Teachers’ unions push back on gun debate

Stephon Johnson | 3/1/2018, 4:51 p.m.
No matter the amount of blood and guts spilled in mass shootings, the debate over gun control brings out the ...

Anything but the guns.

No matter the amount of blood and guts spilled in mass shootings, the debate over gun control brings out the extremes—those who don’t want any guns in civilians’ hands and those who believe it’s their right to own assault rifles. Now, President Donald Trump wants to arm teachers in schools in response to the Parkland, Fla. school shooting.

With the National Rifle Association, Trump and conservative politicians feeling the heat to pass gun control legislation, they have played defense against reform and recommended more guns. This time? Arming teachers in the classroom.

The president spoke at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference last week. On top of playing the hits of tax reform and boosting the military, Trump told the audience that designating schools as gun-free zones puts children in more danger, and he wants trained, gun-adept teachers to protect children.

“And this would be a major deterrent because these people are inherently cowards,” said Trump, who has five military deferments on his record, to the conservative crowd. “If they thought—like, if this guy thought that other people would be shooting bullets back at him, he wouldn’t have gone to that school.  He wouldn’t have gone there. It’s a gun-free zone. It says, this is a gun-free zone; please check your guns way far away. And what happens is they feel safe. There’s nobody going to come at them.”

AFT President Randi Weingarten questioned the why and the how of teachers carrying weapons in the classroom.

“How would arming teachers even work?” asked Weingarten in an emailed statement. “Would kindergarten teachers be carrying guns in holsters? Is every classroom now going to have a gun closet? Will it be locked? When you have seconds to act when you hear the code for an active shooter, is a teacher supposed to use those seconds getting her gun instead of getting her students to safety? Anyone who pushes arming teachers doesn’t understand teachers and doesn’t understand our schools.”

On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz entered his former school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and murdered 17 students and staff members. The shooting reignited the debate over gun control, with Marjory Stoneman Douglas students becoming national figures speaking out against gun violence and in favor of gun reform.

The NRA has used everything from mental illness to the “good guy with a gun argument” to deflect from the debate about guns. Students and gun reform activists have led a currently successful campaign to get corporations to distance themselves from the NRA as sponsorship partners. In a statement, the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said they won’t be intimidated by these tactics, stating that law-abiding gun owners aren’t to blame for the failures of school security and America’s mental health system.

“Despite that, some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice,” read the NRA-ILA’s statement. “In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.”

But the NRA and Trump have been successful in other ways. They’ve shifted the debate from guns overall to guns in the classroom and have forced teachers’ unions to answer. It’s something United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew can’t accept.

“Teachers should be marking papers, not being trained in marksmanship,” said Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers. “We need to be preparing our lessons, not learning how to reload a gun.”

National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García has similar sentiments.

“We need solutions that will keep guns out of the hands of those who want to use them to massacre innocent children and educators,” said García in a statement. “Arming teachers does nothing to prevent that.”