School Shootings On The Rise: Should Canada Arm Teachers?

Published December 13, 2013
Gun In School. Photo credit here.

Gun In School. Photo credit here.

School shootings are one of the most disturbing specters of modern life. Firearm-powered mass murder in a school setting has been a sporadic occurrence since at least the 1902s, and even inspired a hit song when a 1979 shooting in San Diego served as the basis for the popular anthem by the Boomtown Rats, “Tell Me Why (I Don’t Like Mondays).” The tragic Littleton, Colorado shootings of 1999 brought school shootings to the fore of public consciousness.

The number and severity of shootings has increased steadily in the years since, even as other types of violent crime have dropped. Educational institutions cannot afford to treat these crimes lightly, and schools like Bainbridge College in the US have been put on lock down due to gun violence.

Canada has a long history with gun violence in schools. There was a spree killing in a school in Alberta only eight days after the Colorado shootings, and many observers believe that it was a “copycat” shooting inspired at least in part by Littleton. There have been more school shootings since 1999 than in the entire hundred years before, though one particularly violent incident in Quebec in 1989 claimed more lives than all other shootings since 1975 combined.

Canadian authorities take this threat seriously and many officials are debating possible steps to prevent them.

Although it’s true than only ten people have died in school shootings in the last fifteen years, the outsize trauma and disruption that shootings cause makes them a very serious problem. Some of the tactics that officials and educators are considering include metal detectors, student searches, greater outreach to troubled students, and even arming teachers.

Arming teachers, though it may be strongly advocated by certain groups, is an extremely troublesome proposition. All statistics about guns indicate that they cause deadly accidents and make dangerous situations more dangerous. Though it is nice to imagine that an armed teacher would be in position to save lives by stopping a killer with deadly force, this fantasy rarely plays out in reality. Shootings are notably difficult to predict or prevent.

There is not a clear profile of students who kill, and the extreme emotional volatility of children means that more guns mean more chances for things to go horribly wrong. The teachers must be trained in the operation of a gun in order to be armed responsibly, which can be expensive and perhaps counterproductive; requiring formal training to at least some degree.

Metal detectors and student searches are reasonably effective in preventing school shootings, but they also impact the lives of the entire community, foster a sense of distrust, impinge on dearly held freedoms, and cost a lot of money. Improved psychological services will probably be the most effective in the long run, but officials long for a more direct solution. When the neutral observer notes the low casualty rates from Canadian school shootings, the temptation arises to say that doing nothing is the most effective solution.

Ten deaths in fifteen years does not imply that a problem is serious. Unfortunately, the emotional reactions of students, parents, and teachers make that a practical impossibility.


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