Arm teachers? Bad idea, say L-A teachers, students

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Lewiston High School math teacher Samantha Garnett Sias, shown in her class in September, said Friday that the NRA’s suggestion of arming teachers in response to school shootings is a bad one. Other teachers and students also said teachers should not be armed. (Sun Journal file photo)

LEWISTON — Giving teachers guns would be “absurd” and horrifying and would only lead to more violence, local educators and students said Friday.

President Donald Trump has echoed the National Rifle Association in saying that teachers ought to be armed to deter school shootings.

Wayne LaPierre, NRA executive vice president and CEO, on Thursday decried schools as easy targets because they’re “gun-free zones” and said schools need more armed protection. LaPierre made those remarks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.

Meeting with survivors of school shootings at the White House, Trump suggested teachers experienced with firearms could volunteer to carry guns in schools and be paid extra. 

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“No, no, no,” said Amanda Winslow, principal of Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. “I do not think educators should carry weapons.”

It would have unintended consequences that schools would not be prepared to deal with, Winslow said. “Carrying a weapon is not the answer.”

Edward Little High School student Leah Burtchell, 15, said more guns “would make the school feel less safe. What if someone got their hands on a gun? There would be a lot of chaos.”

During a school shooting, a police officer could mistake a gun-wielding teacher for the criminal, she said. Teachers “have not been through the training that law enforcement has. It could be extremely difficult for them to take a life, especially if the shooter is a student.”

Christa Wilcox, 16, a Lewiston High School junior, said teachers “didn’t sign up to be shooters. They signed up to be positive influences, to teach and educate, not to protect by means of violence.”

A student who wants to commit violence could get the teacher’s gun, or be more likely to go after the teachers with the guns to steal it or the ammunition, she said. More guns “is just more violence.”

Timothy Wegmann, a teacher at Washburn Elementary School in Auburn, called arming teachers “absurd.” Wegmann said he owns guns and has had some gun safety training, but not at the level that would be needed.

“Teachers respect police and understand how much training they go through for the difficult job they do,” Wegmann said. “Teachers would do anything to save our students. But as teachers, I can’t see any of us wanting to be taking a life.”

Instead of arming teachers, there should be a three-pronged approach to school shootings, said Lewiston High School teacher Samantha Garnett Sias.

“First, increase restrictions on gun control, namely assault rifles.” Assault weapons don’t belong in the hands of average citizens, she said.

Second, she said, appropriate resources are needed to answer the rising mental health needs of students. “Arm teachers with the support they need from school counselors, clinicians and other support staff.” Every student should have access to mental health professionals to help develop coping skills, Garnett Sias said.

Third, schools need to immediately re-evaluate safety procedures to ensure protocols for active-shooter situations are the safest course of action, she said. “The ‘sit-and-wait’ protocols need to be re-examined and updated.”

The possibility of facing an active-shooter scenario is a sad reality of the teaching profession, she said. The president’s response would only exacerbate a looming teacher shortage, Garnett Sias said, because many would quit. 

Ernie Gagne, a fifth-grade teacher at Geiger Elementary in Lewiston, said the subject is a sensitive one, and that he wasn’t sure how he felt about arming teachers. But, Gagne added, he’d prefer to have an armed veteran or retired police officer with the proper training be hired to protect students.

“Horrified” is how retired Lewiston High School teacher Joan Macri reacted to the idea of arming teachers. “I would definitely take a bullet for my students, but I would never fire a bullet,” she said.

During her 37-year career, she dealt with troubled teens. She was trained to defuse situations and protect students, she said.

Often administrators and the school resource officer would be there, “and I would be scared,” Macri said. “But each time we were able to calm things down so the teen could be escorted out of the building.”

Macri said, “I’m a hugger. Not a shooter.”

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“Teachers would do anything to save our students. But as teachers I can’t see any of us wanting to be taking a life.” — Auburn Washburn Elementary School teacher Timothy Wegmann

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