I'm a Professor, Not a Swat Team Member

[Content Note: Guns, campus gun violence.]

Note: In light of the recent violence on campuses in Oregon, Arizona, and Texas, I have seen renewed calls to arm instructors and other staff on educational campuses. I wrote this response to such calls after the deaths in Connecticut in 2012; I am re-posting it, slightly edited, with profound regret that it is relevant again.

I'm a professor of history. What does that mean? It means that I attended graduate school and learned not only about the current scholarship in my field, but also the skills necessary to produce scholarship of my own. I proved this by writing a doctoral dissertation. Today, my job is divided in three: teaching, research, and service (which means things like sitting on committees to run my department, my college, and my university).

What my training and job do not include is detecting and neutralizing armed threats. Not only do I not have that training, I also don't have regular reinforcement of that (non-existent) training, nor the kind of equipment to carry it out.

It's not that I can't fire guns. Admittedly, it's been a long while since I've done so, and I definitely need practice. And it's not that I don't have "military training." I served in the Navy.

But those things--being able to fire a gun, having some long-ago basic weapons training--those things are not what is necessary to respond to an armed assailant in a crowded school.

Unlike the GOP jackasses in Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia, (or running in the 2015 GOP presidential primaries), who apparently think that any old person can do what a SWAT team does, I actually have respect for the men and women who do that work. I understand that it takes a lot of training, and a particular set of aptitudes, in order to do their jobs. (And not even everyone doing that work has the aptitudes to do it well.) I understand that proper training is not a matter of attending a session or two. I also understand that people in these jobs get paid to be alert to danger, and to proactively respond to it. I even understand that not all law enforcement and security forces have the same training, that some are very specially trained to handle things like hostage situations or gunmen who threaten large crowds. And I understand that even with all that training and screening and practice, there are still very serious individual and systemic social justice issues in US law enforcement, which mean that many of the civilians who are supposed to be "protected" by SWAT teams and law enforcement are, in fact, frequently endangered by the same. It's far from a perfect system.

But, whatever else we say about various forms of law enforcement and security work, and whatever changes need to be made, I can definitely say this: their jobs are not the same as my job. My job involves things like palaeography and reading microfilm, or grading papers, or going to yet another meeting about campus recycling. Nor is it the job of teachers at the elementary and secondary level. Their jobs are focused more on teaching and service than mine, and their training is a little different from mine--they take classes on their subject area and on the actual craft of educating, rather than focusing on how to produce scholarship. But you know what they don't take classes on? How to take down an armed gunman without shooting innocent civilians. At least, they don't teach that at my university's College of Education. You know why? Because that's a different job.

There are people who are willing to, as a profession, put their lives on the line to protect others. That's the job they do. I have enormous respect for that. I appreciate the police force that helps keep my campus safe, and I try to communicate to them that I respect their mission and the danger it puts them in. So, conservatives, please: stop proposing these ridiculous laws that suggest I could do their job. I can't. For people who claim to respect the work of law enforcement, you sure have a funny way of showing it.

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