Teachers have a Right to be Armed

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The Educators Union of South Africa (EUSA) has recently called for teachers to be allowed to be armed when teaching at schools following the murder of a teacher at a school in the south of Durban. Sentiments over this demand have been mixed, especially due to the controversial issue that is private firearm ownership.

What is playing out with teachers right now is the same as what played out with paramedics a short while back: work conditions are not safe from violent crime, and employees wish to be in a position to not be violently murdered or assaulted. The Schools Act of 1996 that currently governs public and private schools prohibits firearms on school property except for the purposes of education, and teachers are effectively prohibited from carrying a firearm at work or even bringing one to work.

At the core of the controversy, really lies the question of whether or not teachers have the right to defend their lives. For the purposes of this article it is assumed that firearms are indeed the most effective means of self-defense (a discussion on this topic alone is lengthy). Under the Schools Act, firearms may only be brought onto the premises for the purposes of education. It cannot be disputed that teachers are vulnerable while at work or travelling to and from work, especially in high crime areas.

Arguments against permitting teachers to arm themselves are often anecdotal, and not grounded in evidence-based logic. Chief among them is the idea that a teacher may ‘snap’ under the pressure of working as a teacher. This is said despite no evidence of gross teacher on pupil violence (isolated cases of common assault are not the same as grievous bodily harm or murder). Pre-1996 it should be noted there was no prohibition on teachers carrying firearms specifically in any educational legislation, and some no doubt did carry a firearm. A quick google reveals that in South Africa, students kill teachers, and other adults kill teachers, but teachers do not and have not killed students. Of this, there can be little doubt due to the publicity such acts attract.

Despite this, there are no records of a teacher ‘snapping’ and going rogue, either before the Schools Act, or after it was implemented. A human being does not need a firearm to suddenly become violent. To say that the only thing standing between a teacher and an act of violence is a firearm, is wholly unfounded.

Another argument sometimes put forward is that teachers will be at risk of having their firearm stolen by pupils after being mobbed. Again, a wholly unfounded assertion of ‘I think, and therefore XYZ’. There is a reason that evidence needs to be led for policy to make sense; subjective and lazy personal opinions of fear make for terrible policy.

The USA bears some resemblance to what South Africa is experiencing at present, and yet there is not a single case there either of a teacher ‘going rogue’, despite many schools permitting the practice for many years. It is true that teachers are not ‘trained to deal with violence’; nobody outside of select professions are. That said, there are very specific cases in which you may employ private defense (the tool does not affect the criteria, of which a firearm is one), and in the process of acquiring a firearm you are expected to know and are tested on these criteria. Laws governing defense are in the common law, while laws relating to safety and use are in written legislation. Gun owners are expected to know the fundamentals and important aspects of both, which are very straightforward and simple.

A firearm owner is legally allowed to use their firearm where it is safe and lawful to do so. There are millions of lawful gun owners in South Africa, of which hundreds of thousands carry regularly. Despite the high stress environments that many inevitably do carry in (many times against company policy), there is yet to be a case of a gun owner committing extreme acts of violence on a large scale because stress got to them. This must be differentiated from premeditated murder in which presence of a firearm is unlikely to increase the odds of such an act being perpetrated.

To say a teacher is a risk of an act of extreme violence because they carry a firearm is to say that teachers are weak individuals, unable conduct themselves appropriately. Police officers are under even more stress with even less support, and while the rate of murder suicide is high as a result, it is often (if not always) against an intimate partner and not their work colleagues or the general public, and generally premeditated of which a firearm would not have changed the outcome; sometimes the method used is not even a firearm. Even under the exact same circumstances, a teacher is unlikely to harm students.

During the process of getting a license, an applicant is disqualified if a criminal record exists, or they exhibit temper control problems, or dependency on narcotic or intoxicating substances, which immediately eliminates those with a violent track record (or propensity for violence) from lawfully owning a firearm.

Under the Constitution, everyone has the right to be free from violence from private or public sources, and under the common law everyone is given an action to defend their lives from an unlawful attack if the need arises. These are generally quite meaningless rights unless there exists the ability to make them a reality. The police are not this ability, as much as they try on a more macro level through community policing and presence, but in the moment, they are largely useless to rely on; when seconds count, the police are merely minutes away at best.

Therefore, assuming that teachers should not carry a firearm, are they not by default exempted from this right contained in the Bill of Rights, which is enabled because they are weak sub-humans by virtue of being a teacher? It cannot be denied that there are teachers that ought not to be allowed near a kitchen cutlery drawer, never mind a firearm, but to judge an entire profession of individuals on a handful of demonstrably (at best) unsuitable candidates is intellectually dishonest and wrong.

Teachers pursue a noble cause and should not be precluded from being able to own a firearm based on the wrong and badly misinformed personal opinions of some, that a teacher by virtue of being a teacher, is not fit to be in a position to defend themselves should the need arise.

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