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Improve school safety without arming teachers

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The notion of arming public school teachers has come around again, from some of the usual suspects in the General Assembly.

This idea was floated last year but got nowhere, even when Republicans had supermajorities in both houses of the legislature.

State Superintendent Mark Johnson, a Republican who’s no liberal snowflake, thinks it’s a bad idea. So do two-thirds to three-quarters of North Carolina teachers, depending on which poll you pick.

The latest version, in the state Senate, has the kicker that teachers who agree to pack heat — up to 3,000 of them statewide — would get a 5 percent increase in their paychecks.

The gun-packing teachers — officially “teacher resource officers” — would be required to have training similar to a sheriff’s deputy and would have the same powers as a regular law enforcement officer, including arrest, while on the school grounds.

Anyone who knows how an ordinary school works — as opposed, say, to a Bruce Willis movie — can see all sorts of ways this can go wrong.

The teacher resource officers won’t wear uniforms. So, in the event of an “active shooter incident,” it’s hard to say how a police officer, arriving on the scene, could tell an armed teacher from an armed intruder.

In the event of an incident, it’s not guaranteed the armed teachers would be armed. (They’d have the option of keeping their pieces in a locked safe on premises. How long would it take to run and fetch it?)

The possibilities of accident or theft are all too easy to imagine.

And it’s not as if schools are without security. North Carolina sheriff’s departments and other agencies station more than 1,000 trained officers — known as school resource officers — on campuses already. We support adding more of these positions.

More guns do not mean more security. They mean more gunfire and more things that could go wrong.

We think the N.C. Association of Educators and other teachers’ groups are right. Instead of spending money on arming teachers, we would do well to hire more school nurses, counselors and psychologists. They could do a much better job of spotting and helping troubled youths before some of them show up at school with assault weapons.

We also endorse the idea of proactively forming smaller school communities, especially at the high school level. Robert Smith, a UNC Wilmington professor, made the argument in a Nov. 18 op-ed, “A Step We Should Take to Curb School Violence.”

Smith says many students are currently “lost in the crowd” in large high schools and would benefit from closer relationships with “a caring adult and student connections within a group.”

Such connections, Smith writes, could reduce the likelihood of students resorting to violence, and also improve the chance that someone contemplating violence would be discovered.

That is the type of solution we should be pursuing, not giving teachers guns. That’s an arms race that will do no one any good.


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