Opinion: Daily Journal

Attack school violence, not a straw man

Recent discussion about arming teachers in N.C. public schools offers a helpful reminder: Arguments based on straw men tend to go nowhere fast.

One who “attacks a straw man” sets about refuting a proposal that no one has made. Rather than winning the debate, he actually sidesteps it. He’s unlikely to convince skeptics to support his cause.

Before turning to the straw man’s role in the controversy over armed teachers, it might help to review a more productive discussion of the topic. Two N.C. legislators offered competing assessments of the idea on Jan. 25, three weeks before the Parkland, Florida, school shooting thrust school security issues into the national headlines.

“This goes across the spectrum to me — K-12 and everything — I’ve offered legislation that would allow principals to have concealed carry and teachers [to] have concealed carry with the approval of the principal in the schools,” said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, during a meeting of the Joint Legislative Emergency Management Oversight Committee.

“We need to pursue this,” Pittman added. “We need to allow people with proper training and concealed-carry permits to carry on campus — at least the teachers … who are properly trained and properly permitted should be able to do that.”

Armed school personnel could take action before law enforcement officers arrive at a school, Pittman explained. “I love our police,” he said. “They’re great. They do a wonderful job. They can’t be everywhere at once. And the people have a right to defend themselves.”

Pittman’s proposal generated a response from Sen. Ronald Rabin, a fellow Republican from Harnett County. “It is all very fine to talk about concealed-carry-permit people being able to carry weapons for the kinds of things we’re talking about,” Rabin said. “Unless you’ve been in the chaos of combat and been shot at, that is a slippery slope to be on. Consider it very, very carefully.”

Rabin’s a military veteran. Even with that background, he estimated that a shot he fired in a panic-fueled crisis would likely miss his target completely, shatter the clock on the wall of the legislative hearing room, and generate even more chaos. “There’s no way to figure out who’s going to shoot at what, where, when, how, and why,” he said. “When you start snapping those rounds off with a handgun, that round can go anywhere. You don’t really have time to do all this neat stuff you’re talking about.”

Whether the reader agrees with Pittman, Rabin, both, or neither, we all should agree they’re addressing the same issue. The same is not necessarily true of others who have entered the debate since the Feb. 14 Parkland shootings.

That high-profile case helped lead to the creation of a new state House school safety committee. It convenes March 21. That group has produced no draft legislation. Nor have its leaders suggested any special interest in arming teachers.

Pittman is not listed among the 47 committee members, and it’s unclear that his proposal will get a hearing. Regardless, critics of the new study group have focused much of their attention on teachers with guns.

A recent guest column in the Raleigh News & Observer features most of the critics’ key points. The author, a “member of N.C. State’s English department,” complains that advocates of guns in schools fail to spell out “whether all teachers should be armed or whether they should be required to qualify with their weapon, as a soldier or policeman would.”

He goes on to complain about potential costs, especially if teachers are forced to foot the bill themselves for a gun, ammunition, lessons, and gun club membership. “Most likely the present crop of conscientious teachers will thin itself out” as lawmakers instead push for a new type of teacher, “a 21st-century gun-toting badass recruited from the ranks of, say, the Navy Seals or Special Ops.”

Huh?

Even those who disagree with Pittman’s proposal would have a hard time pointing to any provision that suggests lawmakers would: a) force any principal or teacher to carry a gun; b) create additional expenses for local school districts; or c) replace current public school faculties with teams of G.I. Joes.

The author has set up a ridiculous straw man. It’s hard to take the rest of his argument seriously.

That’s too bad. Fair-minded observers could raise legitimate objections to armed teachers. Sen. Rabin mentioned one in his response to Pittman during the January meeting.

Objections might outweigh potential safety benefits. That’s why lawmakers should foster discussion “rooted in facts and data,” as John Locke Foundation expert Terry Stoops recommends.

Lawmakers should devote their time to attacking school violence, not straw men, as they proceed with their work later this month.

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation.