Pencil Versus Gun Culture

In March, a Monticello elementary school subjected teachers to an active-shooter drill in which the teachers were shot execution-style with pellets.

It didn’t just make headlines in Indiana; it made national and international news.

You’d think that being made a mockery of on a global scale would convince the legislature to outlaw this ridiculous practice. But then you’d be underestimating our legislature.

House Bill 1253, a gun-training bill aimed at schools, is poised to pass the legislature with the provision that these shootings can continue if a teacher gives written permission.

Another school safety bill, House Bill 1004, had been amended in the Senate to bar that. But its author, Rep. Wendy McNamara, an Evansville Republican and high school principal, said that provision is being removed from the final version. It isn’t because she approves of these practices; far from it.

“I don’t find any value in shooting teachers,” McNamara said. “I find value in going through a (shooting) drill. I find value in making sure we can walk through knowing where we are supposed to go and where we’re supposed to be.

“I find absolutely no value in being shot at with any type of projectile. We have enough anxiety as it is. To add that extra layer of anxiety in the hopes that that will make some monumental change in the way we react, I don’t think that it will.”

But she said she believes the wording in HB 1253, requiring teachers to know and approve of being shot, provides safeguards.

I asked teachers via social media whether they agreed. Not one that replied did. That’s hardly a scientific survey, but it is indicative of wide sentiment. Several said teachers may not feel free to decline if the district is claiming a fake shooting is important to a necessary drill.

Kreg Battles, a former Democrat state representative from Vincennes and a teacher, said that “this would be a hard no from me.” He cited the concern of teachers “being subtly pressured or feeling as if they need to, thinking this would please” administrators.

The only teacher I know of in Indiana to have actually been shot, Noblesville West Middle School teacher Jason Seaman, went on Twitter earlier this month to make his views clear:

“Are these education officials really that out of touch or are they listening to the people with the deepest pockets … again?” Seaman, who was wounded last year, wrote. “This is beyond disappointing.”

This week, teachers in their “Red for Ed” T-shirts rallied at the Statehouse for better funding for public schools, better pay and to voice a resounding “no” to being shot, even with rubber projectiles or pellets.

They gave a huge cheer to Jennifer McCormick, who is Indiana’s last elected superintendent of public instruction. When she leaves office at the end of 2020, the position will become an appointee of the governor.

“We understand the importance of active shooter training. We understand the importance of drilling. We are leading the nation in school safety efforts by preparing and planning and partnering,” she continued. “But to allow for teachers to be shot with pellet guns? We have got to be better than that.”

That brought teachers to their feet.

McCormick told me the first reports of the Monticello shooting were “disturbing, but at no time did I think it would be defended by legislation. Right now, it’s a local decision which most districts would not participate in that type of drilling. But to put it in legislation, to codify that it’s OK to participate, really sends a message that we don’t welcome.”

Rep. Jeff Raatz, the Centerville Republican who offered the teacher shooting amendment in HB 1253, asserts that it’s all about realism.

“It’s got to do with the reality and making sure they experience the emotions and adrenaline,” Raatz said.

Maybe he’s got a point.

Maybe the already deep fear every teacher and student have that they will not live to see the end of the school day isn’t enough. Maybe you have to get welts and bruises, even shed blood, from being shot with projectiles before you can realize that, gee, school shootings are bad.

But just to be sure, I have two words for lawmakers: You first.

Mary Beth Schneider is an editor with TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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