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Smith: Teachers need resources to lead their classrooms, not handguns

By State Rep. Dr. Vernon G. Smith

As a lifelong educator, I’m well aware of the lasting impact a good education can have on an individual. In order for an education to be effective children must be able to receive it in a safe environment. House Bill 1177, which offers handgun training to Indiana teachers, would put teachers, staff and students in danger and hinder a teacher’s ability to create a productive learning environment.

Teachers are not soldiers. In Indiana, educators are already underpaid and lack the resources needed for what they are tasked to do. We in the legislature cannot also ask teachers to be on the front lines, protecting their classrooms from armed intruders. The amount of training that this bill would require them to have to carry a handgun in their classroom would also not equip them with the skills they would need to be effective in high-stress situations, which could lead to more students getting injured or, God forbid, killed. Likewise, if a teacher leaves the classroom to pursue an active shooter, who will be in the classroom to protect his or her students?

The vast majority of Americans are against the idea of arming teachers. A study from 2021 found that 70% of Americans want armed resource officers in schools, but only 41% support training teachers to carry guns in schools. We in the legislature need to be passing laws that bolster the will of the people. If that means increasing the number of armed resource officers in Indiana schools, we can have that discussion. Resource officers, however, are different than teachers. Many have been extensively trained, much more training than would be afforded to school teachers under this bill. Beyond the fact that I don’t believe teachers ought to be tasked with defending their classrooms, there’s also a huge risk to themselves and other students if they have guns in the classroom. Think about what could happen if a student is able to disarm a teacher. Are we willing to risk a school shooting that’s due to a gun being in the classroom that was approved by the state legislature? I, for one, am not. Whether it’s an accidental discharge or an intentional shooting, there is no instance where children and teachers are made safer by a gun in the classroom. We’ve already seen evidence of the fact that more guns does not equal more safety. Improper storage is a common problem among American gun owners. Think of the number of gun accidents and deaths that have occurred in homes involving children who had access to guns that were improperly stored. How do you secure the firearm in a way that absolutely keeps it out of the hands of students, yet is still instantly accessible by the teacher?

I’m also very concerned about the impact this legislation could have on African American students and students of color. Already, minority students receive harsher punishments for the same infractions committed by white students. With more armed teachers in Indiana schools, I’m worried this could lead to students being shot at if teachers deem them to be threats to themselves or other students during fights or other behavioral issues. Classrooms can already be hostile environments for African American children, and we shouldn’t be passing any legislation that increases their chances of victimization by those in power. Further, Black high school students are less likely than white students to support having armed teachers in schools. A report found only 16% of Black high school students vs 26% of white students support arming teachers, and Black students are more likely to report feeling unsafe if teachers carried firearms.

In a time when teachers and administrators are asking the state legislator to pass bills that would help increase teacher pay and resources for classrooms, we should not be blatantly ignoring these requests while passing through legislation that would only cause problems, not solve them. Teachers in this state cannot even earn a decent living wage from our legislature, but we now can find millions of dollars to pay for weapons, police-style training, gun safes in classrooms and “bonus pay” for serving in active duty. Wouldn’t money be better spent on automatic doors that, with the push of a button, could lock all the doors in the school in the event of an active shooter? I can think of plenty of funding options that would have a more beneficial impact on school safety than this legislation.

Namely, we need to be addressing the mental health of our young people. School gunmen are often teenagers in suicidal crisis. To intercept them beforehand, experts recommend mental health support, systems to identify children who may become threats and tighter gun laws, including mandates on safe storage. Andrew R. Morral, a lead gun policy researcher for the nonpartisan think tank RAND Corporation, said safe storage laws are “one of the laws that has the best evidence.” We in the Indiana legislature should be using our work – and taxpayer dollars – to pass through the most effective, evidence-based legislation and protections for our citizens.

As an educator, this bill moving through the House is a jarring insight into the supermajority’s priorities and lack of concern about the state of education in Indiana. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to take the common-sense approach and vote no on this dangerous, backward legislation.

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