In retired Wellfleet Chief of Police Richard Rosenthal's self-published guide to handguns in schools, "School Administrator's Guide to Practical Handgun Training", he draws on his background with the New York City Police Department's Police Academy Firearms and Tactics Section, as well as his local police chief experience, to dispense advice on how to arm your teachers.
In today's climate, says Rosenthal, schools have four options: do nothing, hire school resource officers (SROs), use armed volunteers, or arm staff and teachers.
Cape Region leans toward SROs
Here on the Cape, most schools have opted for Rosenthal's second option: SROs. From Nauset to Sandwich, districts have for years deployed SROs at many of the region's high schools and middle schools. Districts tend to see an SRO as a member of the school community, playing multiple public safety roles -- not merely serving as an armed guard.
For example, SROs in Cape schools have helped students grapple with issues as varied as drugs and alcohol, date rape, bullying, safe driving, in-school theft, and family violence.
Teachers with guns
While Rosenthal likes SROs, he also favors arming teachers and staff. He says guns in schools let a school put up "a credible first line of defense until first responders arrive."
However, he also feels strongly that deploying guns also means deploying proper and continual training in their use.
Born from experience
Regardless of how one feels about teachers carrying concealed weapons, the bulk of the book--with its practical and experienced information on safe training and safe use of firearms--delivers a thoughtful and well-structured primer on all essential aspects of learning to use, carry, and live with guns.
There's no question that Rosenthal has years of experience training people how to use firearms--and that shows in his text, beginning with a strong assertion that "There is rarely such a thing as too much training."
"Mastering the sidearm takes time and practice there are no shortcuts," he states clearly and concisely.
The tone of the book is conversational, as if he's speaking to you and conducting your own personal training experience. He includes informational background, specific how-tos, and cautionary tales drawn from his real-life experience.
By the end of the read, you come away knowing that training matters and that guns are not toys, but rather weapons with serious consequences that too often get misused with tragic outcomes.
The need for close range training comes through loud and clear. Rosenthal cites a 2010 New York Police Department firearms and discharge report which showed that 89% of gunfight distances were under 20 feet.
In other words, knowing how to fire safely and accurately at close range should be a critical part of training. It turns out without practice and knowledge, it becomes incredibly easy to miss a target just five feet away.
Rosenthal emphasis the need to thoroughly understand and internalize the fundamentals of marksmanship:
In actual use, aiming takes practice, especially at close range, where the bullet can end up well under the tip of the sight. In addition, the way you manage the trigger varies from gun to gun and has deep impact on both marksmanship and safety.
Stance and breathing come into play and require training and practice to master, but without out them, the bullet can miss its intended mark.
Rosenthal devotes a chapter on how to properly conceal a weapon, something he says is important for schools. If the weapon isn't carried by the teacher, it won't do any good when a crisis occurs, he argues.
Rosenthal also talks about belly bands and something called Thunderwear, which is basically wearing the weapon in your underwear.
You can also learn that horsehide is the preferred material for really good holsters, and that poorly made holsters hinder your ability to respond to a situation and use your gun safely.
A large portion of the book focuses on how-tos that also ensure safe use of the weapon. For example, a chapter on the safe carrying and handing off of a weapon addresses the different approaches required for a variety of gun types and includes the use of safety latches.
Another chapter provides a list of best safety practices combined with real life examples of tragedies when these guidelines aren't followed: treating every firearm as if it is loaded, always point the muzzle in a safe direction, be certain of your target and what is beyond, keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot, and many others.
Beyond the target
One particularly interesting--and sobering--discussion revolved around understanding what is "beyond your target". When people shoot they tend to think of only what is front of them, although a bullet from a handgun will continue for approximately a mile.
Rosenthal provides some case examples in which people shooting up in the air or shooting at turtles on a pond ended up killing a person, in one case, a driver on a highway, in another a man working on his roof, and in a third, a child in a church.
By this point in the book the author has made it clear that guns not handled safely can be dangerous, but that training and practice mitigates this risk.
Under safety, he also includes chapters on guns and alcohol (don't!), proper cleaning techniques, keeping your gun out of the hands of others (young children, untrained users) and properly using ammunition.
The repeating theme continues throughout the book, however: practice, practice, practice. And he reiterates that for a school which wants to be able to effectively defend itself, training and practice are absolutely essential.
When under stress people will do what they were trained to do, he writes - and that's why training is so important. "How you train is how you will react."