The Department of Education is currently mulling a plan that would allow states to use federal funds in order to buy guns for educators. Should the plan be approved, it would contradict the long-standing position of the federal government not to buy or subsidize the purchase of firearms on behalf of schools. The new policy would not exist in a vacuum. It would be additive to congressional funding — some $50 million dollars worth — set aside to fund safety measures and programs in the wake of a spate of deadly school shootings.
The money for the program being floated by Betsy DeVos, who had previously expressed interest in arming teachers, would come from the Student Support and Academic Enrichment program, which supplies funding grants to public schools in impoverished areas. The grants in that program are awarded to school districts in service of three major goals: providing a well-rounded education, improving school conditions for learning, and improving the use of technology for digital literacy. Reallocating funds from the SSAE to arm educators does not seem to be expressly prohibited by the law, but doing so is clearly out of sync with the program’s intention. In essence, the DoE would be using money set aside to help poor kids as a slush fund to subsidize weapons purchases.
If it opts to pursue this provocative program, DoE officials will have to argue that the gun purchases would fall under “improving school conditions for learning” umbrella — implying in essence that a pistol is, like a textbook or a school computer, integral to the learning experience. But it’s not clear that more guns in the classroom will help kids learn — or even keep them safe. Dozens of studies suggest that there’s no clear correlation between presence of guns in the hands of the “right people” and safety. In fact, the opposite is likely true. And there’s absolutely no evidence that more guns mean better grades and educational outcomes.
What does seem to be the case is that the Trump administration is fervently pro-gun and less fervently pro-student. If that were not the case, this potential program would not be making headlines.
We know this because the data paints an extremely clear picture. At least 30 studies show that more guns are linked to more crime, not less. A 2015 study by the CDC and the FBI showed that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in states with the most guns than states with the least. A different study found that people with guns in their homes were twice as likely to be murdered than people without. Mark Hoefstra, an economics researcher from Texas A&M, found in a 2012 study that states with “stand your ground” laws and easier access to guns have an eight percent increase in homicides relative to other states. “We found that making it easier to kill people resulted in more dead people,” Hoefstra concluded.
What does that mean for kids? That they should fear gun-toting teachers. Data indicates that teachers with guns are more likely to kill them — regardless of stated intention. Past is prelude. And, no, fear does not improve school conditions.
Despite the consensus among experts, many states have already implemented their own arm-a-teacher programs in the name of school safety. For years, Texas has operated a marshal program under which unidentified employees of public schools are trained to carry firearms. After the Parkland shooting, Florida passed a bill to deputize some school staffers in a similar manner. And many schools already employ armed School Resource Officers.
“I think this proposal is absurd,” a Minnesota teacher who asked to remain anonymous told Fatherly. “Teachers are spending their own money out of pocket for supplies, textbooks, professional development opportunities, and in some states, even for copy paper and ink…. There’s no proof this would do anything to curb gun violence. Let’s spend our precious dollars on better preparing teachers to educate our students.”
Will Devos divert critical federal funding intended for our worst-performing, most vulnerable schools toward gun manufacturers? It’s a real possibility. The cowboy mentality of the Trump administration extends to the DoE, where it rarely makes sense. Devos knows, for instance, that valiant police officers in Santa Fe, Texas apprehended the school shooter there within just four minutes. She also knows that he had killed 10 people and injured 13 in that time. She knows this is an impractical proposal. She knows this is theater.
The question is this: Who exactly is Devos’s intended audience?