It has now been more than a week since the tragic events unfolded at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. There, 14 students and three staff members were killed and many others were injured, some seriously. At North Dakota United, the news of this Valentine's Day massacre hit all of us very hard. Children, after all, are at the heart of everything we do. From teaching children to providing the public services that strengthen their families, NDU is undeniably child-centered.Like millions of families across the nation, our NDU family stopped what the were doing and tried to make sense of what we were seeing on the news. How after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, could this be happening again?
Sadly, school shootings are not an aberration. Since Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been some 239 school shootings in which 438 people have been shot and 138 people have been killed. In fact, the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was the 18th school shooting since Jan. 1, 2018. No matter which side of the debate one stands on, I hope that we can all concur that gun violence in our schools is a scourge that must be ended now. Right now.
The question is how? Since the shooting in Parkland, many people have come to the conclusion that the best way to combat gun violence in our schools is to arm teachers. The idea is that a potential school shooter would think twice about his planned actions if he knew that a faculty or staff member was armed. But would he?
Teachers are trained to nurture students, not to shoot them. Imagine that a teacher with a gun rounds a corner to confront a shooter and sees that it is the neighbor kid he has known his whole life. Or his own kid. Will he shoot him? And if he does, how will he deal with the inevitable emotional trauma that follows the taking of another human life?
Furthermore, school shooters have taken to using extreme firepower in their attacks on school children. In that moment, a teacher would have to determine if they are adequately armed to overcome an individual utilizing weaponry designed for warfare. To say that it would be a difficult calculation is an understatement.
So while North Dakota United stands ready to engage in serious discussions about how best to end school gun violence, I stand with our members who overwhelmingly stand against arming teachers. For them, the prospect of arming teachers raises many concerns:
• Will parents have the right to know which teachers are armed and which are not? Will his or her colleagues? Will the students?
• How much will school districts, already facing extraordinary budgetary constraints, have to spend to train the teachers they wish to arm?
• And what about the accidents that will occur as they did at Idaho State when a teacher accidentally shot himself in the foot when his concealed weapon discharged? Or the the elementary teacher in Utah whose gun discharged and shot her in the leg in a school restroom? Or when a teacher left a gun in a school restroom in Pennsylvania that was found by students who, luckily, were not injured. Who will be liable when someone is accidentally harmed by a teacher's weapon?
Arming teachers is not a simple solution to a complex problem, it is a simplistic non-solution to a problem that requires much more nuanced thought and more commitment to finding the best possible solution that works.
Let's explore the possibility of making our schools physically safer places. Let's be better at providing supports to families who are at risk. Let's be better at providing wrap around services for our students. Let's be better at identifying those young people who are marginalized, disenfranchised, and bullied, and helping them sooner. Let's be better at helping our children to communicate in a way that is respectful, patient, thoughtful and courteous. And as adults, let's be better at modeling the behavior we want our children to emulate.
Let's start with two indisputable facts: we are all North Dakotans and we all want to keep our children safe. Our kids deserve our very best efforts and they will not get them if we do not come to the table ready recognize that what we believe to be true may not be true. We owe it to our kids to raise the issue of gun violence in our schools above petty political discourse. ND United stands ready to join the discussion.
Archuleta is the president of North Dakota United, the statewide union of 11,500 educators and public employees.