Arm the teachers: That's what a former Pennsylvania teacher calls for in wake of Uvalde

Kim Strong
York Daily Record

The day after a teenager killed 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, a former Pennsylvania teacher posted this on Facebook: “Let teachers carry.”

It’s something Keith Williams, an Adams County English teacher until 2018, has been preaching for years.

“With a teacher, if it’s my kids in the classroom and I know that my kids are there and under threat, I literally have skin in the game. Those are my kids,” he said. “Who better to protect my kids than me. I don’t ever want to outsource that.”

He remembers, as a student and, later, a substitute teacher at Garden Spot High School in Lancaster, the rifle team's shooting range was on the property.

“You could hear people plinking away on .22s while we’re sitting in class,” said Williams, 47. Before he taught at New Oxford High School, students reloaded their ammunition in shop class, often carrying rifles into school to hunt at the end of the day. “It wasn’t a big thing.”

A woman cries and hugs a young girl outside the Willie de Leon Civic Center in Uvalde, Texas. A teenage gunman's rampage killed 19 students and two teachers and injured 17 others. Uvalde, Texas, is a small community about an hour from the Mexican border.

So, when the Uvalde massacre happened on May 24, he posted this to a Facebook group called Adams County Patriots: “As a public school teacher and CCW (concealed carry weapon) holder in Adams County for over 20 yrs, I approve this message. Let teachers carry.”

The responses were swift, some from parents, most agreeing with him.

One man said, “At the end of the day we protect politicians with guns but our kids get a gun free zone sign and we just sit here and wonder why schools are big targets.”

One mother disagreed, suggesting that some of her kids' teachers had "no place teaching" or carrying a weapon. If the country spent less money on aid for other countries, "we would have the money for armed guards at all schools,” she said.

Attempts to reach those parents were unsuccessful.

A former teacher posted this to Facebook one day after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. He believes teachers should be permitted to carry firearms.

Two weeks after Uvalde, the Ohio Legislature acted swiftly to pass a bill that would give local school boards the authority to allow teachers and school employees to carry firearms. Gov. Mike DeWine signed it Monday. The law goes into effect in three months.

"No school has to do this. This is up to a local school board," DeWine said.

Previously, Ohio required teachers to complete 700 hours of training before carrying a weapon; the new law requires up to 24 hours of training.

The state’s Fraternal Order of Police has been among more than 300 groups and individuals that have testified before Ohio’s criminal justice committee opposing the legislation.

“When armed, the teacher’s primary responsibility is no longer teaching but an armed first responder. She will be required to abandon her students and respond to whatever threat may be in the building at a moment’s notice,” said Mike Weinman, a retired Columbus, Ohio, police officer who was representing the FOP at a 2021 hearing.

In the year-plus debate over this legislation, about 20 people spoke in favor of it, according to National Public Radio.

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Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio signs House Bill 99 into law. The bill would make it easier for schools to arm teachers.

“The powerful gun lobby and their allies did not waste a second after the horrific killing of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School to call for arming teachers,” said Becky Pringle, the president of the nation’s largest labor union, the National Education Association, in a prepared statement. "Bringing more guns into school makes schools more dangerous and does nothing to shield our students and educators from gun violence. … Those lawmakers pushing to arm teachers and fortify school buildings are simply trying to distract us from their failure to prevent another mass shooting.”

The Pennsylvania State Education Association also stands firmly against firearms in the hands of educators, fearing it will put teachers and students at greater risk, said Chris Lilienthal, assistant director of communications for PSEA.

“There’s an incredible amount of training needed for the safe use of a firearm and there’s also an incredible amount of training for understanding what to do in a crisis situation, being able to diffuse the situation,” he said.

PSEA is looking at a variety of angles for improving the safety of students and staff, including an increase in state funding for adding nurses, counselors, psychologists and social workers into schools because the ratio of mental health professionals to students isn’t at recommended levels in the state, he said.

Keith Williams, a former teacher in Adams County, believes educators should be permitted to receive training and carry a weapon in school.

Williams, the former English teacher who is now a labor consultant, argues for the voluntary involvement of armed educators.

“No one’s telling you you have to put your hand up and coach. No one’s telling you you have to be in charge of the yearbook or the school newspaper,” he said. “If there are teachers who are interested and can qualify and demonstrate competence (to carry a firearm), then what is the issue there? If I put a uniform and a badge on, then suddenly I’m qualified?”

Kim Strong can be reached at kstrong@gannett.com.