An internet survey of teachers across Georgia shows a lack of enthusiasm for the idea of putting guns in their hands, a strategy President Donald Trump espoused to thwart mass shooters.
A majority, 53 percent, said they wouldn’t carry a firearm at school if their school district allowed it.
The online survey by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, the state’s largest educator advocacy group, came after the president called for bonuses for educators who volunteered to carry a firearm. The vast majority of respondents, 70 percent, said a financial incentive wouldn’t change their answer.
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Under Georgia law, school districts can authorize teachers and other school personnel to carry firearms. So far, none has, though Bleckley County Schools about 90 minutes southeast of Atlanta wrote on Twitter recently that it was considering the idea. Many schools are served by school district police, but given the cost to employ trained, sworn officers, it’s rare to have them stationed in schools.
Of the nearly 7,700 PAGE members who answered the survey questions, fewer than one in five said they would carry a gun at school, with the rest undecided. Opposition to the idea dropped slightly, to 49 percent, if the school district were to encourage firearms, with 30 percent saying they would carry in that case and the rest unsure.
PAGE has about 90,000 members, so the respondents represent fewer than one in 10 members. Since the group was self-selected, unlike in a randomized poll, it’s difficult to estimate how well their answers reflect the views of the overall membership.
Still, the results track the official attitudes of national groups like the National Education Association, an influential teachers’ lobby that competes with PAGE for members in Georgia. NEA’s president, Lily Eskelsen García, said last month that “bringing more guns into our schools does nothing to protect our students and educators from gun violence.”
Though the Georgia survey respondents generally seemed to sympathize with that position, many would likely take issue with the “nothing” in her comment: a plurality of teachers in the PAGE survey, 44 percent, said they would feel more secure if school employees were carrying firearms. And if those personnel were sworn officers, support was overwhelming: more than 90 percent wanted a school police officer in every school.
That’s unlikely to happen in a state that has shorted its education budget by $167 million for two years in a row, after several years with much greater shortfalls.
Anyway, the teachers aren’t holding their breath: When asked if they thought policymakers were listening to them on this issue, a tiny fraction, 7 percent, answered “yes.”
The survey results came days ahead of Wednesday’s nationwide student walkout to protest gun violence, after 17 people were shot dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. last month.
Isaiah Hamilton, who is in sixth grade at Atlanta’s Inman Middle School, where students participated in the walkout, said he didn’t trust teachers with firepower.
“If teachers are allowed to have guns, they could use them whenever they feel threatened,” the boy said. “A teacher could use a gun to threaten a kid.”
He said she’d rather see trained officers carrying guns.
Some gun-rights advocates contend that the student protests were funded by gun opponents — “the left,” as Jerry Henry, executive director of GeorgiaCarry.org, put it recently.
“It’s an opportunity to have children further a liberal agenda,” he said. “Would the schools allow a demonstration for the Second Amendment?”
But Meria Carstarphen, the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, said students, even those in middle school, were mature enough to know their own minds.
“I think they did understand it. They expressed themselves in ways that are appropriate for their age and their stage of development,” she said after Wednesday’s walkout. “Kids are saying that, by and large, they want to feel safe, they want to feel respected, and that, by and large, guns in schools make them feel uncomfortable.”