Erin Preese, a teacher and mother, is crystal clear on how she feels about arming teachers to combat school shootings.
“I absolutely wouldn’t carry a gun,” she said. “I wouldn’t work in a school that allowed guns, and I wouldn’t let my children go to a school that allowed guns. I know a lot of teachers that feel the same way.”
Preese is the south metro leader for the Minnesota chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, putting her on one end of the political divide that once again opened up after 17 people were killed in last week’s school shooting in Florida. Since then, the national debate over how to stop school shootings has dominated social media posts, news cycles and coffeehouse conversations. On Friday, the debate focused on President Donald Trump’s call to arm teachers to protect students from mass killers.
While some, including Preese, say absolutely not, others in Minnesota argue it makes perfect sense.
“There’s the old saying,” said Tom Delaney, who teaches permit-to-carry classes as well as youth firearm safety classes. “ ‘Why do I carry a gun? Because a police officer is too heavy to carry.’ They’re always going to take five or 10 minutes before they get there, and by that time it’s usually all over.”
Arming teachers, staff or volunteers who are trained would be a good idea, he said. “It certainly can’t hurt.”
Times have changed, Delaney added. “It’s a crazy world,” he said. “This stuff never happened 30 years ago.”
In Osseo, school board chairman Robert Gerhart floated the idea last week that armed volunteers who are 21 and older and have a permit to carry a weapon could patrol the school halls.
“Our nation mourns over another senseless mass shooting at a school. I am sick and tired of the talk that happens after each one of these events and lack of tangible action that follows,” Gerhart said. “We have the ability to make a difference right here and right now.”
Bryan Strawser, chairman of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus, said it’s likely that some teachers, staff and parents already are carrying guns in K-12 schools. State law allows that if a person has a permit to carry and has written permission from school officials.
“I’m aware of a handful of people who do,” he added. Making it a broader policy is worth discussing, he said, noting he would support arming teachers who are trained. “It’s a thorny issue,” Strawser said. “I understand some people are uncomfortable about having guns in school. But I personally think having no guns in school is not a reasonable answer either.”
He and his organization’s political director, Rob Doar, believe an armed teacher may be what saves a student’s life.
“We know what stops an active shooter is … a counter force,” Doar said. “And the sooner that counter force arrives, the lower the body count is.”
It also could serve as a deterrent if a potential attacker knows teachers may be armed. “That makes it a less attractive target for them,” he said.
Elk River social studies teacher Scott Glew, an eight-year military veteran, can handle weapons. But he wouldn’t carry a gun in his Salk Middle School classroom, he said.
“Student safety is my highest priority,” he said. “I don’t believe arming teachers would make them safer.”
Education Minnesota, the statewide teachers union, has strongly opposed the idea of arming and training teachers and staff members. “I don’t know of any teacher who wants to be armed,” said Denise Specht, the union’s president. “It’s not a serious solution.”
Most teachers tell her they would probably quit if asked to carry weapons, Specht said.
Nekima Levy-Pounds, a civil rights attorney and a mother of four, said the call to arm teachers is “outrageous and frightening,” and she said it could cost the lives of kids of color who already are unfairly targeted and wrongfully disciplined in schools.
“I would not feel comfortable with my children attending schools in which the teachers are armed,” she said.
Instead, she and others believe teachers should focus on educating children.
Rick Kaufman, who oversees emergency management for Bloomington Public Schools, was one of the first on the scene after the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999.
“From an emergency management standpoint, we don’t believe you address gun violence in our schools with more guns,” he said. “Law enforcement are trained; they are hard-wired to carry out what they are trained to do. That’s not what our staff are trained to do.”
Bill Hutton, executive director of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, echoed that, saying “We train and train and then train again to deal with high-stress situations.” The gun issue is an emotional topic, he added.
“Some folks want to arm everybody,” Hutton said. “And there are those who say let’s get rid of every piece of weaponry available to anybody. Somewhere, we’re going to land on a good plan.”
Staff writer Tim Harlow contributed to this report.