‘Shooting People Is Deescalation’: Three Days With Teachers Training To Use Guns In Schools

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KEYSTONE CROSSROADS – Andrew Blubagh is kneeling on the ground holding a handgun flat on his knee, its barrel pointed at the dirt berm that surrounds the firing range. Angie, a petite woman in her 40s, is beside him, her index finger wrapped around the trigger, his wrapped around hers. He wants Angie to feel how much force it takes to fire the weapon. He wants her to be prepared.

“You bring the gun up. Somebody comes around the corner. They’ve got something in their hand,” he says. “You bring the sights up to your line of sight.”

Blubagh, a police officer and firearms instructor, pulls Angie’s finger to the trigger’s point of resistance — the pressure wall.

“You give them verbal commands,” he continues. “You see it’s a knife, he brings it up. You fire a shot.”

Teachers practice responding to active shooter scenarios at Wadsworth High School in Ohio. Cerino tells the trainees pretending to be students, ““Beg for your life.” Jen Kinney for Keystone Crossroads

Smoke rises from the barrel in the flat hot sunshine of the range, the scent of gunpowder and manure in the air.

“Fire another shot, he’s not going down. Fire another shot,” Blubagh presses Angie’s finger into the trigger, discharging bullet after bullet into the dirt.

“He is still moving, reaching for the knife again. You align the sights onto the head. You fire off another shot. Bam!”

He pulls the trigger once more. “He is dead.”

“Pressure wall,” “line of sight,” the feeling of a trigger giving way under her finger, the kick of the gun recoiling against her palm — all of these are new to Angie. In running shoes and tasteful earrings, dirty-blonde hair pulled up under a ballcap, she’s an eager student.

Until May, Angie had never touched a gun. Now, she’s in the middle of three days of target practice, firearms skills, and tactical training run by the group FASTER Saves Lives.

And soon, if everything goes to plan, the fifth grade English and science teacher will be carrying a gun in her Ohio classroom.

“I volunteered,” she said. “Our district has armed staff to protect our students, and I was asked to join the program, so I agreed.”

Arming teachers to prevent or lessen the death toll of mass shootings is a controversial proposition, and the training teachers receive before being authorized to carry guns in the classroom is one of the biggest sources of debate.

Before 17 students and staff were killed in a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, about 250 school districts around the country allowed staff to carry guns. Since, according to a VICE News investigation, that number has nearly doubled, to at least 466. But, as VICE points out, getting an exact number is difficult — districts don’t always tell the public or state officials that they’ve armed their staff.

At Angie’s school, a third of the faculty already carry guns anonymously. The public knows that some teachers and administrators are carrying, but they don’t know who. Not even their unarmed colleagues are supposed to be in the loop.

“Teachers right beside me don’t know,” said Angie, who asked that we didn’t publish her surname or the name of her school. “So, it’s pretty covert.”

The students don’t know either. Armed colleagues have already taught Angie where to conceal her firearm, how to wear it so children can’t feel it when she hugs them.

“Cause we’re huggers,” she laughed. “You have to get them from this side, not this side. You have to retrain a lot of things that you do.”