Listen up: I wanted to write this piece to bring up the topic of guns in schools. As students and teachers of Peabody High School, we should all be having discussions about what we can do as a community to end gun violence in schools. Education is supposed to be the focus in school, but how can teachers help students succeed when shooters are continually allowed into school buildings. We cannot sit down and hope Congress finds out how to solve this problem. Right now, states and local boards are panicked and are frantically trying to come up with a solution to put parents and students at ease. Trying to find a way to prevent gun violence in schools is a good idea, however, when people are rushing to implement new systems of security measures, it leads to mistakes. In this case, a mistake could cost a life. We need to start a dialogue with each other and decide how to deal with guns in school.
Picture this: There is yet another school shooting today. This time three seniors were shot in the back of the head after the gunman lined them up against the back of the classroom. With their backs turned away from the shooter, faces staring at the stained cement wall, their final moments were filled with terror and agony.
Your heart aches for them. You know that these teenagers won’t go to college, won’t fall in love and get married, won’t have children, and won’t be able to discover the different wonders of the world.
I don’t know if they would have done any of these things, but it would have been nice to have the option, instead of life ending before it had truly begun.
You also feel a knot in your stomach, twisting and growing at the thought of the victim’s parents and how they have to go home without their child. They have to wake up every morning and walk by a room that is no longer being used, but is too full of memories for anyone else to enter. They have to set the dinner table for one less person, and the seat that used to be their child will remain an untouched memorial. The time that used to be spent driving their child around to sports and friend’s houses, will now be filled painful recollections of their child’s life.
The pain and sympathy that you feel for the students that lost their lives and the parents that won’t be able to see their children grow up are matched with emotions of horror and disbelief directed at school administration because they were the ones who did not implement the proper procedurals that could have protected these children.
How does this affect teachers?: When they were hired to join the teaching staff, for the most part, teachers’ first thought pertained to the enormous responsibility that they have in molding young minds into future intellectuals. Graduating school and getting an education is valued greatly in this country. Being one of the people who contributes to an adolescent's development and education is a lot of pressure. In an age where a school shooting has occurred (on average) once a week since 2013 (each one is documented on everytownresearch.org), teacher’s job descriptions are taking a slight turn.
As a response to the senseless killings, teachers are taking up arms in order to protect their students. Introducing guns into the classroom as a way to combat school shootings is a high-stakes experiment that could result in more chaos and carnage than ever before. However, it could also reinforce safety and stability into an institution where the focus should be on education without being interrupted by bullets. This complex “solution” to school shootings deserves to be debated and discussed by everyone who would be affected including teachers, students, parents, and the administration. I wanted to talk to the people who will be holding and operating the deadly weapons, the teachers, more specifically, our teachers at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School.
The Interviews: Going into these interviews I tried to hold judgments and opinions until after this paper was published, but of course, this was not possible. The idea that my science teacher, who helped me understand the complexities of DNA, could also be a Dirty Harry in a time of crisis was insane to me. With no actual basis for my inferences, I simply guessed that English and history teachers would be opposed to being armed and science and math teachers would be in favor of carrying a gun along with their class assignments in their briefcases. These massive generalizations could not be proven unless a large enough sample was taken, so before you start thinking that one teacher’s opinion on the matter accounts for the entirety of the department, remember that this issue is difficult, to say the least, and I have found that there are people on opposite sides of the spectrum within the same department.
I first talked to Mr. Jones. Mr. Jones is a white, middle-aged male who teaches in the English department. His classes range from advanced placement literature to mystery and detective fiction. Mr. Jones also used to have firearms identification card and has owned rifles. A big debate going on in the country currently is the second amendment. The Constitution permits individuals to bear arms. School shootings have brought up the question to as to whether or not guns in America are doing more harm than good.
Something that people may not be aware of is that some schools are training and then providing their teachers with guns. Mr. Jones does not support this dramatic switch within school systems. He believes that arming teachers is giving into the fear that school shootings have instilled in communities. If police officers are struggling to properly operate their weapons and it is their job to use good judgment in tough situations, how can we expect teachers to use guns in a building of students with a few months training? Mr. Jones believes in Peabody High School’s current lock down and fire procedurals.
Himself and other teachers have had long meetings with the Peabody Police and have learned new techniques regarding student safety. The camera system and the armed police officer provide a safety net for faculty and students. Mr. Jones does not want to see Peabody High become an armed fortress. He believes that the likelihood of a shooter entering the building is low, but if someone managed to come in with a gun, we have cinder block walls and fire doors.
