address Bullets” in Reuters.
Tighter restrictions on ammunition could possibly reduce the amount of violence related to guns. Instituting a national registry that tracks the amount of ammunition any licensed individual buys at one time is not much different or more complicated than keeping a registry on mental health. When someone buys ammunition in excess, investigation could be warranted and disaster could be avoided.