Simulations Don’t Support “Teachers with Guns” Theory

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By Andrew Pillow

At this point, it is nearly a given that whenever there is a school shooting with a high enough death count, we are going to be bombarded with interesting ideas about how to stop school shootings.

Some make the obvious suggestions like banning certain types of weapons.

Some try and meet halfway between the left and right by suggesting stricter background checks or raising the legal buying age.  

And some push all their chips to the middle by suggesting the problem of school shootings could actually be solved with more guns in schools.

Typically, people in most circles laugh off the latter for a variety of reasons:

  • Who is going to pay for it? 
  • Who is going to train teachers in counteractive shooter techniques? 
  • What if the shooter doesn’t go for the classrooms with armed teachers? What if he picks "soft targets" like most mass shooters?
  • Can someone with a concealed carry pistol neutralize an assailant with an AR-15?  
  • Haven’t there been armed guards in several school shootings? Was there not an armed cop in the Parkland Florida school shooting?

Let’s put all of these criticisms and questions aside for a minute. Let’s examine the idea of teachers carrying guns in schools at face value.

For purposes of this article, let’s assume there is some kind of government program or bonus that incentivizes carrying a gun enough to reach a moderate saturation of “good guys with guns.” - such a program is doable.

Even in this scenario, we can’t reasonably assume that every teacher is highly or even properly trained because the school resource officer at the last shooting didn’t even do what he was supposed to do in spite of being "properly trained." Also, we haven’t even successfully trained many teachers to manage classrooms, let alone domestic terrorism. 

So, what do armed, untrained or loosely trained civilians do in an active shooter scenario? According to simulations and actual events not much.

In 2015, The Washington Post examined a simulation which applies to this situation in the article, "Watch what happens when regular people try to use handguns in self-defense." Predictably the study, commissioned by the National Gun Victims Action Council, found that "carrying a gun in public does not provide self-defense unless the carrier is properly trained and maintains their skill level."

The study recruited 77 volunteers with differing levels of gun experience. According to The Washington Post, the group most like the one we are attempting to arm didn’t fare too well:

“They found that, perhaps unsurprisingly, people without firearms training performed poorly in the scenarios. They didn't take cover. They didn't attempt to issue commands to their assailants. Their trigger fingers were either too itchy -- they shot innocent bystanders or unarmed people, or not itchy enough -- they didn't shoot armed assailants until they were already being shot at.”

It's worth noting that people who had proper training did a pretty good job of neutralizing the threat in the simulation which backs up the statement released by the sponsor group: Training is much more important than the actual gun itself.

This is also backed up by real-world events as well. There are situations where well trained good guys save the day. And there are some where untrained vigilantes make things worse.

So, the real question is this:

Is it plausible that we can arm and train teachers well enough to counter an active shooter and maintain that training over the course of their career?

It’s possible, however considering the fact that the trained school resource officers don’t even seem to be prepared for active shooters and our current teacher training system graduates thousands of teachers a year who are still unable to properly create lesson plans, this idea seems far-fetched.

This isn't saying that we can't do it. But it is a lot more complicated than the idea is currently being made to sound. "Good guys with guns" does not appear to be a solution in and of itself.

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Andrew Pillow

Andrew is a technology teacher at KIPP Indy College Prep. He is graduate of the University of Kentucky and a Teach for America Alum. Andrew just recently finished his commitment as a Teach Plus Policy fellow, and he is looking forward to putting the skills he's learned to good use. Andrew has written for several publications in the past on a wide variety of topics but will be sticking to education for his role on Indy/Ed.