Mr. Jones admits that “it is a different story in D-House”, but he would not want guns to be distributed to the teachers. Mr. Jones supports the second amendment right to bare arms, but he does not want to see teachers carrying guns into school. His belief that he can “...protect his students better without one,” when referring to a gun, coincides with his argument that having a gun in school would not be as helpful as it may seem. In his opinion, if a teacher had a gun and it needed to be put in a safe, “it has got to have a lengthy combination to it to keep it secure, so to use a gun in a situation, it's got to be instantly available, loaded, safety off and ready to go. If something is happening, you would have to run across[the room], pull out that filing cabinet, do a ten-number combination, take a trigger lock off . . . I think there is more danger, if this school is carrying guns in it, there is more danger that one of those guns is going to be stolen and used in a crime.” He says, “I would be more afraid of someone taking it.”
Instead of arming teachers, Mr. Jones would like to see more police officers on campus.
Another problem that Mr. Jones brought up was janitors and vacations. At night, janitors have to have access to the rooms, leaving a perfect opportunity to steal the deadly weapon. During school breaks, will the teachers be taking their guns home, or will they leave them in the empty building? Mr. Jones identified his role as a teacher when saying, “I think that no matter what happens whether it's studying a poem or trying to prevent danger that I have the most responsibility in this room for everyone’s safety. I am the only one who has to worry about everybody, so in a situation like that, if a person came through the door, I would have to deal with them personally first, whether I want to or not, I think that I am responsible.” He adds, “Whether it's two kids bullying each other, or some psycho coming in the door, they have to deal with me first.” Mr. Jones has a Master of Arts Degree in the Humanities. He has been taught to understand why people do what they do, which is why it is so hard for him to become angry at people. If it was his choice, he would take all the guns away from the army. Overall, Mr. Jones doesn’t think about a shooter entering the building when he is at school like he doesn’t think about getting hit by lightning when walking down the street.
I then talked to Mr. Hyatt. Mr. Hyatt is a white, middle-aged male who is the head of the science department. He teaches various courses including advanced placement biology and anatomy. Mr. Hyatt admits that our safety procedurals are not perfect, but they are evolving. We are taking a look at other school districts and examining what seems to work and what doesn’t. It makes him feel “uneasy” and “nervous” that we have not perfected our safety drills. Mr. Hyatt thinks about the possibility of a shooter entering the building “a significant amount”. He states that it was the murders of the Connecticut children that turned his attention towards gun violence in schools.
He was raised in a household with guns but is not a gun owner himself. Mr. Hyatt has “no problem” with the second amendment and cites the fact that he “sees a lot of responsible gun owners” and growing up with a family of hunters for his openness to guns. Mr. Hyatt is against teachers being armed and could not be persuaded into being trained in order to carry in school. When asked if it was his job to put his student’s lives before his own, Mr. Hyatt replied “No”. He explained that it was his job to be the best teacher that he can be and teach the curriculum. Mr. Hyatt would like to believe that if a shooter came into the classroom he would protect his students, as a gut reaction, but states that no one knows how we would react in that situation. He does not want teachers to be armed because “You see instances where what appears to be dangerous situations could be dealt with differently[by the police].”
In order to combat shooters, Mr. Hyatt says we need to take a look at our doors and security. He likes how we have a police officer in the building during the school day. He says, “I like the police in this town. I think they do a nice job. I am impressed with them.” Mr. Hyatt believes that the risk is, “like being hit by lightening”, meaning that there is a weak chance that something like this would happen to our school. To the teachers who would like to be armed, Mr. Hyatt says, “I think their fears are overriding their judgment.” He believes that some of these fears of young teachers come from the murder of Colleen Ritzer, a Danvers teacher.
My next interview consisted of Ms. Skerry, Ms. Flynn, and Mr. Shidler. Ms. Skerry is a white female who is a member of the math department. Most of her family members are apart of either the police or fire department. When Ms. Skerry was a child, her father sometimes brought his gun home after a long day’s work involving the SWAT team and sometimes hostage negotiations. Her father also was a gun instructor. It’s safe to say that Ms. Skerry has been exposed to weapons in her lifetime, with good experiences surrounding those memories. When asked about her thoughts on how much she trusts the school's current safety procedurals, Ms. Skerry said that people were becoming complacent. She thinks that people, students, and teachers, assume when the alarm goes off or a message over the loudspeaker announcing a lockdown that it is a drill. There is a lack of maturity with safety procedurals.
