In a bizarre move, the provincial cabinet of the KPK government has decided to allow teachers and staff members to carry firearms on school premises so that they could “engage attackers for an initial five to ten minutes before personnel of law-enforcement agencies will show up to respond to the attack”. This step reeks of desperation, and it is this kind of rushed, ill-thought out strategy that we must guard against.
On paper, the theoretical argument looks fine: with little gun control outside the school, school premises would be safer if the staff had weapons too – if the state can’t protect you, protect yourself.
But beyond theory, closer inspection – even a rudimentary one – shows that this is a deeply problematic issue that would make schools much more dangerous than safe. Teachers and support staff are not trained to tackle gun battles; can we truly expect a librarian or a maths professor to hold off highly trained, battle-hardened militants? These militants held up the SSG, army’s elite commandos, for a considerable length of time at the APS Peshawar; the school staff would be cannon fodder. Furthermore, if the staff is engaged in fighting attackers, the duty to evacuate students in an organized manner falls on empty hands.
The real pitfall in this plan is not the days the school is under attack, but the days it is functioning normally; which outnumber the former on an astronomical scale. Right now, the only weapons on campus are in the possession of the security guards, who carry it on their person, ensuring their whereabouts. After this move, any number of guns could be in the school premises, and keeping track of them becomes nigh impossible. Can we expect a teacher, with mountains of responsibility in a hectic school environment to account for his firearm at all times? Even if he does, adolescents are not the best judges; high schools, especially all-boys, are notorious for lack of discipline, rebellious behaviour, often bordering on delinquency, and fool-hardy pranks. Introducing firearms in such an environment is dangerous. Furthermore, it would completely change the student-teacher dynamic if the latter carries a gun in their desk drawer. Accidents are a separate count; throw a few guns in a building full of hundreds of untrained people and they become inevitable. The correct way to go about this would be to train the teachers and staff in handling hostile situations, in hiding, escaping and having an established evacuation plan.
And beyond logistics, the real problem is that the state is putting the bulk of the responsibility of protecting schools on the schools themselves and their employees, when this is not their job. It shouldn’t be on their minds as they arrive at school every day (carrying firearms), trying to focus on teaching students. Beyond basic security provision, that is squarely the responsibility of the state’s security forces.