(Photo: Reuters/Michelle McLoughlin)
Teachers and administrators will carry guns in school in Clarksville, Arkansas when classes recommence in the coming weeks.
About 20 teachers and staff in the Clarksville School District have voluntarily taken 53 hours of firearms training, making them eligible under state law that allows licensed, armed guards to be present on school campuses.
Part of the teachers' training, which began earlier in July with Nighthawk Custom Training Academy, involved mock scenarios on school grounds in which teachers sought out a shooter in a classroom. The training also saw children of the volunteer teachers taking part in role-play scenarios as students, wearing protective head gear as their parents fired air-soft pellets at a mock shooter.
Clarksville teachers in support of concealed firearms on campus argue that school districts need a more formative plan regarding on-campus shooters, especially after the December 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn. that left 20 children and six adult faculty members dead.
"The plan we've been given in the past is 'Well, lock your doors, turn off your lights and hope for the best,'" Superintendent David Hopkins told the Associated Press, arguing that as more shootings have occurred in schools across the country, his district has decided, "That's not a plan."
Hopkins told local news outlet KARK-TV that those carrying weapons at the schools will remain a secret, and the weapons will remain concealed on the teacher's body.
"They're not going to be in a uniform, and they're not going to be wagging their gun on their side," explains the superintendent. "We're going to be very discrete about it, but yet we're going to be trained professionals, and we're going to be able to provide security for our kids in a matter of seconds instead of minutes."
According to USA Today, participants in the "Emergency Response Team," who will be armed with 9mm handguns, were given a $1,100 one-time stipend to purchase a handgun and a holster; the school has spent about $50,000 on ammunition and training courses for the volunteer faculty members.
The tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December re-ignited the debate regarding gun control laws in the United States, with Vice President Joe Biden pushing a gun control package seeking to expand background checks on gun buyers. Although Biden's gun control reforms did not receive the required 60 votes in the Senate, the nation's vice president has sworn to continue the fight for gun control.
Although many politicians called for stricter gun control laws following the Dec. 2012 Connecticut shooting, the National Rifle Association formulated a school safety task force that suggested teachers at schools across the nation go through 40 to 60 hours of training and be armed with firearms. NRA task force members argued that it was important to dramatically reduce the response time of a school shooting, and by teachers carrying concealed weapons on school properties, they would be on the scene quickly to stop a shooter instead of having to wait minutes for police to be contacted and then to arrive.
During this year's legislative session, seven states enacted laws that will allow teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus. The Clarksville School District is reportedly the first district in the state to arm teachers with guns.
An article written by The New York Times earlier this month acknowledged that although many schools would like to have armed teachers, insurance companies have threatened to raise premiums or revoke coverage altogether to protect their financial security, should a student accidentally get shot. The fact that many public schools already abide by a tight budget makes the idea of paying a higher insurance premium, as well as paying for training courses, seem impractical.
Some have criticized plans for teachers to carry firearms in schools, arguing that the job of a teacher is to teach and be a role model for students, and a teacher carrying a firearm may send the wrong message to students.
When discussing a Florida bill that would allow school faculty to carry concealed weapons in April, Florida School Board Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton said the bill "sends the wrong message [...] to our young people."
Blanton added that students seeing a teacher carrying a gun would make them feel it was acceptable to carry a gun as well, saying "Coach has a gun, why can't I have a gun?"
The Clarksville School District will resume classes in August, and a breakdown of the student-to-teacher ratio in the school district by Slate magazine found that there will be 125 students to every armed teacher.