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Critics Say Arming Teachers Will Create New Dangers

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

One of President Trump's proposals for protecting kids from mass shootings in school is to make school buildings more secure.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We have to take steps to harden our schools so that they're less vulnerable to attack. This includes allowing well-trained and certified school personnel to carry concealed firearm.

INSKEEP: Possibly including teachers. Jamelle Bouie is the chief political correspondent for Slate, who writes that arming teachers would endanger students of color. He joins us now via Skype to talk about this.

Good morning.

JAMELLE BOUIE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So the idea is to protect students. Why would students of color be endangered by teachers with guns?

BOUIE: So we know that students of color - black and Latino students, in particular - are more likely to face school discipline, more likely to sort of face sanction for behavior that wouldn't necessarily receive sanction if done by white students. This is consistent across the country. This is consistent up and down the age range. And so this is true for preschoolers and kindergartners as true as it is for high schoolers. And we know that students of color are often more likely to be considered dangerous by their teachers. And again, all of this is adjusted for behavior. It's not the case that B students are behaving worse. It's perception of their behavior by predominately white teachers.

INSKEEP: I guess we should even note there are occasions where you even have teachers of color who would admit that they treated people of color differently. It's not solely a white thing. It's a widespread prejudice.

BOUIE: Right. And so it's actually not that difficult, once you establish those facts about the way students of color are perceived and treated, to imagine situations where - tense situations where teachers fearing - you know, fearing for their safety, to borrow a phrase from police shootings, end up discharging their weapons, using their weapons when, you know, that isn't called for.

INSKEEP: So is your concern that you have a teacher who doesn't wait for a school shooter, just the teacher's got the gun in the desk, got the gun in the locker, or got the gun - I don't know, in a holster, wherever the gun is, and in some kind of situation in the classroom, pulls that weapon on a student.

BOUIE: Yes. That's essentially my concern. And a point I made - I wrote about this not long ago, and a point I made in that piece is that whenever you kind of expand the state's ability to do violence - regardless of what that means - let's say stop and frisk - that inevitably targets - that inevitably reaches, disproportionately, people of color, whether they're black, Latino - usually black, often Latino, as well. And so just by sort of that law of American policy making, putting weapons into the hands of teachers, regardless of how well-trained they are, will inevitably lead to one of those weapons being used against a student, and a student of color.

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about what you want to do about this, Jamelle Bouie, because it does appear that we are on our way to more weapons being held by people who are supposed to be protecting students in schools - maybe not teachers all over the place, although it already happens in some places. It's being considered elsewhere. You have the governor of Florida, Rick Scott, talking about $500 million for extra school security, including law enforcement officers in schools. There's going to be more guns in schools. What would you want to do about that to prevent harm as a result?

BOUIE: Here's the thing. I'm not sure if there's anything that can be done to prevent the kind of harm that I am concerned with. I think - you know, we already have plenty of evidence that suggests that, say, school resource officers - police officers in schools - are more likely to sort of use force against black and Latino students. So if you're going to be putting more weapons in the schools, more armed guards in the schools, I think it is essentially inevitable that something is going to go wrong at some point. And so I'm not sure how you provide a prophylactic for that. I think the prophylactic for that is not to put more weapons and armed security guards in schools.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, are you willing, then, to run that risk that there's another school shooter, which, eventually, there will be, and nobody is there to confront that person with a gun?

BOUIE: Given how we have had shooters in multiple scenarios enter schools in places where there were armed people, where there were people - people wore guns, and that did not stop them, I have no reason to think that that wouldn't be true of schools as, well.

INSKEEP: Parkland, Fla., apparently, being one of them. Jamelle Bouie, thank you very much.

BOUIE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He writes for Slate and joined us via Skype. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.