Fighting fire with fire

Guns have become one of the leading causes of death among American children and teens and the Spirit Lake school district has decided that the best way to tackle this issue is by allowing guns on school grounds.

America is currently suffering from two notable epidemics. COVID-19  may have put the world on hold and forced us to face some repercussions, but we managed to come together as a community and pulled through in the end. Still, we are recovering but the situation should soon become a distant memory in the years to come. Unfortunately, another deadly epidemic still remains: school shootings. 

On Aug. 24, 2022, the Spirit Lake School District of Iowa made the announcement of allowing 10 anonymous school staff members to carry around school guns. While the change will not be put forth immediately, as said staff members must be selected and complete a certified training course of 40 hours on weapon safety, it still goes to show that in this era of bullet-covered crimes, we still remain blind to the real source of this devastation.

West High principal Mitch Gross stated his disapproval of Spirit Lake’s new policy. “I do not favor that policy and I don’t think it will be productive at all. Concerns about gun violence is real and we need to work at limiting who has access to guns.”

To this day, America somehow has yet to find the solution to prevent these heinous incidents, and in the year 2022 alone, there have already been 29 separate shootings— such as the tragic massacre in Uvalde, Texas, where a total of 21 victims were killed at Robb Elementary School, including both staff and students. Along with one not far from West High itself, the shooting that killed 1 student and injured multiple others at Des Moines East high school, in March of 2022.

This brings the number to 121 school shootings since 2018. Because of this, we live in a world where it is second nature for students to know how to hide under their desks; where teachers take extra precautions to keep their classrooms safe; and where despite calls for tighter gun restrictions, school boards decide to go to drastic measures all for the sake of “protection.”

It’s really our obligation and duty to do whatever we can to protect them. And we talk about school shootings, and you have an active shooter, a killer, in your building, the number one way to save lives is to address the killer immediately

— Spirit Lake Community School District Superintendent David Smith

Ending with a unanimous vote of 4-0, the school board approved the policy with the intention of stopping school shootings by dealing with active shooters at once. However, what they believe is immediate action is in fact simply trying to deal with a situation that could’ve been avoided much sooner than after an active shooter enters school grounds. In 4 out of 5 school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it. 93% of school shooters plan the attack in advance. 

The true key to prevention is, in fact, spreading awareness of the issue and its causes. The most common factor in all school shooters is showing signs of being under immense mental distress before the incident or being diagnosed with some form of mental illness. While mental illness certainly is not the cause of school shootings, providing students with the resources in order to help them take care of their individual mental health is something any school district should always be open to. This is a very clear risk factor that tackling head-on would have been a much safer option, and that should have been taken into account by the Spirit Lake School District before deciding to allow the very weapon that defines this crime onto school grounds. U.S. mass shootings, by prior signs of shooter's mental health issues 2022 | Statista

From the beginning, the very idea of allowing staff to be armed was a feeble attempt at gun violence prevention at best. While claiming to have done enough research to assure that this new policy would be a successful solution, there have yet to be any conclusive studies done to prove whether school reinforcement officers (SROs) have made any positive or negative changes to school environments. Yet, Spirit Lake Community School District does not find itself alone on this stand. Iowa is joined by twenty-eight other states who allow staff to carry firearms under varying conditions. Even the ICCSD had been considering issuing armed SROs at one point. When it comes to this issue, the cost is simply too high for the reward. 

Gross also stated that if ICCSD were to adopt a policy similar to Spirit Lake’s, “I think there would be very strong some pushback from our community.”

Some of the main arguments that are for this type of solution include saving money by arming staff since money would be going towards arming staff instead of hiring full-on security personnel, which is noticeably more expensive, and there have been occasions in which the active shooter has often taken their own life after being confronted by an authority figure with a gun. It is these types of reasoning that show where exactly priorities lie— in budget cuts and killing the shooter over the students’ safety.

Chart: How The U.S. Public Feels About Arming Teachers | StatistaIt should also be noted that the cons include the mishandling of weapons, which clearly puts the students in danger, and has occurred in 65 separate incidents reported since 2014. On top of students’ well-being, it should also be considered that allowing staff to carry guns solely for the sake of preventing gun violence puts the responsibility of them putting their lives in danger in order to stop active shooters and protect their students.  This not only takes a toll on mental health, but also it really should be taken care of by the respected authorities in the first place. 14 Arming Teachers Pros and Cons – Should Teachers Be Armed? |

The National School Safety and Security Services, a program used to help create more secure school environments against emergencies, even got involved in the debate to speak against arming staff. It explains there are simply too many unknown variables when it comes to taking on the responsibility of school safety through weapons to be able to really assure that it is for the better good. Can the school boards really provide a thorough enough training and safety course so staff can avoid any incidents entirely? In cases of accidental shootings, how will the school district be able to handle the outcomes? What kind of firearms would be acceptable to carry on grounds and how is such acceptability measured? By appropriateness? Functionality? Were these factors ever considered during the decision-making at the Spirit Lake Community School District?

The vast majority of teachers want to be armed with textbooks and computers, not guns

— Kenneth S. Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services

Every statistic found on having guns in the home reaches the same conclusion that it puts more lives, especially minors, in danger. There have been at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children under the age of 18 between the years 2015 to 2020 who had access to guns, mainly inside their own homes. This is referring to households that most likely don’t even house more than half a dozen people. So what would those statistics be like in a school setting which can hold student bodies up to hundreds? Especially when you factor into the incidents that are not, in fact, “accidents.” The decision that Spirit Lake Community School District has made may be risking the lives of thousands of students and staff members all for the sake of defeating an individual whose actions can be unpredictable. 

There are different ways to read a dystopian story these days. One is taking comfort in the fact that we are a long way off before society spirals out of control to the point where people fear being able to live to the next day. This way, the stories remain only fantasies. On the other hand, one can sympathize with the fact that it is already too late and most of us are already living in our worst nightmares: we just haven’t realized it. And when we live in a world where, statistically, 12 children die each day from gun violence, the latter seems more like the only way to interpret dystopian. This particular school district’s call to action to prevent such tragedies may be the thing to bring it forward, so shouldn’t we as students be able to speak out and say this isn’t the way? Considering it concerns the safety of the children, shouldn’t the students’ thoughts have been taken into consideration? It is doubtful we were even asked. It is said to never find oneself on the wrong end of a gun, but in this case, it might not be referring to the barrel. Either way, fighting fire with fire only causes more damage to clean up in the end.

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