Op-Ed: I Graduated From Sandy Hook, and I’m Against Arming Teachers

Allison Rief, a Newtown native and Los Angeles educator of the year, does not believe bringing guns into schools is the answer.

Bringing more guns into schools is not the answer, says a teacher who went to Sandy Hook Elementary as a child. (Photo: Michelle McLoughlin/Reuters)

I teach in an urban school in South Los Angeles. We have yearly lockdown drills and occasional real lockdowns for police activity in the neighborhood. The kids know what the “code” for lockdown is, and what to do if they’re outside the classroom when lockdown is called. I’d like to think that we're prepared. 

What I wasn’t prepared for was a radio report on December 14 stating that Sandy Hook Elementary—my elementary school, the one I attended as a child—was the scene of a horrific mass shooting

Unfortunately, I have come to expect violence in the middle of Los Angeles, but Newtown? If it could happen there, it could happen anywhere. And no, we are not prepared. 

I am an educator and have become an expert on schools and school personnel. I do not claim to be an expert on guns, gun control, or the Constitution.

What I know is this: Keeping students safe from guns by putting more guns in schools is not the answer. There are too many issues that could go wrong—a student could (unintentionally or intentionally) get their hands on the gun; or, God forbid, the janitor or teacher who was armed to protect students decides to turn the gun against them. 

What we need instead of more guns is more education. After all, it is schools we’re talking about.  

Seeing this horrific violence erupt in my hometown opened my eyes to the urgency of the situation in this country.

I firmly agree with President Obama and his assertion that, “We don’t benefit from ignorance. We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.” 

We need to conduct research on the causes of gun violence and the best ways to reduce it. We need to understand the impact of violent video games, movies, and media on children and adolescents. We need to find out why so many mental illnesses go undetected and untreated. 

Instead of paying armed guards to stand in front of our schools, we should invest money and personnel into trying to create nurturing school climates that help prevent violence before it even begins.

Teachers need better training on how to identify the students in need of mental health services. Schools also need to be staffed with more psychologists, social workers, and counselors so that when students are identified, we can ensure that trained people are there to help. If we could provide better mental health services to students when they're young, perhaps we could prevent many of these tragedies from occurring. 

I absolutely loved Sandy Hook and my incredible teachers there. I skipped to the bus stop feeling valued, appreciated and safe, as no doubt the current students did when they left for school on the morning of December 14. Seeing this horrific violence erupt in my hometown opened my eyes to the urgency of the situation in this country.

All our children—whether in the suburbs or the inner cities—have the right to be safe in their schools, and we need to be proactive, not reactive, in our efforts to protect that right.

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