Georgia district weighs arming teachers. Responsible or risky?

Credit: Bob Andres

Credit: Bob Andres

The Fannin County School System in north Georgia is considering allowing teachers to carry guns, a proposal that has the endorsement of the superintendent and sheriff.

The Fannin school board will discuss that possible new policy -- which is legal under state law -- next month. In the wake of the Feb. 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., other school districts around the country are debating whether students would be better protected if teachers were armed. But, like the general gun debate in America, arming teachers remains a polarizing issue.

Some applaud the idea, including President Donald Trump who declared shortly after a former student killed 17 students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, “If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly. They'd go for special training and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone."

However, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, countered, "Teachers don't want to be armed, we want to teach."

If Fannin approved the policy, it would be a first in Georgia. While a handful of rural districts, including Floyd and Bleckley, raised the possibility in the wake of Parkland, metro Atlanta school districts have rejected the idea.

In a letter explaining his support, Fannin Superintendent Michael Gwatney wrote, "Emergencies do occur, though, and just like a defibrillator, a tourniquet, or a fire extinguisher, a firearm is – at its core – a tool. The spirit of board policy…is to create an opportunity for certain trained volunteer personnel to use that tool to stop – or at least minimize – the damage being done by one who has complete disregard for human life, as well as society's laws, and is inappropriately using a weapon to harm or kill others.

“As a professional educator, I will be the first to say that simply increasing the number of weapons already legally on our campuses is not, at least in of itself, the answer. We must admit that the objects that may be weapons are generally not the issue; the issue is when any object – whether a gun or knife or anything else – is misused by a person who intends to do harm,” wrote Gwatney, whose mother was a teacher in Fannin and father was in law enforcement., a local publication covering Fannin, reported Sheriff Dane Kirby gave his blessing, telling the school board last week: "I think that drastic acts require drastic responses."

Three weeks ago, the Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office held a firearms training seminar for teachers and school staff. About 100 educators showed up for the “Responsible Carry for Educators” program, even though only law enforcement officers can carry guns in Gwinnett schools under current rules.

Here is the language of the Possession of Weapons by Employees policy under review in Fannin:

The Board of Education may authorize certain personnel to possess or carry weapons on any property or in any building owned or leased by the District, at a school function, or on a bus or other transportation furnished by the District, subject to the following conditions:

1. Training of approved personnel shall occur prior to their authorization to carry weapons. The training shall be approved in advance by the Superintendent and Fannin County Sheriff and shall, at a minimum, include training on judgment pistol and long gun shooting, marksmanship, and a review of current laws relating to the use of force for the defense of self or others. The Superintendent, with the approval of the Fannin County Sheriff, may substitute for certain training requirements an individual’s prior military or law enforcement service if he or she has previously served as a certified law enforcement officer or has had military service which involved similar weapons training. To receive and subsequently maintain authorization, all approved personnel shall regularly qualify to the standard required by the Fannin County Sheriff for each type of weapon authorized.

2. An approved list of the types and quantity of weapons and ammunition each approved individual is authorized to possess or carry shall be prepared and maintained by the Superintendent and shall be approved by the Fannin County Sheriff;

3. Selection of personnel to possess or carry a weapon shall be done strictly on a voluntary basis. The final appointment will be made by the Superintendent consistent with the requirements of this policy. Each employee appointed must be licensed under the laws of the state to carry a firearm and shall be subject to an annual criminal history background check. Approval will not be granted for any employee who has had an employment or other history indicating any type of mental or emotional instability as determined by the Board or Superintendent. The Superintendent shall be able at any time to remove or suspend the authority granted to any employee under this policy; and

4. Weapons possessed or carried by personnel under this paragraph shall be secured as follows: Concealed weapons are permitted if they are carried in a holster and not in a purse, briefcase, bag, or similar other accessory which is not secured on the body. If maintained separate from the body, the weapon shall be maintained in a secured lock safe or similar lock box that cannot be easily accessed by students.

I asked educators on AJC Get Schooled Facebook what they thought of the Fannin plan. Among their responses:

-I would only agree to being armed if I could carry on my person, receive full training, be protected from future lawsuits, and those armed are not named-just a sign notifying that armed staff are on location. The thought of armed personnel on campus would deter most people. But first, let's beef up security (metal detectors with locked double-door foyer), entry points around schools with teacher badge so we don't have to leave them unsecured, more power and resources to get help for these unstable individuals, and eliminate all high power automatic weapons except for those who need them. There is so much that needs to be done, at least conversations are happening. That's the first step.

-I don't teach in this county but have clearly stated to my husband and my principal that the day I am expected to be armed and other teachers as well is the day I leave and take my children with me.

-Seems like a better idea than the current "lambs to the slaughter" strategy.

- Personally, I feel professional armed guards is the way to protect our kids but I traveled Fannin County for years. I'd venture to say its residence generally have a good record with firearms from the age they could walk.

- If you need more school resource officers, hire them. Arming teachers is a terrible idea. One mistake is too many in this situation.