Background: In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, state legislatures considered a flurry of legislation that would allow school districts to arm their teachers. In at least 15 states such legislation has been signed into law. Parallel to these developments, a lively and at times strident public debate on the appropriateness of arming public school teachers has emerged in the media, especially as a result of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February 2018. Although the two sides of the debate offer illuminating insights into the pitfalls and promises of arming teachers, both tend to focus almost exclusively on the empirical issue of student safety. As a result, the public debate fails to address several central ethical issues associated with arming public school teachers. This article is an effort to pay these issues their due attention.
Purpose: The purpose of this article is to examine the ethical implications of arming public school teachers. Specifically, the article analyzes three intersecting domains relevant to the ethics of armed teachers: children’s rights, educational environments, and the problem of school violence. In doing so, this article seeks to make clear what is morally and educationally at stake when adopting security policies such as arming teachers. Generalizing from this analysis, the article concludes with a deliberative heuristic for educators and policy makers who would like to address school security in a humane and ethically responsible way.
Research Design: The design of this research conforms to the standards of ethical inquiry and argumentation in education. The article draws heavily on arguments and observations made by teachers, administrators, and educational commentators in the public sphere; state and federal legislation; research in social psychology, psychology, and sociology; and ethical theory.
Conclusions: The main conclusion resulting from this analysis is that the ethical grounds for arming teachers lack merit. The first half of the article argues that the empirical idiom in which the public debate is often carried out obscures important ethical issues concerning students’ perceptions of safety and the integrity of the school learning environment. In particular, I show that both sides have overlooked the ways in which armed teachers can undermine students’ developmental rights—i.e., their rights to an autonomy-promoting civic education. The second half of the article argues that armed protection transforms the role of both the teacher and student such that the conditions of democratic teaching and learning are seriously endangered. In the final sections, the argument turns to the issue of public fear surrounding school violence and concludes that efforts to prevent school violence may be counterproductive, especially when they are not coupled with larger-scale socioeconomic reforms.