Creating The Risk of Suicide-By-Teacher

Brian Gongol

Here is a crucial question that needs to be asked -- seriously -- before we go anywhere near the idea of arming teachers in the classroom: Are we prepared, in any way whatsoever, for the prospect of students committing "suicide by teacher"?

Do not dismiss the question before really thinking about it.

The problem of "suicide by cop" didn't used to have a name. Now it does, and that's because it has become a known phenomenon.

If students know there are armed teachers and administrators in the hallways and classrooms of their schools, we would be utterly negligent to dismiss the possibility that somewhere, at some time, a young person may very well choose to attempt suicide-by-teacher.

You may not wish to believe it. Nobody would. But the prospect cannot be dismissed, and it urgently highlights the fact that armed teachers in the classroom could not only be called upon to (a) teach and (b) attempt to protect their students from an exterior threat, but also (c) negotiate a suicide crisis under unimaginably cruel and distressing conditions.

For instance: What if a student in a classroom with an armed teacher pulled a weapon and threatened to shoot other members of the class if the teacher didn't shoot him or her first?

There is virtually no way that armed teachers could remain undercover within a school. An Air Marshal might evade detection among other passengers in an aircraft by virtue of extensive training, strategic seating, and the anonymity that a large aircraft may provide. There is no way that such secrets could be kept for long inside a school building. Students, including those who might perpetrate a violent event, would almost certainly have some knowledge about who among the school employees might be armed.

Let's not look past the fact that many school shooters have ended up dead -- often by choice. This isn't what most people would consider a rational phenomenon, so let's not rush to apply a rational template to what's happening. That it may be unthinkable to most of us shouldn't prevent us from thinking about whether it might happen.

There may very well be cases where carefully vetted, extensively trained individuals in a school may be the best choice for student protection. Some schools are simply far away from help from first responders -- and in those isolated cases, it may serve the community well to consider whether individuals should be deputized by local law enforcement to offer physical protection in addition to their other jobs.

But this idea that aggressively flooding schools across America with armed non-police first-responders will come without unintended consequences is one that falls flat. We are not prepared -- culturally, psychologically, or even legally -- to deal with the prospect that a young person in a moment of crisis may make a choice to put an armed teacher or administrator into an impossible situation of choosing whether to kill or let others be killed.

Before we flood American schools with guns, we absolutely must think through some of the potentially unthinkable consequences. This is only one of them.