Guns in the Classroom: Professors’ Perspectives

Skylar Britt, Reporter

As America faces the reality of innocent lives lost in another school shooting, many are searching for solutions to the violence. One proposal of arming teachers with firearms has been discussed, including by President Donald Trump. However, for some professors at Park University, it brings reason to believe it would cause more bad than good.

Dennis Okerstrom, Ph.D., an English professor of 31 years at Park University, said this is “the dumbest idea” he’s heard in a long time.

“It won’t work,” said Okerstrom. “If you stop and think about all the factors that go into it such as training, money and securing the gun, it simply will not work. How can teachers be expected to take down those who are armed with large weapons?”

Even with the years of training and certifications he has earned through the Coast Guard and law enforcement, the idea of arming teachers made him very uneasy.

“I still would not want a gun on my hip,” he said.

“People who are specially trained, miss,” said Okerstrom. “Do you really think packed hallways and classrooms are safer with teachers who are not too comfortable with guns? They may miss and shoot an innocent student or mistake someone reaching for their cellphone as reaching for a gun in the heat of an argument. Adrenaline can severely cloud your judgment.”

He fears that this will not only affect the students’ safety, but also their learning experience, which is typically the main reason students go to school in the first place.

“The dynamic changes when students know their teacher is packing,” said Okerstrom. “It’s insane to expect a teacher to face down a person loaded with a large gun. It is beyond stupid.”

Some Park University students have expressed knowing their teacher is carrying a gun would put them on edge even if they were only carrying as an attempt to keep them safe. During a class discussion, a few classmates said it may be hard to focus on their learning with weapons in the class. Okerstrom also conveyed his concern on how easy it could be for someone who has bad intentions to sneak behind the teacher or professor to obtain the gun.

“It’s a terrible idea,” said Park University English professor Glenn Lester. While he does not have any weapons training experience, the idea of carrying also made him trepidatious.

“I would resist any kind of requirement that I carry a firearm because I think it’s dangerous and the decisions made at a university should always be what’s going to help students learn and be successful,” said Lester, “I think this would counteract it. It would make students feel unsafe.”

Both professors did not just criticize this idea of making teachers trained in educating students act as armed guards. They also offered more conceivable ideas on ways to keep people safe.

“I don’t think the proposal that we arm teachers is actually a serious proposal,” said Lester. “I think we need to zoom outside any school or even schools in particular. There are many more guns in the United States than in other comparable nations. We need to make it more difficult for anyone to acquire a gun period. It also seems to me that any solution is really complicated and has to appear on a broad social scale which is why I think this idea has been proposed.”

Okerstom suggested a detailed proposal.

“Schools can be made safer with a single ingress and egress door with sturdy locks and bulletproof windows,” said Okerstrom. “There needs to be more background checks, and more emphasis on mental illness without painting them all as being violent and the absolute proliferation of guns meant for one thing: to kill. Make the magazines only five shots. Having more than this should be a ten-year sentence. Only have two magazines. No one needs more than this (ten shots). Let people have their AR’s but restrict the magazines. This would go a long way to reduce the casualties.”

The survivors of the most recent school shooting, at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have shown they want to turn this terrible event into a stepping stone to make a change. By speaking to leaders of the National Rifle Association and preparing for a march on Washington to happen in the following weeks, they are striving to make a change on the legislative level.

“The Florida students have changed the momentum and changed the beliefs of people on the NRA,” said Okerstrom. “They have changed the conversation. People won’t apply common sense to the 2nd Amendment. What about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? People are starting to be embarrassed by the NRA. I can’t even tell you how proud I am of the kids for not letting this go and for taking action. The future is in good hands when we have students like that. Something will change.”

Rather than hoping and praying something like this won’t happen again, the students are doing everything they can to ensure that it will not.

“I think the marches are really inspiring,” said Lester. “I hope they enforce changes at the legislative level. It’s clear these students have really done their homework and understand this legislation. I’d love to see them holding politicians feet to the fire.”