Justin LaBar: I Want to Be Able to Defend My Students

Students gather outside of Fargo's Davies High School as part of a nationwide protest against gun violence. Robin Huebner / The Forum

This guest post was submitted by Justin LaBar, a husband, father of nine children, and an elementary school teacher in North Dakota.

Yesterday was dubbed by many as “National School Walkout Day”. Thousands of students across the country walked out of their schools to protest gun violence. As I’m sure you’re aware, the walkouts lasted for 17 minutes to honor the 17 people killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida just one month ago.

The events that transpired in Parkland, as a deranged young man slaughtered his victims, was absolutely nothing short of a tragedy. That’s something I’m certain we can all agree on. But it’s obvious that we don’t agree on the solution to such a problem. I want to speak specifically to the issue of guns in schools.

I’m now in my tenth year at Stanley Elementary School. I suppose my experience in education isn’t really that unique in comparison to others in the profession. And while I can’t speak for all educators, I can tell you that I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I hope to make a difference in the lives of the students.

You know, it’s an interesting thing being a teacher. State law mandates “At least one hundred seventy-five days of instruction” during the course of a school year. That’s a lot of time with these kids. I would guess many of us spend more time with our students than we do with our own children over this period of time. So, I suppose it won’t surprise you to know that I care about my students.

Because I care for my students, I want to protect them. So, please forgive me, but that’s the very reason I believe guns in school should be an option for local school districts.

Because I care for my students, I want to protect them. So, please forgive me, but that’s the very reason I believe guns in school should be an option for local school districts. The outright rejection of the idea by so many people is baffling to me. Why? Because as teachers, we are often the last line of defense for these kids.

As things are now, if some lunatic enters my school to go on a killing spree, my students are sitting ducks. What am I to do to protect them? Even if we’re behind the locked door of our classroom, what am I to do if the madman gains entry? If you’re a person of logic, I think you know the answer. We’re defenseless.

It just so happens that I’m not just an elementary teacher. I’m a certified Hunter’s Safety Instructor. I have a Concealed Weapons License. I’ve handled guns and hunted nearly all of my life. At the very least, why should I be prohibited from having a small gun safe securely bolted down somewhere in the classroom? We could easily store a gun safely there for emergencies. Students wouldn’t have access to it.

What I’m calling for is just one aspect of many that can be done to make our students safer. It’s simply the option to provide a last line of defense for these kids, which is something we don’t have right now.

I’m not going to mince words with you. If that lunatic comes through our classroom door under circumstances as they are now, it’s all but certain death for me and my students. But if things could be as I suggest, I’d at least have a fighting chance of saving them.

What baffles me most about the issue of guns in school is the fact that so many speak as if teachers are incapable of protecting their students with a gun. It’s a ridiculous assertion. For most of us, we’re just as capable as Security Officers or Law Enforcement at learning how to handle and use firearms. So, please, let’s stop pretending otherwise.

Unfortunately, an example of this mentality is found in a recent article written by North Dakota United’s (NDU) Nick Archuleta. Just in case you’re not familiar with it, NDU is a union that represents over 11,000 public employees and educators across North Dakota. Archuleta is their president.

Aside from questioning our ability to deal with the responsibility of defending our students, Archuleta also shared a very misleading and inaccurate statistic in that article. Namely, that there had been 18 school shootings since January 1, 2018. It wasn’t any surprise, when days after reading his article, this came up in my Facebook newsfeed:

As you can tell, Nick Archuleta and NDU don’t speak for me. Things like this are the reason I don’t belong to their union. And I guarantee you I’m not alone.

Yet, I understand when other teachers say that they don’t want the responsibility of having a gun in school. I’m certainly not suggesting anyone be forced to do so. But for those of us who are willing and able, why should we be prohibited? To a lesser extent, why should we be ridiculed by others for saying that we want to?

Last legislative session, I drove to Bismarck and testified on behalf of House Bill 1310. Nobody asked me to. Nobody paid my way. I went at my own expense, because I believe in protecting students. This bill would have allowed school districts to have armed responders, with the requirement that they have a Class 1 Concealed Weapons License and complete “first armed responder” training requirements.

Unfortunately, House Bill 1310 was later amended, changed to a ridiculous pilot program, and was then defeated in the Senate by an 18-27 vote. To me, the message was clear. Things are fine the way that they are. Only I think it’s clear that they’re not.

Addressing the issues surrounding mental illness, warning signs, enhanced school security, etc. are all valid aspects of this discussion. I honestly believe that. But anything short of qualified teachers being able to provide a last line of defense for their students will always leave them defenseless.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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