Arming Teachers Wrong Response to School Shootings: Ex-FBI Agent

A former FBI special agent warned in an op-ed Sunday that arming teachers would be an "alarming" and risky response to addressing mass shootings in U.S. schools.

Tracy Walder, who received extensive training in both firearms and situational awareness as an FBI agent and former staff operations officer at the CIA, explained in The Hill that most educators have never undergone the lengthy and nuanced training that it takes to respond to an active shooter.

"Most teachers are not trained in situational awareness. It is not hard to learn to shoot a gun; teachers could learn this with a few days of training. What takes far longer, however, is learning to respond properly to an active shooter," wrote Walder, who herself is now a teacher.

"Asking teachers to carry weapons and assuming they will be prepared for such a situation is risky," she continued. "To dampen the pre-conditioned fear response to an active shooter scenario would require working with teachers on a case-by-case basis."

Armed teachers debate
Former FBI agent Tracy Walder warned Sunday that arming teachers would be a "risky" response to school shootings. Here, a gun control advocate holds a sign during a protest Friday after the deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Eric Thayer/Getty Images

Her op-ed comes days after a deadly mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, resulted in the deaths of 19 children and two teachers, and reignited a longstanding debate about gun reform across the nation. Democratic lawmakers and activists are among those calling for stricter gun laws after the latest massacre. Others, including many Republican politicians and law enforcement officials, have instead proposed ramping up security and placing firearms into the hands of school officials to act as a line of defense.

Train Police, Not Teachers, on School Shootings

Rather than forcing educators to undergo the "necessary emotional and psychological" training, Walder wrote, "perhaps we need to reconsider how we train police officers."

During the Uvalde shooting, nearly two dozen local police officers who were on-site during the attack failed to respond quickly to the massacre. The gunman was able to access the school and open fire on students and teachers for nearly an hour before federal officers finally charged a classroom and killed him.

Aside from training, Walder wrote, other questions on arming teachers would need to be considered, including: "What happens if a teacher's gun is left unlocked, is stolen, or gets wrestled away from a teacher by a disturbed student? Would giving guns to teachers make students feel safer, or would it put them more on guard, when instead they should be open to learning?"

The former FBI agent noted that after leaving her law enforcement positions and taking on a teaching role, she "never imagined that someday I would be discussing with students and colleagues the question of whether to arm teachers."

"As a law enforcement officer, it was my job to protect citizens; as an operations officer, I protected human assets. Being armed helped me to do those jobs. As a teacher, my role is to educate students, enable them to become critical thinkers and, hopefully, to help them achieve their dreams. Carrying a gun would not help me do any of those things," she concluded.

Guns in schools
Guns in a fingerprint-activated safe, placed in designated classrooms around Sidney High School school in case of an active shooter, are seen at the school in Sidney, Ohio, on October 31, 2019. MEGAN JELINGER/AFP/Getty Images

Debate Over Arming Teachers

The concept of arming teachers throughout the U.S. is not new. At least 28 states allow schools to arm teachers or staff in at least some cases, or as part of a specific program, according to a 2020 analysis by the think tank RAND Corporation.

Additionally, more than 100 bills aimed at arming school officials were submitted across 34 states between 2018 and 2021, with more than a third of that legislation introduced in response to school shootings in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, according to Politico. The majority of those bills failed to advance, but the conversation continues to gain traction in the aftermath of deadly attacks.

Teachers Not Keen on Carrying Guns

Surveys taken over the past several years have indicated that a vast majority of teachers are against the idea of being armed at school. One poll, which surveyed over 2,900 U.S. teachers in 2019, found that 95.3 percent of respondents do not believe teachers should carry guns in classrooms.

Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association, echoed that sentiment in statement earlier this week.

"Bringing more guns into schools makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence," she said, according to Politico. "We need fewer guns in schools, not more. Teachers should be teaching, not acting as armed security guard."