Op-Ed: Should Denver Teachers Be Armed?

Emergency and police vehicles gathered near the STEM School Highlands Ranch campus after the May 7 shooting.
Emergency and police vehicles gathered near the STEM School Highlands Ranch campus after the May 7 shooting. 9News via YouTube
Since the 1999 Columbine massacre, there have been numerous school shootings in Denver, with the Arapahoe High School and STEM School Highlands Ranch shootings being the most recent. Denver has experienced more school shootings per capita than any other large metro area in the country since 1999. To combat this problem, the Colorado legislature has passed laws enforcing stricter background checks and limits on ammunition. And while it is generally illegal to carry a firearm in schools under Colorado law, school districts can give untrained teachers permission to bring guns into school.

My classmates and I share a space with these teachers every day, and the idea of them carrying loaded guns in school is terrifying to me. Simply owning a gun does not make my teachers the police, and even trained police officers struggle to control the damage and horror wrought by school shootings.

There are a few logistical problems that arise from arming teachers. How will teachers make sure students don’t have access to their guns? What distinguishes an armed student from an armed teacher in the eyes of a police officer? Officers don’t have time to ask questions in the event of a school shooting, and teachers with guns could be killed if mistaken as the perpetrator. And what if a weapon misfires? A large number of gun deaths are accidental, so it's reasonable to assume accidents could happen in schools.

Some might argue that these hypothetical risks are justified if teachers can use guns to stop school shootings and protect students. While there isn't much research on teachers using guns to prevent school shootings, some does exist involving school resource officers.

SROs aren’t police; they are armed officers specifically trained to deal with problems in a school. After sifting through many studies on SRO effectiveness in schools and the correlation between SROs and crime levels, the Congressional Research Service found that there is no evidence that SROs reduce violent acts by students or school shootings in high schools. Between 1999 and 2008, there were 197 instances of active shooters on different high school campuses, and only one was stopped by an SRO. Columbine High School had SROs, as did Arapahoe, and neither fared better for it.

Regardless of whether teachers are allowed to carry guns, they only will if they want to, and most don't. A survey by the National Education Association found that a resounding 85 percent of teachers don’t believe they should be armed in schools, and the 61 percent who said they own guns would never bring them to school. This anti-gun sentiment is likely even stronger in the relatively liberal city of Denver.

So if teachers don’t want to bring guns to school, who cares if they can? Well, if you’re a minority, the thought of teachers with guns could be completely terrifying. Majority African-American schools in Denver are subject to higher levels of suspension, mistreatment and arrest. It is hard to believe that this racial bias would not play a role in the emotional reaction of an untrained teacher confronting what they believe to be a life-threatening event. If someone is going to be shot accidentally or if a mistake is going to be made, it’s not hard to picture a minority student on the receiving end of it.

Arming teachers could negatively affect their relationships with students. Studies compiled by David W. Johnson in "Possible Consequences of Arming Teachers" found that simply having a gun in the classroom could make students more aggressive, and could cause the teachers to be more authoritative and assertive. Guns are scary. They invoke fear, and they do not create an environment that fosters learning.

I’m not sure how school shootings should best be stopped. But I can say with confidence that Denver teachers shouldn’t have guns. They aren’t trained to use weapons and are very unlikely to stop a school shooting. They could create new dangers in the school community and disrupt the relationship between teacher and student. As a student in Denver, I’m amazed that arming teachers is even being discussed.

Jack Redfield is a student and aspiring journalist at East High School. He enjoys camping in the mountains and with friends.

Westword occasionally publishes op-eds about issues of interest to Denver residents. Have one you'd like to submit? Send it to [email protected]
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.