Concealed carry in the classroom: An expert trainer’s view on arming teachers
Monday, March 26, 2018
In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Donald Trump has proposed arming teachers in the classroom to deter and defend against such attacks in the future. Trump's proposal was almost instantly panned, and detractors have been quick to point out that nearly three-quarters of the nation's teachers oppose the idea, according to a recent Gallup poll.
But Trump isn't proposing arming all the nation's teachers, just the ones who are already "gun adept" and willing to carry a concealed weapon on campus, provided they receive proper vetting and training. Trump estimated the number of such teachers at 20 percent, for which he was also mocked, but perhaps he was referring to the same Gallup poll, which found that one-fifth of the nation's teachers would consider carrying a weapon on campus.
In fact, a small number of teachers are already carrying concealed weapons on campuses, in the 10 states that currently permit it. Until recently, California was one of those states, and David Dominguez, a licensed gun dealer and concealed carry weapons instructor who operates Onpoint Firearms in the north state city of Chico, counted several teachers among his clients.
"Only a select few teachers, I have found, are willing to do this," Dominguez said. "Those that have taken up carrying off campus, to protect themselves and their loved ones, who already possess CCWs. They've already answered all the questions they had with themselves and their families and chose to carry."
Dominguez is a former Marine who retired from the Chico Police Department in 2011 after 25 years of service, 20 of which he spent as a training officer in self-defense, firearms and the use of force. He's an active member of two shooting ranges in Butte County, safety manager for the Paradise Rod & Gun Club and a lifelong member of the National Rifle Association, for whom he's a certified range safety officer.
One of the main reasons people reflexively object to the idea of arming teachers, Dominguez said, is they don't understand the role teachers would actually play in a school shooting scenario.
"People envision teachers having the responsibility of aggressing the active shooter," he said. "That's not what they would be trained to do. What their real role would be is to lock down. Students put behind the locked door of a classroom. Same wall, opposite side of the door, so possibly a shooter won't see anyone in the room through the door window and move by. But if they enter the room, cross that threshold, the teacher, acting as the last line of defense, should engage."
Most of his teacher clients aren't willing to go beyond this training, Dominguez said. Even if they were, he believes training and equipping teachers to actually pursue heavily-armed school shooters would be prohibitively expensive and counterproductive.
"It would require much more tactical training, as well as having the equipment close at hand to put on, before searching," he said. "And while they are searching, their students are unprotected."
Although California has led the nation in passing gun control legislation for decades — such as the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995, which prohibits the possession of firearms on K-12 school grounds with limited exceptions — it continues to recognize the rights of qualified individuals to carry a concealed firearm for self-defense.
Indeed, CCW permit holders were among the limited exceptions who were allowed to possess firearms on K-12 campuses in the Gun-Free School Zone Act of 1995. In California, CCW permits are issued at the county level, and the state grants counties fairly wide latitude in designing their permitting programs.
In Butte County, where Chico is located, Dominguez is one of six designated trainers in the county's CCW permitting program. Other rural northern California counties, but not all, have similar arrangements with local trainers.
Contrary to California's reputation as an anti-gun state, many of its rural residents, including more than a few teachers, are quite comfortable around firearms. Driven by the legitimate fear of rising crime — including mass shooting incidents such as the Umpqua Community College shooting in nearby southern Oregon in 2015 — they've taken their self-defense into their own hands, keeping Dominguez and other trainers in the region busy.
His teacher clients always have two things in common.
"The teachers who are willing to carry in the classroom are already comfortable with guns, and they've already had a CCW class," he said.
Unfortunately for gun-adept teachers seeking some modicum of security, the California Legislature reacted to the Umpqua Community College shooting by passing SB 707 just 10 days after the incident. The bill modified the Gun-Free Zone Act of 1995 so that it now prohibits CCW permit holders from carrying firearms on K-12 campuses.
"That was the first time I was angry enough to write my congressman," Dominguez said. "He never wrote back."
But there was a loophole in SB 707 permitting school district superintendents to allow selected teachers with CCW permits to carry on campus. The state and the nation were somewhat surprised when the high school superintendent in Anderson, 70 miles north of Chico in Shasta County, announced his district was taking advantage of the loophole. Few other rural school districts followed their lead.
Dominguez hoped to duplicate Anderson's efforts in Butte County, but soon discovered that even though it's a rural area with more people who are pro-gun, resistance to bringing guns into classrooms was heavy. He recalled one meeting at a rural charter school where police response times were abysmal. They were less than receptive to his pitch.
"I spoke on behalf of teachers at one of the school board meetings, teachers that had taken my CCW class and wanted to carry at school as well," he said. "The head of the school board stood up and said, 'I disagree with your stance on guns, I disagree that our educators today can't talk a shooter down.'"
Knowing that most school shooters have already committed to a plan that includes suicide or suicide-by-cop, Dominguez was incredulous.
"In my opinion, you will be the first victim," he recalled telling the school board president.
The board voted against it, and the issue became moot late last year, after the mass shooting in Las Vegas prompted the California Legislature to pass AB 424, which eliminated the loophole permitting CCW permit holders to possess firearms on K-12 campuses from the Gun-Free School Zone Act. The measure took effect Jan. 1.
"California has made it very clear their position on arming teachers," Dominguez said. "They took that ability away at the beginning of the year."
The Firearms Policy Coalition was one of several national gun rights groups that opposed the legislation.
"Assembly Bill 424 shows how bipolar the California Legislature is when it comes to gun issues," explained Firearms Policy Coalition president Brandon Combs. "In one case they say that local control is the only way to keep people safe, and here they kill off what little local control was left on this issue. Their flip-flop on this just shows how politically motivated the state of California is when it comes to attacking the rights of law-abiding gun owners."
Meanwhile in Florida, on March 9, Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 7026 into law, the state's first legislative response to the Parkland high school shooting. It raises the minimum age of purchasing a firearm from 18 to 21, bans so-called bump-stocks and provides $69 million in additional funding for school mental health programs.
It also provides $67 million for the Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program, named after the coach who died protecting students in the Parkland shooting. The program is voluntary and permits school districts in conjunction with county sheriff offices to train and arm select teachers and employees, should they choose to do so.
Full-time instruction teachers would not be permitted to carry in the classroom unless they had previous military experience or other training. Applicants would be required to complete a 144-hour training course, the details of which have yet to be decided.
Teachers' unions and other public education advocates have vehemently opposed the legislation, and demonstrating that resistance to arming teachers in public schools cuts across party lines, Republican Gov. Scott was lukewarm about the provision, even though he signed the bill.
"I still think law enforcement officers should be the ones who protect our schools," Scott said. "I've heard all the arguments for teachers to be armed and, while this bill would significantly change on this topic, I'm still not persuaded. I'm glad, however, the plan is not mandatory, which means it will be up to local elected officials."
On the other hand, Trump has shown no such reluctance and has made arming gun-adept teachers one of the cornerstones of the White House's recently launched Federal Commission on School Safety, which aims to harden public schools.
The administration plans to "assist states to train specially qualified school personnel on a voluntary basis," use Department of Justice assistance programs to "enable schools to partner with state and local law enforcement to provide firearms training for school personnel" and "support the transition of military veterans and retired law enforcement into new careers in education."
In the current political moment, which this past weekend has seen tens of thousands of people inspired by the surviving students of Parkland march on Washington demanding stricter gun laws, including the banning of semi-automatic assault rifles, Trump's proposal to arm teachers is already meeting heavy resistance, most notably from the National Education Association, the largest professional interest group in the county.
According to a nationwide NEA survey of 1,000 teachers conducted in early March, 82 percent said they would not carry a gun into the classroom. That figure includes nearly two-thirds of the teachers who own guns. Overall, two-thirds of the teachers surveyed said they would feel less safe if school personnel were armed.
"The idea of arming teachers is ill-conceived, preposterous and dangerous," said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. "This new national survey of educators confirms that. Arming teachers and other school personnel does nothing to prevent gun violence. In fact, quite the contrary, educators would feel less safe if school personnel were armed."
How far Trump's proposal will get remains to be seen. Like Florida's plan to arm teachers, the administration's program is voluntary, and few school districts may apply, negating any widespread deterrent effect armed teachers might pose to would-be school shooters.
As Dominguez is quick to point out, carrying a gun isn't for everybody.
"In my opinion, there's only going to be a handful of teachers who can do this," he said. "I'm not the kind who says everyone should carry, because lord knows, some people just shouldn't be handling guns."
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