Ms. Skerry is an advocate for arming teachers as a way to protect students from threats inside of the building. Referring to being armed in school, Ms. Skerry said, “I don’t worry about getting a flat tire, but I carry a spare.” She would like to see there be a strong training course be set up for teachers, not just a basic firearm safety course. If the school staff is going to carry, they need to have completed significant training from an outside agency, either the state or federal government. Ms. Skerry emphasized that just knowing how to use a gun isn’t enough, the mentality of the individual is a large factor in whether or not a teacher should be armed. There should be a “vote of confidence” where the teachers who have volunteered to carry will be graded by their peers to help the administration decide who the best candidates for the job are.
She would also like for there to be rectification each year. If teachers were armed, Ms. Skerry believes it would be beneficial to only have the administration know what teacher is carrying to prevent panic and make targets out of teachers. However, instead of guns with regular bullets, Ms. Skerry would suggest bean bag guns, which are a 40g bean bag can be used in place of a bullet that affects muscles, but won’t penetrate the body. When asked if she felt her student's lives should be put before her own she said, “I think any teacher in this building would react in the way to protect students.” She continued to say that her first instinct is the ensure the safety of her students.
Ms. Flynn is a white female who is a math teacher in the special education department at Peabody High. She believes that the “students and faculty don’t take [safety procedures] seriously.” Her stance on guns outside of school is if you are properly trained and pass an adequate background check, then owning a firearm is fine. During this interview, Ms. Flynn got a notification that she can pick-up her license to carry. When talking about her students she said, “They’re all my children.” She said, “that’s my job to protect my children.” Ms. Flynn, who is a mother, says that when her students are in school, she expects their teachers to protect their lives, so she does the same for her students. Both Ms. Flynn and Ms. Skerry believe that if you are a law abiding citizen and mentally stable, then owning a gun is acceptable.
Mr. Shidler is a white, middle-aged man and is a history teacher in the special education department. He has traditional views on the roles of men and women. He believes that as the husband and father in his family, it is his duty to be the protector. Both his daughter and his son carry guns. Mr. Shilder is in favor of arming teachers. He believes that if there was a sign on the building notifying people that there are teachers inside that are carrying, that “would keep 90% of the psychos outside of the building.” We would become a harder target for people who want to cause mayhem because the individuals who want to harm others, “want to find a soft target”. The idea would be that it should difficult to kill massive amounts of students if the faculty possesses guns.
In our interview, Mr. Shilder tried to ease some worries about having guns in school by referencing the dangers in everyday objects. He pointed out that people could say, “a car is a dangerous weapon,” but we don’t try to avoid them. He cited the incident in France where a man drove a car into a crowded area in Nice killing 86 people and sending a total of 303 people to the hospital. Mr. Shilder also said that he could throw a desk and could kill someone. He said, “If I have it in my heart to kill, I can use anything.” When asked how often he thinks about the potential for a shooting in school, he replied that “It is always in the back of my mind, everywhere I go.” Mr. Shilder says it is important to be aware of your surroundings.
My last interview was with Mr. Bua. Mr. Bua is a white, middle-aged man who is the B-House Dean. When regarding our safety procedures effectiveness, “I think with any drills they can become mundane.” There is “no urgency” when the alarm goes off for a lockdown or fire. He mentioned that the administration is working the police department to constantly improve safety procedures. On his stance on guns outside of school, Mr. Bua said that it is a constitutional right to own a gun. He has only “tinkered with guns” and his grandfather was a gun owner. He tried a gun out when he was younger, however, he is not willing to train in order to use a gun in school. There is a fine line on how to protect students and arming teachers would be crossing it. Mr. Bua says that more weapons do not necessarily mean a safer school.
PVMHS has a police officer to ensure that this school is a safe environment. Mr. Bua says, “Student safety is my number one priority.” The administration works with Officer Costa to improve the safety of the students. Mr. Bua noted that “Everything we do, every decision we make is for the students.” He firmly believes that teachers should not be armed. Mr. Bua mentioned that we have students here who have emotional issues so having a teacher be armed doesn’t necessarily help the education of those students. We have to think about how guns would impact everyone, not just a few. If there were guns in school, they would be intimidating for some students and faculty. Mr. Bua says, “Everybody’s level of what makes them feel safe is different.”
Let your voice be heard and contact the administration and school board to give them your opinion on the best way to combat gun violence in schools. If you believe that arming teachers will hurt the education of our students and endanger the welfare of the community, then propose alternatives. If you are in favor of establishing a training program that would teach educators about gun safety and how to properly handle a weapon, then bring it up to the next school committee meeting. Education about gun safety needs to be strengthened and taken seriously. Students and faculty should not have to worry about if a person is going to get into their school and open fire. It is also important to not dismiss the opinion of others. On issues such as gun violence, people tend to be polarized, however, what they have in common is they all want to protect people.