Many Minnesotans will doubtless be shocked to learn, as the debate over arming teachers continues, that some may already have guns at school.
All they need, by state statute, is a written letter of permission from the school principal or superintendent. The permit-to-carry law passed in 2003 prohibits firearms on school property with one very specific exemption: It allows a school principal, director of a child care center or “other person having general control and supervision of the school” to issue written permission to carry “dangerous weapons,” defined as “any firearm, loaded or unloaded, designed as a weapon, capable of bodily harm or death.”
There are no reporting requirements in statute, nor specified training standards that must be met. The state Department of Education does not know whether or how many such letters have been issued, because there is no requirement to submit or collect such authorizations.
In our view, arming teachers or other civilian school personnel is a bad idea. A very bad idea. No matter whether they get more firearms training, are issued a weapon or bring their own, or whether, as Florida legislators have proposed, they are given a $500 stipend.
Teachers enter the profession to impart knowledge to their students. It’s not reasonable to expect them to also take on the fearsome responsibility of carrying a loaded weapon into a building full of children, or to be prepared, at any moment, to defend those students at the risk of their own life. They cannot be asked to gun down an intruder who might be the kid they had in English last year, or whom they sent to detention the previous week. Is the public willing to accept the misfire that kills an innocent child? Or the teacher who gets shot because first responders couldn’t distinguish between a defender and an assailant?
Gov. Mark Dayton said recently that he was willing to consider any proposals to protect Minnesota schoolchildren — including arming teachers. Please don’t, governor. The fear and frustration at repeated school shootings is immense, but there are better alternatives for safer schools.
One such measure is a still-forming but promising Senate Republican plan to create a safe schools fund that would give local school districts money to, in what has become an unfortunately necessary practice, “harden the target.” Schools would be able to install bullet-resistant glass or steel doors, tighten entry and exit points, and employ armed school resource officers or trained security. It also would provide for a new state fire alarm policy designed to foil attempts to turn students complying with fire evacuation into targets for a gunman, as happened in Parkland, Fla. One big caveat: The state must ensure that the money is not used to arm teachers.
It’s regrettable that such measures are needed. But Americans have come to accept tighter security in other public spaces, such as airports, government centers and courthouses. Properly designed, such measures are prudent and necessary, and need not create the prison-style atmosphere that some fear.
Gary Amoroso, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, said school leaders statewide are discussing the need for greater security, and a number would like to add school resource officers. If anyone in a school is to be armed, he said, it should be trained officers who can assess site safety and collaborate with first responders as needed.
Of course, even hardening every K-12 school is not enough. Ideally, school security should be part of a comprehensive federal, state and local effort to address school safety and gun violence. To build bipartisan support, the Star Tribune Editorial Board has endorsed expanded background checks that include gun shows and online sales, along with gun violence protective orders that would allow courts to remove weapons from dangerous people.
Public support for the latter two measures is growing nationwide, with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida becoming the latest high-profile Republican to propose both, along with school security funding. Such a three-pronged approach in Minnesota would provide elements that both sides seek without jeopardizing the gun rights of law-abiding owners.