Few messages are more alarming to the parent of a schoolchild than a “lockdown” alert from a school. When an incident near a small Catholic school in Gainesville, Fl. triggered that alert it reinforced some local views that having weapons available in schools made sense. But not everyone in this conservative pro-Trump stronghold agrees.
Art work at Saint Patrick’s Interparish school. Photo by Megan Hadley
“Personally, with the way things are going now, I think teachers should be allowed to have protection,” said Lady L, the mother of an eight-year-old boy at Saint Patrick Interparish school in Gainesville, Fl., and a firm supporter of allowing teachers to carry guns in schools.
Saint Patrick’s, a small Catholic grade school, was on lockdown last Wednesday, due to an attempted armed robbery at a bank just down the street.
Fearful for her child’s life, Lady L (who asked that her real name be withheld) texted the school for permission to come and pick up her child, but he was not allowed to leave.
“I didn’t know what to think,” she told The Crime Report.
While gun control remains a widely polarized issue nationally, with President Donald Trump voicing his support for guns in schools at the National Rifle Association Convention last Friday, and gun control advocates making clear their fierce opposition to the idea, those closest to the problem have a much more nuanced reaction.
Here in the so-called Florida “Panhandle,” in the state’s northwest corner, where conservative voters helped Trump win the state in 2016, gun ownership is common. But the mood in this part of “Trump Country” reflects both fear and anxiety.
Saint Patrick Parish. Photo by Megan Hadley
As we stood on the church steps, Lady L described the realities of what she called the “natural world,” a world where humans need to protect themselves, especially in present times, because people are “doing strange things.”
“You never know. People are bringing guns in churches these days and when you leave the house you don’t know if you’re coming back home,” she said.
Richard Shalack, a local gun shop owner in Gainesville, carries not one, but two guns on him at all times.
Shalack agreed that teachers have a right to defend themselves in the school, and if they carry a concealed weapons permit, they should be allowed a gun in the classroom to protect themselves and their students against a possible shooter.
“It’s common sense” he told me. “You are responsible for your own protection. You are responsible for your own safety.”
Maurice Moore, who retired after teaching school in Florida for 35 years, would have brought his gun to class if it were an option.
Moore also spent time in the air force, and said that his training made him qualified to handle a gun in the classroom.
“I think it should be open to teachers who want to do it and who are qualified.” If they are military personal, such as myself, who know about weapons and guns, I would be comfortable with it, he said.
Since the mass shooting in a Parkland, FL high school that left 17 dead and 17 injured, and prompted walkouts and rallies across the country, research shows a large uptick in school-based violent incidents.
Data from the Educator’s School Safety Network found more than 70 violent incidents in schools each day, prompting lockdowns and other safety measures.
Although one consequence is that 57 percent of young people surveyed report being fearful in their schools, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress, others contend that arming teachers or school resource officers will address those fears.
Shalack- owner of Gainesville Guns- used the example of the gym coach at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who died to support his argument.
Richard Shalack, owner of Gainesville Guns, shows some of his wares. Photo by Megan Hadley
The gym coach used his body as a shield to protect his students, and consequently was shot down.
“If he had a concealed weapon, instead of having a 17 loss that day, it could’ve been a two-loss,” he said.
Currently, at least 15 states already arm teachers, including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington and, as of this March, Florida.
And now Louisiana is considering gun legislation that would allow visitors with concealed weapon permits to carry their guns on school and college campuses.
See also: Louisiana is Latest State to Consider Allowing Guns in Schools.
While arming teachers is one facet of the gun control debate, whether or not mentally ill individuals should be allowed to purchase a gun remains unsettled.
Shalack, a firearms dealer for 33 years, said that he “never would have sold a gun to the kid that shot up Parkland” because he “weeds out the crazies” before selling them guns.
Signs in Shalack’s store make his political sympathies clear. Photo by Megan Hadley
Not wanting to end up in court with a lawsuit against him, Mr. Shalack only sells guns to individuals with a concealed weapons permit, above the age of 21, after having what he describes as an in-depth conversation with them.
He keeps his guns in the back, and refuses to sell any firearms to individuals who are “too emotional” or “acting weird.”
In the state of Florida, it is not required to have a license or permit to purchase a gun, leaving the sale of firearms to the discretion of firearm dealers.
Yet on a federal level, unlicensed sellers are exempt from having to perform any background check before selling a firearm, a loophole that The Giffords Law Center calls particularly dangerous.
But according to the principal of a small grade school in Gainesville, FL, who asked to remain anonymous, the answer to gun control is to simply stop making firearms.
More guns means more killing, he said.
“What do we need guns for?” he asked. “Guns are designed to kill people. If you don’t own a gun then I don’t need to gun.”
Logistically, he noted that the states would waste money training and equipping teachers with guns, and that money could be spent elsewhere.
He said that schools need better mental health care for students, not more guns.
The school guidance counselor, who asked to remain anonymous as well, also cited mental health as the determining factor for reducing school violence.
She pointed to the need for changing the stigma associated with mental illness.
“A huge part of the solution is increase in mental health funding- that’s what I see with my kids,” she said.
But as state legislators across the country move towards arming teachers with guns, students, particularly in low-income, minority communities, could be in greater danger than their white, wealthier counterparts, one expert told TCR.
Photo of Hailey Nolasco
Hailey Nolasco from the Mayor’s Office to Prevent Gun Violence in New York City painted a grim picture of the risks when a new teacher comes to work in a school in an unfamiliar and violent neighborhood. If the teacher were armed, the gun might be used in response to a perceived threat from a student, she said.
Likewise, the teachers are also in danger: a violent student could disarm the teacher and take the gun, she mentioned.
For Nolasco, guns in schools are “ just the wrong way to go” because there is a sense that law enforcement is “everywhere.”
She related schools where teachers carry guns and students have to walk through metal detectors to prison, which is certainly not a “conducive learning environment.”
Instead, she pointed to a model used in New York City’s Mayor’s office called the ‘cure violence model’ which aims to reduce violence in the schools. While the ‘cure violence model’ is an international approach to reducing harm, NYC has created a unique subset called ‘crisis management in the schools’.
Now, a trained official, someone who has experience with gun violence, possibly someone who has been in prison for gun use, goes into the schools and mediates dangerous situations.
“Instead of relying on law enforcement, it’s wholistic approach where young people can relate to people who have had similar experiences.” Nolasco said.
And now, New York is the safest it’s ever been, she concluded.
Megan Hadley is a staff reporter for The Crime Report.