Why Arming Teachers is a Really Bad Idea

It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.

President Obama

There are four major reasons why arming school teachers would be a very bad idea. Let me list them and offer some explanation.

Keeping the Gun Secure​

How exactly could the teacher keep the gun secured? There have been numerous cases of students planning shootings at their own schools and wondering how to get a firearm into the school – but what if the firearm is already there, available? Some high school students can be very large and tough; just a couple of them, or a few, could definitely take down a teacher and commandeer the gun.

Here’s a chilling question a teacher would need to ask: If a kid reaches for my gun, am I to shoot them?”

The Weapons Effect and Snapping on the Job​

My mother is a teacher and she has told me how very stressful the job has been. Teachers are seriously underpaid and don’t have the resources they need to properly educate their classes, classes that are often very large in numbers of students and that can be very rowdy.

It is not a stretch of the imagination to imagine a teacher who, after becoming very stressed, receives no support at all from school officials and becomes jaded to the job. On one particularly difficult day, the teacher instinctively reaches for her gun and starts firing.

The “weapons effect” is a reference to a study originally conducted in 1967 by two researchers, Leonard Berkowitz and Anthony LePage (“Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology). Participants in the study were angered by someone pretending to be a participant. Then, they were seated at a table which had a shotgun and a revolver on it – and in the control group, a badminton racquet and shuttlecocks. They were described as supposedly being part of another experiment that the researcher had forgotten to put away, and the participants were told to ignore them. Then the participant was to deliver an electric shock to the person who had provoked them, this used to measure aggression.

The study found that when guns were on the table, the electric shocks delivered were much higher. In other words, being in the presence of a gun makes one more aggressive. This was termed the “weapons effect.” Similar findings exist. A nationally representative sample of over 2,000 American drivers found that those who had a gun in the car were significantly more aggressive toward other drivers: they were more likely to

  1. make obscene gestures at other motorists (23% who had a gun, compared to 16% of those who did not),
  2. aggressively follow another vehicle too closely (14% who had a gun, compared to 8% of those who did not),
  3. or both (6.3% who had a gun, compared to 2.8% of those who did not),

even after controlling for many other factors related to aggressive driving, such as gender, age, driving frequency, urbanization, and census region. (See “Guns and road rage”, Accident Analysis and Prevention, 38(4), 687–695; also “The weapons effect on wheels: Motorists drive more aggressively when there is a gun in the vehicle”, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 73, 82-85)

A review of 56 published studies (“Effects of situational aggression cues: A quantitative review”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 58, 622–633) found that just seeing weapons increased aggression in both angry and non-angry individuals. However, that review was in 1990. A more recent review (2018; “Effects of weapons on aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavior: A meta-analytic review of the weapons effect literature”, Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(4), 347-377) which took a sample of 151 effect-size estimates from 78 independent studies involving 7,668 participants found that weapons increase aggressive thoughts and hostile appraisals. In addition, a 2019 study (“The ‘less-than-lethal weapons effect’: Introducing tasers to routine police operations in England and Wales”, Criminal Justice and Behavior, 46(2), 280–300) found that when officers had TASERS, they were much more likely to be physically assaulted.

Exposure to weapons increases aggressive thoughts and hostile appraisals, thus explaining why weapons facilitate aggressive behavior.

as discussed by Benjamin and Bushman, 2018

To sum up, the presence of a weapon causes increased aggression, and that combined with an over-stressed and underpaid teacher could be a recipe for disaster. In addition, if many students see a gun on a teacher’s hip, it could cause the students to become especially aggressive and be more inclined towards taking the gun and shooting.

Proper Training​

A gun is very dangerous in the hands of an untrained individual, especially during the chaos of a mass shooting, when a teacher could easily accidentally shoot a student. Most school shooters use AR-15s, against which a handgun is no match; to combat an AR-15, the handgun user would have to be well-trained – especially if the shooter is wearing body armor, as many of them do invest in.

Accordingly, serious training would be needed, training that could cost billions of dollars. Teachers are already underpaid and are struggling to get basic supplies – how is nationwide gun training expected to be paid for?

In addition, killing another human is extremely difficult. During WW2, many soldiers were missing the enemy because they were aiming above the heads of the enemy, which is why training was changed to practice shooting at human beings. Killing a human, especially a young adult of perhaps 17-19 years of age, and especially if that shooter is in fact a student at the school – that’s not easy. That’s difficult even for soldiers, police, and security guards to do – how much more for teachers? It takes a lot of training to be able to do that consistently. The assumption is that with a bit of training and a provided handgun, teachers will suddenly be able to do what the police are to do (specifically SWAT).

Weapon Focus Effect​

A study in 2016 (“Looking down the barrel of a gun: What do we know about the weapon focus effect?”, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 5, 257-263) found that when facing down a gun barrel, one tends to focus only on the gun and nothing else. Accordingly, arming teachers will create significant dangers in three circumstances:

  1. A first responder enters the school and sees the teacher with a gun. In this case, the responder is likely to instinctively shoot the teacher.
  2. A first responder enters a classroom where an armed teacher is. In this case, the teacher is likely to confuse the responder for the shooter, and to shoot him instead.
  3. Two armed teachers see each other. In this case, if the cognitive focus falls largely on the gun (as studies show), then it’s likely that the teachers will shoot first and examine the gun’s holder second.

Conclusion

To sum up, arming teachers in schools would be a bad idea due to the difficulty of keeping the gun secured, stress and the weapons effect, the need for proper training, and the weapons focus effect. All of these factors make it most likely that arming teachers will not reduce causalities. We do not need more guns to fight guns.

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