Tennessee Rep All Wrong on Armed School Staff

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Tennessee State Rep. Justin J. Pearson made headlines for his anti-gun protest on the floor of the legislature after the Covenant School shootings, but the Memphis-area lawmaker has left me scratching my head over his column bashing a bill that would allow for trained, vetted volunteer staff on public school campuses to carry a firearm to serve as a first line of defense for students in case an armed assailant enters the school intent on causing harm. 


The thrust of Pearson's column is that we should listen to the parents, but only those who advocate for more gun control laws. As far as providing any actual evidence that arming school staff is a bad idea, the best that the anti-gunner can do is muster up some polling data he says supports his position. 

Here’s some more wisdom that Tennessee lawmakers could glean from parents: Immediately following The Covenant School massacre, grieving parents lined the streets and the entrance to the Tennessee State House, demanding common sense gun safety laws. Students walked out of schools across Nashville and Memphis making similar demands. We’ve seen a groundswell of similar protests in recent days, as parents and students raise their voices in opposition to the measure being considered in the House that could put guns in the hands of their teachers. 

Their sentiments are echoed across the country. A strong majority of Americans favor stricter gun safety laws in the US, according to a Gallup poll, and a similar majority of teachers believe arming them would make schools less safe, according to research by the Rand Corporation. In Tennessee, a wide majority — about three-quarters of registered voters — want red flag laws, according to polling last year from Vanderbilt University.

That "strong majority" of teachers that Pearson talks about? A whopping 54 percent, according to that RAND Corporation research. What Pearson didn't say is that, based on RAND's research, about 550,000 of the approximately 3,000,000 teachers would choose to carry a firearm on the job if they were allowed to do so. 


Pearson also never tried to rebut the research that shows armed school staff can save lives. It's much easier to simply pretend that the studies conducted by Purdue University researcher Dr. J. Eric Dietz don't exist than to try to explain away his findings.

Dr. J. Eric Dietz is the director of the Homeland Security Institute at Purdue University, and has been studying this issue for years with an eye towards reducing casualties and ending these active shooter incidents as quickly as possible. During today’s conversation, Dietz told me that computer modeling conducted by the HSI shows that two things can reduce fatalities in an active shooter situation on a school campus by more than 80%; the presence of a school resource officer who can engage the assailant, and 5-10% of school staff members who have been trained and are armed to protect kids in locked classrooms.

The idea isn’t teachers would be roaming the hallways looking for the attacker. Under Dietz’s modeling, that’s left up to law enforcement, with the armed staff members sheltering in place with their students and taking action only if the door to their classroom (or library, or administrative office) is breached.

Pearson's argument is long on emotion but decidedly short on facts. The truth is that if this bill becomes law, Tennessee teachers who don't want to carry a firearm in school will not be forced to do so. School districts that do adopt this measure will approve any teacher who wants to carry, and those educators or staffers will have to undergo 40 hours of law enforcement training (at their own expense) before they can carry on the clock. 


Pearson's op-ed at CNN mentions none of those salient facts. I guess he ran out of space after accusing the Republican majority of being in the pocket of the NRA and the Tennessee Firearms Association, once again without disclosing he's raised more than a million dollars off his anti-gun stunt on the floor of the Tennessee House. He's not speaking truth to power. He's a political hack looking to make a career for himself; first by standing against the Second Amendment, and now against a decidedly common sense approach to school safety. 

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