How Will Guns in Classrooms Work? We May Need to Shoot a Few Teachers to Find Out.

I guess we just need some big Texas schoolhouse shootouts before we'll know whether it's crazy to put guns on the hips of teachers. A story in The New York Times today reports that insurance companies are refusing to offer coverage to school districts in some states where teachers pack heat.

Texas so far is an exception. The same story quotes the superintendent of the Harrold Independent School District, 30 miles northwest of Wichita Falls, saying his teachers have been allowed to bring guns to class for five years without any accidents. David Thweatt told the Times the only time an employee of his has fired a gun on school property was to kill a pig.

Apparently the companies and cooperatives that provide us with school insurance in Texas aren't worried about increased liability. But, wait. It's worth drilling down just a little bit to see why.

What would that liability be? A teacher shoots a kid by accident? Maybe. But that's not the particular kind of risk the experts have pointed to and talked about in Texas. What they're worried about is teachers getting shot by cops.

Pete Blair, associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University in the schools' Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program told a state Senate hearing last January that a teacher with a gun in a crisis situation is in tangible danger of getting shot by the police: "They are at high risk of being shot," he said. "That's the reality of the scenario and the danger police officers are in."

Blair got some serious backup from Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, who told the same hearings that police officers are trained to "neutralize the threat."

He said: "Anytime you arrive on the scene, you as a police officer ... are taught and trained to look for anybody with a weapon."

Get it? You're a teacher. The school district encouraged you to bring a gun to class to protect your students. You did. The worst happened. You didn't know what you were doing; you were crazy with fear and adrenaline; they told you on the bullhorn to drop the weapon and instead you held it up and pointed to your chest to show you were a teacher; they shot you in the chest. So if you lived but were all crippled up for life, why wouldn't the insurance company for your district be worried you might sue the district for making you a cripple?

Because you're in Texas. You can't sue anybody, sucker. The main reason cited in the Times story today to explain the relaxed attitude of insurance companies in Texas is so-called "tort reform" -- the series of laws pushed through in recent years by the insurance industry and big companies making Texas one of the worst places in the nation for private citizens, even cripples, to sue anybody.

The school district encourages you to pack heat. You do. The cops shoot you. No sweat for the school district or its insurance company: You can't sue anybody anyway.

The real debate about guns, schools and protecting kids has never been about whether or not kids need better protection. Of course they do. And it really hasn't been about whether guns should be part of that equation. All things being equal, of course guns are part of it. As long as we're going to allow a lone whacko to suit up in Kevlar and bring a duffel bag full of automatic weapons to his killing field, then obviously we are going to need some way to meet his firepower with even greater firepower. Don't ask me why we allow it. Let's deal with current realities.

The real question has always been who's got the firepower? Even the National Rifle Association has tilted toward putting the firepower in the hands of the uniformed professionals. The NRA has called for more cops in schools, not more teachers packing heat. Ah, but guess what that costs: money. And guess what kind of money? Taxes. So any politician who would join the call for more cops in schools would have to hike up his or her drawers and also call for more taxes to pay for it. That's about when most of them dive under their desks and decide to let the tots and teachers fend for themselves.

It seems to me there's another factor. People look at stories like Newtown, and they get a huge itch, which I understand. They want to shoot that guy themselves. Also in today's Times is a very painful photo of a young man who had his legs blown off by those bastards at the Boston Marathon. Who among us wouldn't have loved to stop that from happening with one well-placed bullet?

The trouble with that emotional response, when you try to put it into practice in the real world, is that it's crazy and stupid. It's like saying your sister can't afford the brain surgery she needs so you're just going to boil some knives and do it yourself.

Two points. First, only very well-trained and experienced law enforcement professionals really know how to handle these things. Second, you cannot ask those professionals to run toward danger, to hurl themselves into battle and then also tell them, "You need to stand around for a while and kind of scope out anybody you see with a weapon in his hand to make sure it's the killer and not a teacher. Then you can shoot."

If you really support the police, then you support the police going home in one piece to their significant others every single night they can after doing their duty. And that means if somebody holds on to a gun one second too long in their presence, they shoot him. Or her. And we back them up on it.

This idea that ordinary citizens are qualified to wade into a shootout is basically a bunch of emotional fantasy-driven bullshit. But maybe we need to get a few teachers shot first so we can figure it out here in the Lone Star State.

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze