Guns for schoolteachers: An inevitable death in Swat

Updated June 12, 2015

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Teachers handle a pistol during a weapons training session for school, college and university teachers at a police training centre in Peshawar on January 27, 2015. —AFP
Teachers handle a pistol during a weapons training session for school, college and university teachers at a police training centre in Peshawar on January 27, 2015. —AFP

Back in January, when news first emerged that teachers were now allowed to carry arms in school, I remember thinking how that couldn’t possibly end well for anyone and lamented the varied forms of reactionary measures being placed after the Peshawar attack.

At the time, there was little debate on the matter, mostly some shocked expressions on how radical the turn was by some liberals and a mild follow-up by advocates of the move that ‘After Peshawar teachers and students needed to consider their safety first’.

According to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial information minister, Mushtaq Ahmad Ghani, the move would have allowed teachers and other staff members to ‘engage any possible attackers for the initial five to 10 minutes before law-enforcement personnel reached the spot.’

It is a sad day when the job of ‘engaging’ terrorists in a ‘preventative’ gunfight falls to schoolteachers.

Also read: Primary teachers in KP refuse to keep arms in school

The idea that ‘more guns lead to more safety’ isn’t a new one. It harkens back to all those ‘Second Amendment’ arguments one hears United States Republicans often defending, as a far more integral right than Free Speech.

The premise being that if one’s attacker is armed, it makes basic sense to ensure that one can defend themselves on the same grounds. Many might argue that in a country like Pakistan, that defence makes even more sense. After all, the daily violence that occurs in our country outranks anything the US experiences in terms of both its scale and frequency.

But, what really is the solution then? If guns made teachers and their students safer, how far can we carry that logic?

Many of the cases bracketed under terrorism in Pakistan over the past decade include suicide bombings and explosives. Does this mean civilians should be given access to these measures to defend themselves as well? Teaching us all to ‘fight fire with fire’ so to speak. Is that the logical way forward?

Why do we completely ignore that increasing the number of weapons available to civilians has never really led to a ‘secure’ nation? It may lead to a false sense of security – and that certainly exists with increased barricades, weapons and barbed wire – but it does not root out or even remotely address the core of our national security issues.

On Thursday, a private school teacher in Mingora accidentally shot and killed a 12-year old student while cleaning his gun in the school staffroom. This incident brings us squarely back to the issue of the logic behind weaponising schools and arming educators.

At the time the measures were announced earlier this year, many predicted this incident and it doesn’t really come as a surprise. The policy-makers stressed that the measures were necessary as a ‘deterrent’ and ensured that school staff and teachers were being offered training to handle the weapons.

How effective could this training possibly be if a teacher was unaware of the most basic threat of cleaning a loaded gun in a public space?

Explore: Teachers get gun training after Peshawar massacre

The commentary on this incident has been mixed, just as it was when the measures were initially introduced. Many on comment forums in news sites have opposed the initial ‘wisdom’ of arming teachers in the first place whereas some have said things like:

Teachers carrying gun is fine given the circumstances and corrupt government/politicians in charge, but cleaning the gun is criminal at school.

It was a loaded gun, the teacher must be taken to task.

Do not blame the government for what happened in Peshawar, teachers with weapons can hold off the militants for a little longer till the rescuers arrived.

Yet others have questioned why the student was in the ‘staff room’ to begin with.

Such commentary implies that the policy itself is sound but the particular incident was problematic. We do this a lot actually: creating exceptions where there are general truths in play.

Read on: Problematic security

The idea that arming teachers is an effective security measure is ludicrous. It implies that the unlikely event of a terrorist attack trumps the daily security threat of teachers carrying guns to school and students being exposed to them.

What if a student had found the gun? The presence of guns in schools on a daily basis is a lot more dangerous than their potential to possibly allow teachers to hold off terrorists in the case of an attack.

We are assuming here that the only difference between a terrorist holding a gun and a teacher holding a gun is the ‘gun’. This is a skewed binary. Terrorists receive training to kill and harm people teachers receive basic preventative weapons training. By this logic, in order to be a match for terrorists, civilians ought to receive proper militia training.

Pakistan’s education sector has enough of its own problems with regards to teacher-training for the classroom and syllabus to bother with teaching faculty how to operate firearms. Government schools lack funding and infrastructure. There are still incidents of corporal punishment in most schools.

Those are the issues that should concern teachers and educators, not guns. That is not their domain. The present security situation demands that people who are trained to use guns to protect the public step in and do so, and that people who are trained to teach our children stick to that job.

Teaching is a sacred profession. It is the job of the state and security agencies to ensure that it continues to remain one.


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