COMMENTARY | There are no easy answers to the problem of gun violence in America's schools. This year, my state, Tennessee, will be considering a bill that would lift the restrictions against teachers and administrators carrying guns on school grounds. If passed into law, HB0006 would make Tennessee the 19th state that allows civilian exceptions to the federal prohibition of guns in school zones (Federal Gun Free Schools Zone Act, FGFZA) put in place in 1990. Gun-free zones are counter-productive, imposing unfair burdens on the community and leaving schools open to unopposed gun violence. Each state that introduces exceptions raises more doubt about the federal act.
The bill, introduced on Jan. 10 in the Tennessee House of Representatives by Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, makes provisions for each school district to exercise its own discretion. The schools may employ a Special Resource Officer (SRO), or they may allow a teacher or administrator who passes a training course to go armed on each school campus. Or they can choose not to employ these options. Under the provisions of this bill, the authorized employee would have to carry the weapon concealed and ready, use frangible bullets to minimize unintentional harm, and undergo a 40-hour school policing and crisis management course.
Some would argue that adding more guns to our schools will make them more dangerous than they are now. While I agree that the presence of a gun automatically adds risk to any situation, our schools are nowhere near gun-free currently, despite the Gun-Free Zone designation. This chart of school shootings shows a rather large number of incidents on school properties over the years during which the FGFZA has been in force. Schools are dangerous places despite federal efforts to prohibit guns on and near campuses. The people carrying those guns in Tennessee schools now are not the law-abiding, authorized officials that this bill would allow in the educational halls of the Volunteer State.
There is no "magic bullet" for this problem. No two threat scenarios are created equal, and every emergency situation will have its own difficulties. A confrontation with a school shooter can have unpredictable outcomes, but I would find it far more comforting to know that there was someone acting on the side of the kids and the other teachers in that crucial moment of need. A well-trained defender on site has a much better chance of averting a massacre than a police force that cannot possibly reach the scene in time. It is not a perfect solution, but it is a step toward actual protection of children in schools.