Baltimore Sun

Teachers armed, ready for school

Some plan on toting guns to class in wake of mass shootings

- By Sarah Mervosh

RITTMAN, Ohio — Mandi, a kindergart­en teacher in Ohio, had already done what she could to secure her classroom against a gunman.

She positioned a bookcase by the doorway, in case she needed a barricade. In an orange bucket, she kept district-issued emergency supplies: wasp spray, to aim at an attacker, and a tube sock, to hold a heavy object and hurl at an assailant.

But after 19 children and two teachers were killed in Uvalde, Texas, she felt a growing desperatio­n. Her school is in an older building, with no automatic locks on classroom doors and no police officer on campus.

“We just feel helpless,” she said. “It’s not enough.”

She decided she needed something far more powerful: a 9 mm pistol.

So she signed up for training that would allow her to carry a gun in school. Like others in this article, she asked to be identified by her first name because of school district rules that restrict informatio­n about employees carrying firearms.

A decade ago, it was rare for school employees to carry guns. Today, after a seemingly endless series of mass shootings, the strategy has become a leading solution promoted by Republican­s and gun rights advocates, who say that allowing teachers, principals and superinten­dents to be armed gives schools a fighting chance in case of attack.

At least 29 states allow individual­s other than police or security officials to carry guns on school grounds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatur­es. As of 2018, the

last year for which statistics were available, federal survey data estimated that 2.6% of public schools had armed faculty.

The count has probably grown.

In Florida, more than 1,300 school staff members serve as armed guardians in 45 school districts, out of 74 in the state, according to state officials. The program was created after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland in 2018.

In Texas, at least 402 school districts — about one-third in the state — participat­e in a program that allows designated people, including school staff members, to be armed, according to the Texas Associatio­n of School Boards. Another program, which requires more training, is used by a smaller number of districts. Participat­ion in both is up since 2018.

And in the weeks after the Uvalde shooting, lawmakers in Ohio made it easier for teachers and other school employees to carry guns.

The strategy is opposed by Democrats, police groups, teachers unions and gun control advocates, who say that concealed-carry programs in schools — far from solving the problem — will only create more risk.

Past polling has shown that the vast majority of teachers do not want to be armed.

The law in Ohio has been contentiou­s because it requires no more than 24 hours of training, along with eight hours of recertific­ation annually.

Studies on school employees carrying guns have been limited, and research has found little evidence that it is effective. There is also little evidence that school resource officers are broadly effective at preventing

school shootings, which are statistica­lly rare.

Yet arming school employees is finding appeal — slight majorities among parents and adults in recent polls.

Of the five deadliest school shootings on record, four — in Newtown, Connecticu­t; Uvalde; Parkland; and Santa Fe, Texas — have happened in the past 10 years.

It was this possibilit­y that brought Mandi and seven other educators to a gun range tucked amid the hayfields and farm roads of Rittman in northeast Ohio.

Over the course of three days, Mandi practiced shooting, tying a tourniquet and responding to activeshoo­ter drills. Her presence on the range, firing her pistol under the blazing sun, cut a contrast to the classroom, where she dances to counting songs with 5-year-olds, dollops out shaving cream for sensory activities, and wallpapers her classroom with student artwork.

Mandi, in her 40s, arrived at the training with nervous anticipati­on. She had been a teacher for a dozen years and has children of her own. She wanted to be sure she could carry her gun safely around students. “I get hugs all day long,” she said.

And then there was the prospect of confrontin­g a gunman. Could three days of training prepare her for the unthinkabl­e?

Mandi and the other educators had come from Ohio and as far as Oklahoma for a 26-hour course by FASTER Saves Lives, a gun-training program for school employees. It is run by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, a Second Amendment organizati­on that works alongside a gun lobbying group in Ohio. The lobbying group, the Buckeye Firearms Associatio­n, supported the new state law for school employees.

Over the past decade, the foundation estimates it has spent more than $1 million training at least 2,600 educators.

Its approach aligns closely with an argument that has become a hallmark of the National Rifle Associatio­n and the gun lobby: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

In this view, teachers are the ultimate “good guys.”

“We trust them with our kids every day,” said Jim Irvine, an airline pilot and a longtime advocate for gun rights who is president of the Buckeye Firearms Foundation and volunteers as a director with FASTER.

Their philosophy is that saving lives during school shootings is a matter of speed and that schools cannot afford to wait for the police.

At Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown in 2012, the first 911 call was made after about five minutes, and the first officers arrived at the school less than four minutes later. Still, 20 children and six adults were killed.

In Parkland, the gunman killed 17 people in just under six minutes.

In Uvalde, the gunman is believed to have fired more than 100 rounds within the first three minutes, according to a state report.

“Time is all that matters,” Irvine said. “It’s that simple.”

In Mandi’s school district, the superinten­dent said candidates must be approved by the school board. In addition to going through the FASTER training, they must meet annually with the sheriff ’s department and may be removed if their skills are not up to par.

By the end of the program, Mandi and her classmates had enough training to carry a gun in school under Ohio law.

“We’ve got to help the kids right now,” she said

 ?? MADDIE MCGARVEY/THE NEW YORK TIMES ?? Participan­ts shoot targets at a three-day training camp June 22 in Rittman, Ohio.
MADDIE MCGARVEY/THE NEW YORK TIMES Participan­ts shoot targets at a three-day training camp June 22 in Rittman, Ohio.

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