This June just outside of Denver, Colorado, a number of teachers gathered together for an elective course in school safety. Under the instruction of police officers and other educational personnel, the teachers put on soundproof earmuffs, gathered loaded pistols, and fired at targets—blue silhouettes of adult male figures with the organs drawn and labeled for maximum impact.
The organization that ran the training that day was the Faculty/Administrator Safety Training & Emergency Response (FASTER), which was formed in response to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Its founding mission is to protect students from school shootings, and its modus operandi is to encourage the dissemination of firearms across classrooms and train teachers in marksmanship and “violence response.” The program is predicated on the assumption that teachers can shoot and kill an assailant, such as a student.
While countries that have strict gun control, including Japan, Australia, the UK, Norway, and Sweden have reduced gun violence to as low as 0.0 murders per 100,000 citizens, compared to the USA’s 3.0 murders per 100,000 citizens, organizations such as FASTER are as confident that their policies will reduce gun violence as their counterparts that advocate for gun control. Their growing voice is problematic not least of which because the claim that armed teachers yield safe schools is unsubstantiated. And their voice is deceptive, because while it claims to speak out of an interest in school safety, it comes from the throats of Second Amendment rights groups and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
FASTER, which was developed it in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting, is a nonprofit program sponsored by the Buckeye Firearms Foundation. This organization has been showered with awards from groups like the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, which advocates for hunting and recreational gun use. Each participant in attendance at the training program in Colorado received an additional $1,000 scholarship from Coloradans for Civil Liberties, a second amendment rights group.
Furthermore, the larger narrative that arming American schools to prevent armed violence is one that stems directly from Washington’s indestructible Goliath, the NRA. In a widely decried press conference only a week after Sandy Hook, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre proposed that armed volunteers protect schools and that gun-free school zones be eliminated. The NRA has funded studies such as one published in 2013, authored by a 12-person task force, called the School Shield Program, that ultimately concluded that local government should decide whether or not their schools require armed volunteers and permit trained teachers to bear arms at all times. According to Ada Hutchinson, the leader of the task force, “Everything from a sidearm, to a shotgun, to an AR-15,” would be acceptable for teachers to carry or keep in their classrooms.
In June, the instructors at FASTER, “spent time on this question: Do these educators, who normally work as caretakers, have the right mindset to kill a shooter? What if the shooter is a student?” The answers are ones we should never need to know. Substantial gun control would reduce gun violence including school shootings so that teachers do not find themselves firing on their own students or risking death in their classrooms. It is this solution that the NRA as well as FASTER and Second Amendment rights groups, are impeding by confusing the narrative.
As a growing number of survivors directly call upon their government to take action and effect gun control, it will become more difficult for the NRA and its affiliate organizations to propagate false claims. Where hard statistics about gun control have failed to silence those who would deny the merits of gun control, perhaps the direct pleas of victims can prevail.
As President Obama said in 2015 after the shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, “We know there are ways to prevent [gun violence].” Perhaps someday Americans will act on the knowledge that they have long had, that removing guns rather than distributing them is the surest measure to keep schools safe.
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