‘Arm the teachers!’

After last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida, Trump is considering to ‘arm teachers’. What can go wrong?

School shooting protest Beinhart op-ed photo
Students who walked out of their Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest against gun violence in front of the White House in Washington, US, February 21, 2018 [Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

“Arm the Teachers” is a fantasy solution from the fantasy world of Donald Trump to a real problem. The fantasy is shared with the National Rifle Association (NRA). With Republican legislators. And with a significant portion of the American population.

It’s a movie scene. The good guy with the gun arrives in the nick of time and shoots the bad buy before the bad guy kills an innocent.

Like the sheriff’s deputy did at Stoneman Douglas High School. Like the four sheriff’s deputies did. Whoops. Didn’t. 

They’ll be specially trained! Specially selected! And get a few bucks more a month!

How well will that work?

In 2010, there was a fight at a Harlem party. Police came. The kind of “highly adept people … that understand weaponry” that Trump spoke of. Shooting broke out. Fifty shots were fired. Forty-six by police officers. Twenty of them hit the man they were aiming at, who, they claimed, had started the shooting. He survived.

Three bystanders were wounded. Apparently by police.

Two police were wounded. Certainly by other police.


There are countless incidents in which police shoot lots of bullets and only a few hit “the bad guy”. Sometimes only innocent bystanders are shot. From time to time, there’s a case of mistaken identity and the police shoot the entirely wrong person. When armed with weapons, authority, and the mandate to use them, a certain combination of authoritarianism and fear can take over, and police shoot when other solutions are clearly available, even killing unarmed people.

Then, of course, in the excitement and confusion, police sometimes shoot each other.

Another part of the fantasy is that “these people are cowards. They’re not going to walk into a school if 20 percent of the teachers have guns.” Along with the converse, that “a gun-free zone, to a killer, or somebody that wants to be a killer, that’s like going in for the ice cream.” This, like so much that The Donald says, contradicts the realities that are right in front of him. Many of the people, from Columbine on, who have engaged in mass shootings have been suicidal, expecting to be killed. Having armed teachers isn’t likely to deter them.

The United States has, by far and away, the highest rate of gun violence of any modernised country.

America is among the least homogenous countries. It is a multitude of sub-cultures. Its gun violence is likewise subdivided.

It is very obvious that Nikolas Cruz could not have killed 17 people and wounded 14 more with a knife. Or a baseball bat. Or his hands and his teeth. Or even with a regular handgun, shotgun, or ordinary rifle.


The most gun-related violence is urban. Sixty-six percent of the victims of gun homicides are African Americans, even though they make up only 12-14 percent of the US population. This kind of gun violence has been in decline since the 1990s. About 60 percent of gun deaths are suicides. White males are roughly 40 percent of the population but account for 80 percent of gun suicides. 

The most bizarre subset of American gun violence are the mass shooters. People who walk into schools and massacre children. Or who sit up in a high rise and start shooting down at a crowd.

This is the one that has given rise, at last, to a reaction against gun violence.

The great defence of guns by gun believers is that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people”. It has that undeniable bumper-sticker logic to it. But it is very obvious that Nikolas Cruz could not have killed 17 people and wounded 14 more with a knife. Or a baseball bat. Or his hands and his teeth. Or even with a regular handgun, shotgun, or ordinary rifle. He could only have done so with what should be described as a handheld machine gun.

In varying degrees, all violent confrontations are likely to be more lethal when guns are involved. That’s a statistical reality that’s been demonstrated over and over again. Even if those guns are being used for defence. It seems particularly true with police, who, on the assumption that everyone is armed, are certain they have to reach for their own weapons automatically and instantly. Now that we have mobile phones with cameras, body cameras and police car videos, it has become apparent that police often whip themselves up into a state that combines fear of guns and the authoritarianism that comes from having a gun and a license to kill, and that’s what results in so many killings by police.

Let us not forget Christopher Dorner, the kind of guy you’d want to be a police officer. He was in the Naval Reserve, with marksmanship ribbons. Once, he and a friend found a bag with $8,000 in it. They turned it in. He said, “It’s an integrity thing.” He joined the LAPD. He was fired for what he felt were truly unjust reasons.

Then he went nuts. He issued a manifesto that included a list of 40 people he was going to kill to set the record straight, and began killing police or people related to them. He shot eight. Six died. Meantime, thousands of California police were assigned to track him down and arrest him. Those cops engaged in at least two attacks on the totally innocent by mistake – including two women, one 47 years old and the other 72, who were delivering newspapers.

Do we expect school teachers who get hyphenated into being teacher-police to do better than ordinary police? Some paralyzed, some shooting bystanders, some killing by mistake, some becoming vicious authoritarians, and every once in a while, going crazy and becoming what they’re supposed to protect against.

Trump’s fantasies of arming teachers, “hardening” schools, and that the only thing that stops a bad buy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, are just hyping the delusions that brought the US to these slaughters. It is true that guns don’t kill people; people do. But people kill far fewer people, most often no people, if they don’t have guns.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.