OPINION: Lite Guv Burt Jones’ plan to arm teachers is gunning for votes

03/25/19 - Dublin -  Jenna Eason / jennaeasonphotography@gmail.com
Students wait for their parents to pick them up at East Laurens Middle-High School on Monday behind a sign that warns visitors of the school that staff members are armed with weapons to protect students.

Credit: Jenna Eason

Credit: Jenna Eason

03/25/19 - Dublin - Jenna Eason / jennaeasonphotography@gmail.com Students wait for their parents to pick them up at East Laurens Middle-High School on Monday behind a sign that warns visitors of the school that staff members are armed with weapons to protect students.

This one’s straight from the book of, “Well, why not? I got nuthin’ better.”

I’m referring to Lt. Gov. Burt Jones’ brainchild to pay teachers $10,000 to be packing at school.

The proposal isn’t new. The idea of arming teachers and other school personnel was carved into law in the state’s 2014 ″Guns Everywhere” bill.

But since then, very few of Georgia’s 181 school districts have taken it up. There are two that I know allow personnel to carry heat — Cobb and Laurens counties. (In Cobb, teachers can’t carry. Other employees can.) Two other school districts — Fannin and Gordon counties — approved teachers to carry but its unclear if they actually do. (They didn’t answer me.)

The new idea seems to be that if you offer up 10 grand to underpaid and overworked teachers they’ll go for it. Why not? Perhaps the kids will behave if they think the social studies teacher is armed.

The proposal is another wrinkle on the old NRA slogan: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Or perhaps an algebra teacher with a Glock.

I mean, what could go wrong?

Well, The Giffords Law Center, which stays up at night worrying about such proposals, did a study and discovered almost 100 incidents where guns were mishandled at schools in the past five years. Those were “reported” incidents, so there are assuredly many more. Included were: A teacher’s loaded gun falling from his waistband while performing a cartwheel. A teacher unintentionally firing a gun in class during a “safety” demonstration. And a student wrestling away a deputy’s gun while the officer tried to subdue him.

And that was a trained law enforcement officer, not a teacher who went to gun range a couple of times and sat through an anger management class.

Lt. Gov. Jones, who wants to one day erase the lieutenant before his job title, knows gunplay is popular with the Republican base, so why not grab an issue to wave around when he runs in 2026 for the state’s top job? (And by top job, I mean governor, because Kirby Smart will be ensconced as the Bulldogs’ coach).

Jones, himself a Georgia Bulldog football player from 25 years ago, uttered the political equivalent of some sports cliches when asked about the plan.

“You know, I mean, in this day and time, it’s sad, but it is the sign of the times that we have to go to these lengths to protect our children; but it’s just where we are,” he said last week at a press conference. I don’t know if he shrugged when he said this. But it sure was a verbal shrug.

The idea, and the funding for it, as one might assume, is not fully baked. One could even say half. But the reasoning is that cops in schools are expensive, perhaps $80,000 each a year, so this would be a force multiplier. One of the participants in the press conference referred to that $80,000 salary, noting, “We can take a stipend like this and multiply it by a factor of eight.”

Now, the idea that a barely trained teacher will jump out of the classroom with her pistol to confront a maniac with an AR-15 (the preferred armament of mass shooters) is absurd. Talk about being vastly outgunned.

In 2019, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked with school employees in Laurens County, Middle Georgia, a year after enacting a policy that allowed some to carry. The story said: “One Laurens teacher, who participates in the program, said the fact that she was required to run toward danger — something the school district emphasizes to those it has authorized to have the guns — didn’t sway her.”

It sounds like a plan, but...

A woman cries Tuesday, May 24, 2022, as she leaves the Uvalde Civic Center, in Uvalde, Texas. At least 19 students and two adults were killed when a gunman opened fire at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, according to Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott. (William Luther/San Antonio Express-News/Zuma Press/TNS)

Credit: TNS

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Credit: TNS

In 2018, a highly trained, 30-year police veteran waited outside the school for backup as a gunman inside Stoneman Douglas High School in Hollywood, Florida killed 17 and wounded another 17.

Four years later, a team of cops waited almost an hour in a hallway at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, as a gunman was inside a classroom. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed and another 17 were wounded.

One might think the best course would be for schools to install heavy doors on classrooms with substantial locks. And just bite the bullet and hire more trained cops.

Lisa Morgan, a DeKalb County kindergarten teacher who is president of the Georgia Association of Educators, told me she was horrified when she heard Jones’ proposal last week and still thinks it’s a terrible idea.

“One educator told me that I already have something to do if there’s an intruder in the building — it’s to keep my students safe and keep them calm and quiet,” she said. “People want to come up with a solution that looks easy, rather than solving the problem of violence in society.

“It’s, ‘We’ll put a Band-Aid over it.”

Jeff Hubbard, a veteran teacher who heads the Georgia Association of Educators chapter in Cobb, helped push back on the idea last year to have teachers in that district armed. Now, he said, school employees like principals, counselors, administrators or even nurses can be armed. That is, if they volunteer and are trained.

“Teachers’ job is to teach, not play sheriff or be Barney Fife,” he said.

Granted, this idea is nothing more than a political stunt. But, as you can guess, —in Georgia, political stunts sometimes become law.