The lockdown alarm came during seventh period. Over the intercom, the principal told us to keep our students in the classrooms. “This is not a drill,” she said, her voice wavering just enough to tell me she was nervous, that she was scared and we should be, too.
I quickly counted my students, high school juniors who had been in the middle of preparing presentations on The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Then I checked the lock on the door, turned the lights off, and closed the blinds, a rote procedure I’d had to complete several times before. Even though this was in 2017, more than a year before the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, we had already gone through “Run, Hide, Fight” training. This wasn’t our first threat.
Our school had had multiple call-ins. Previously, two other students had divulged elaborate plans on social media and wrote specific threats on bathroom walls, informing classmates on how to stay safe when they shot up the school. The principals took photos of the message on the tile, and they passed it around to English teachers, like me, hoping one of us could identify the culprit by their handwriting, but none of us could.
When their planned day arrived, maybe one-tenth of the student body came to class. No violence played out that day, but the school never caught the plotters, either. But that was different. It was an act of terror. They had made many threats beforehand, giving us time to panic, to stew in our own fear.
When this lockdown came, we hadn’t gotten any warning. This was real. But what was going on? That, we didn’t know. My students, sitting on the floor in the half-lit room, talked in hurried whispers as I dragged my computer under my desk. I had to keep checking my school email for updates, even while in my hiding place.
I was afraid for my life a few too many times during my teaching career, but I never wished that I was carrying a gun. Florida Republicans think they know better than classroom teachers like me. If they have their way, Florida teachers will be able to carry a gun in their classrooms next year.
On Tuesday, the Florida Senate endorsed SB 7030, a bill that, if made into law, would expand Florida’s controversial “guardians” program, which was part of a school safety bill enacted in the aftermath of Parkland just last year. The program gave special law enforcement training to some school personnel with the hopes that these “guardians” would help schools respond during active shooter incidents. This idea doesn’t sound so bad—until you realize how many more guns it would bring into schools.
The new law, which is now heading to the Florida House and one step closer to Gov. Ron DeSantis’s desk, would allow firearms to proliferate on campuses across the state by giving thousands of teachers the option to carry a gun in their classrooms. The bill allows individual school districts to choose their own policies regarding who will and won’t be armed, so it’s more than likely that guns are about to spring up in classrooms in the reddest parts of the state.
“This bill does not arm one single, solitary teacher,” said Republican state Sen. Manny Díaz Jr., the bill’s sponsor. “What this bill does is provide the 67 school districts, the 67 different communities in the state, with the ability to do what they need to do to protect our kids.”
I, for one, would not feel more protected as a teacher or as a student. I can’t imagine carrying a gun in my classroom. I could barely write referrals and almost never handed out detentions (not that they weren’t sorely needed), so I doubt I’d be able to use a gun in a school setting, even if I needed to. Teachers already do so much. We’re presenters of knowledge, entertainers, confidants, friends, therapists, career counselors, and sometimes surrogate parents, all while being experts on the subjects that we teach. We can’t be expected to become cops, too.
Democratic state Sen. Bill Montford agrees. “I believe that it’s wrong to ask our teachers at the flip of a switch to change from being a teacher to a law enforcement officer, to be a teacher who is loving and kind to these children, to pick up a weapon and step outside and confront an active shooter,” said Montford. In other words, none of us signed up for this.
But the problem with arming teachers goes far beyond concern for the teachers themselves. Arming teachers would create a hostile environment that would be detrimental to all students, but especially to students of color. The school-to-prison pipeline is still going strong, and many schools already have a culture of punishment instead of support. More black preschoolers—yes, preschoolers!—are suspended than their peers of any other race. What’s more, black students make up just about 16 percent of the national student body, but they account for more than one quarter of the students whose actions inside schools are referred to the police.
If kids are afraid to go to school already, adding guns to campuses would put black and brown students even more on edge than they already are. Training and arming teachers like cops would make de facto police out of them. Black and brown students would have real reason to be afraid.
“Police violence disproportionately impacts young people, and the young people affected are disproportionately people of color,” Anthony Bui of the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, wrote in a report for the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Schools are supposed to be safe spaces where students can come to learn, regardless of their backgrounds. Some kids might feel safer with more guns in their schools, but for many students of color, this law would strip away their last measure of safety. Adding guns to the school environment amplifies the level of hostility that these vulnerable kids already face.
Imagine being afraid of being killed by a cop and then, suddenly, all of your teachers become armed law enforcement. How would you feel about speaking your mind if you knew your teacher was packing heat? Would you even want to go to school?
I wouldn’t want to work in a school that was so openly militant, either. I taught through many threats, including the one described above (thankfully, it ended without incident). But even as we crouched and hid, I never imagined that a gun could save me. Nothing made me feel as safe as our concrete-block walls and a couple of locked doors.
Rebecca Renner is a writer and professor from Daytona Beach, Florida. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, The Atlantic’s CityLab, and Pacific Standard. Follow her on Twitter @RebeccaRennerFL and read more of her work on rebecca-renner.com.