Armed Defenders in the Classroom - Reality Replaces Myth
Arming teachers is more than a concept, an idea, or a theory. Armed school staff are now a well-worn reality. The FASTER program teaches school staff to stop a threat and to treat the injured. That program has been in place for the last five years and has trained over a thousand teachers. These first responders have many days of instruction. Once they are back home, these teachers apply what they learned as they protect their schools. We have thousands of man-years of experience with armed school staff. School is about to start in the fall, and we learn more every day.
We can invent all kinds of crazy fantasies about giving guns to teachers. Those fantasies aren’t real, but they do make sensational news stories and they sell advertising for the news media. In fact, no one rolls up with a wagon full of firearms and start handing out guns to school staff. That isn’t what responsible people do to protect students. I recently took a three-day training class for armed school staff. The teachers in my classes took school safety very seriously. I saw it written on their face. I heard it in their voice. They showed it by what they said and what they did.
This training course was both a review and an advancement from their previous instruction. Most of my fellow students were from Ohio, though some came from schools in other states. These teachers and school administrators were back in the roll of students as they went back to school to be first responders. These experienced defenders had already passed an earlier training course. Each of them had been authorized by their schoolboards to go armed for the last few years.
Even with their years of experience, we went back to review the basics of firearm safety. We advanced to stopping the threat and to medical care for the injured. My fellow students did just what I expected them to do.
We moved through reinforced buildings that were specially designed to stop our real bullets. In these “shoot-houses”, we defended paper-students and shot at paper-bad-guys. One teacher from Ohio was visibly upset with her performance. She said, ‘I can’t believe I missed that first shot. I feel like I should quit the program.’ Her first shot missed. The fraction of a second between her first and second shot might have let an attacker reach one of the pupils. That is how seriously these teachers took their training. Their level of excitement rose in these exercise as it would be in real life. The emotional pressure went up from there.
We went through dozens of exercises using simulated firearms. Teachers and school principals won the gun fights, but their struggle didn’t end there. I saw adults stumble over their words as they took charge of a simulated accident scene during a training exercise. That reaction seems odd since these teachers take charge of a classroom every day. They faltered as they took command while several “wounded” people lay on the ground needing first aid.
I know how they felt and I reacted the same way. My mouth went dry from anxiety and my heart rate jumped when it was my turn. All of us got better with practice. We learned how to manage the emergency and learned how to manage ourselves. We learned you can never have too many tourniquets, chest seals, and pressure bandages when you have multiple casualties. That is why these training courses are so valuable.
In theory, a mass murderer is reported and stopped by the FBI. In theory, school resource officers move toward the sound of gunfire and protect our students. Reality is something else. In theory, you could learn armed defense and trauma care from an online tutorial. In fact, it takes practice. We need to exercise these skills so that we can perform in the moment of need. My fellow students put themselves to the test. They practiced over and over in a training class so they would get it right if their kids needed them.
I saw these students struggle and criticize their own performance. They picked themselves up and grew to meet the challenge. That is exactly what we want them to do. Their performance matters to them, and it matters to everyone in their community. The lives of students and staff could hang in the balance.
Perfection isn’t one of the options. One teacher described his anxiety this way. “I know I could make a mistake or things could go wrong. I just hope my kids are safe by then.” That is the reality of a dangerous and chaotic emergency.
Teachers make a difference in their students’ lives every day. On some extraordinary day, these extraordinary defenders want to be the right person in the right place at the right time to protect their kids. That is all we can ask of them. That is the reason they train today and why I’m glad they are there.