COMMENTARY: Arming teachers is smart, safe, necessary

Re: Lance Salyers’ April 1 guest column, “We need a debate before we arm teachers.” It was well written and thought-provoking.

In Ohio, the time for debate was over five years ago. That is when the FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response) was born. Since then, this program has trained more than 1,300 school staff from 225 school districts across 12 states. Most of the armed school districts are here in Ohio. I have been an instructor in this program since its inception and am proud to serve for the safety of our children.

Public discussion gets derailed by only talking about arming teachers. The FASTER program is about armed school staff, not just teachers but administration, food service workers, maintenance personnel, etc. These are school personnel not locked down to just 25 children in a classroom. Many are free to move about the school at a moment’s notice to respond to an attack. They will do that today with or without a way to survive.

The program in Ohio is all volunteer, without pay. Their status as armed staff only comes into play when there is an attack. Otherwise, they go about their daily chores like any other day.

Many in the media have criticized the idea of armed staff confronting a school shooter armed with a rifle. The principal at Sandy Hook, armed with nothing, attacked the shooter. The football coach at Parkland, armed with nothing, confronted the shooter. So, what is the media’s point?

Mr. Salyers addresses the decision that an armed teacher must make during an attack. Do I stay with my children or do I leave to find the shooter? The FASTER training addresses that very question. It is a decision that only the teacher can make and cannot be set in policy. We train them to think about that decision now before they have to make it.

Mr. Salyers also comments that the teacher accesses her firearm from a “secure safe that can only be opened by her fingerprint.” While this may be desirable if the safe is in the teacher’s classroom, it becomes a remote firearm storage device when the teacher leaves the room for any reason. We have shown that the practice of remote storage of the defensive firearm can lead to increased victims because it increases the time to bring the defensive firearm to bear on the problem. I see this as no different from having a police officer store his sidearm in the cruiser until he needs it.

Another complaint about armed school staff is that law enforcement will not know who the attacker is when they arrive. FASTER trains the armed staff in how to interact with law enforcement. Above all, they are trained to “do exactly what the responding officers tell them to do.”

When the armed staff complete training, they must pass a shooting qualification. FASTER students shoot a 28-round qualification from four to 50 feet and must get 26 hits on target. This is a higher standard than we hold Ohio police to.

Finally, FASTER trains the armed staff how to treat the wounded once the attack is over. This way when the professionals show up you have live patients instead of victims to transfer to them.

We have nearly doubled this year’s number of FASTER classes and still the demand is overwhelming. If you add school resource officers, the ALICE program (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evade) and an armed school staff to all the other layers of protection, then you have the makings of a robust safety and security plan.

Gary Hoff, of Middletown, is an instructor in the Ohio armed school staff program.

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