A talisman for public-school teachers

Whit W. Watts. Photo by David Loomis.

An Opinion

By Whit Watts

INDIANA — Years ago I was given a talisman in the form of a Saint Christopher medallion. At the time, I had no idea who Saint Christopher was. I was told the medallion would protect me on my travels. I can’t say I believed it would do so, but it was a gift and somewhat fashionable at the time. So, I put it on my key fob anyway.

I carried it for many years. While I was never the superstitious type, I must admit that in an odd sort of way I did derive a kind of empty comfort from it.

Today, many people take talismanic comfort from concealed weapons. We harbor vain hopes that concealed weapons will protect us in our travels, that they will serve as invisible deterrents and, if the time came, allow us, flat-footed and alone, to control the uncontrollable.

Such comfort is easy to obtain. If you can purchase a gun in Pennsylvania, then you can obtain a permit to conceal and carry it — no training or additional checks required.  I have no problem with that. As long as you’re sober, that’s fine by me. That’s your individual right.

As state Sen. Don White, R-Indiana, has pointed out,  Senate Bill 383, authorizing public-school personnel access to firearms, has nothing to do with individual rights. Carrying deadly force to protect the public is an entirely different matter.


 

AT THE VERY LEAST, public liability demands substantial training and practice. For amateurs, such as teachers, we would expect at least the same level of training as professionals receive, if not more so.  These days, even our professionals are finding their existing training to be “woefully inadequate.” So, if you think allowing teachers to carry firearms inside schools is a good idea, then what does Senate Bill 383 say about training?

What no one, and I mean no one, wants are more amateurs of the “I’m-maybe-sort-of-kind-of-trained for this” variety. Again, that’s fine for you as an individual. It is completely unacceptable when you are standing for the public.

So, knowing that one third of Indiana County residents are permitted to carry concealed guns, while interesting, should not inform policy options. Unlike protecting yourself, protecting others requires training.  If teachers, for example, received proper training, then they might not leave loaded handguns in school bathrooms. Let’s face it: A well-trained dog is a better option than a badly trained teacher.

I agree with Indiana school board member Walter Schroth that, by temperament, disposition and professional calling, those who educate and nurture children are not likely to be interested in prepping for a gun fight. Some teachers may entertain the idea. A select few may embrace it. I suspect that only those embracing the idea would commit to a properly rigorous training program.

So, most teachers will not enlist. Others will not waste their time. And probabilities being what they are, those who do will never have an occasion to act. So, what’s the point?

The value of Senate Bill 383 is local the clarification of just what our policy options are and will be. As I understand it and as the state Department of Education and the Indiana County district attorney have pointed out, the scope of the current law is “unclear and unsettled.” So, in the absence of other statutory provisions, the de facto policy reads something like: “Teachers can maybe carry if they want, depending, but we really don’t know.”

That is not a good policy. It’s a fog machine. So. cleaning up the law would be much appreciated.

 

THE TRAINING ELEMENT, however, would not be under local control. The commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police will determine that. That is a decision school districts do not make. I would hope that such programs would require a SWAT level of training and not the equivalent of some quick and cheap weekend workshop with the NRA.

So, for those of you who find arming teachers to be an attractive policy option, think training. Think lots of training, and then double it.

Two weeks ago, I went up the Indiana County Sheriffs’ Office. Being a slave to fashion, I thought I might obtain a carry permit. I just wanted to know, before purchasing a weapon, where I could carry it and what the law required. I asked folks at the front desk if they could give me anything outlining the law. They said they had nothing and referred me to the Pennsylvania attorney general’s web site.

I said I wasn’t much interested in a permit if the law was confusing. They said it was. That’s why they referred me to a web site. Too bad. I had just seen a very good deal on a Beretta in the Horse Trader.

 

NO BIG DEAL. A Saint Christopher medallion is a lot cheaper, if not as trendy, as a Beretta. I would, in any case, gain the same level of comfort from either of them. If I want a real deterrent, I can always take the dog.

 Whit W. Watts lives in Indiana. Pa.

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