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Why do people want to own guns? We asked a teacher and a firearms trainer


Two hundred and sixty - that's the number of shootings that have taken place on school campuses in this country so far this year, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. The frequency of school shootings has led some gun rights advocates to argue that schools would be safer if teachers were armed. So as part of our occasional series on new gun owners, we got in touch with Michelle McGhee. She teaches English at a junior high school in Mountain Home, Ark., and bought her first gun two years ago. She joins us now. Thanks for being with us.

MICHELLE MCGHEE: Thank you. It's nice to be here.

SIMON: And Dirk Waldrop is a defensive firearms trainer who works with educators across the state of Arkansas. Mr. Walter, thank you for being with us.

DIRK WALDROP: Yes, sir. Thank you for having me.

SIMON: Michelle McGhee, let me begin with you. Why did you buy a gun?

MCGHEE: I originally bought a gun - I was recently divorced and a single mom to a 17-year-old. And I wanted it for peace of mind and protection for my family. And also, I live in the rural area of Arkansas, and I travel quite a bit where there is not always phone service or cell towers. That was the main reason why I purchased my first one.

SIMON: Did you grow up around guns? Were you familiar with them?

MCGHEE: Yes. I grew up in southern Arkansas, so I can remember from the age of probably 5 years old, I would go squirrel hunting with my dad. My dad always had guns. He was a superintendent of schools, but he was also a deputy sheriff auxiliary of the county.

SIMON: What kind of gun did you wind up buying?

MCGHEE: I actually bought a Smith & Wesson 40-caliber handgun.

SIMON: You've been getting trained, I gather?

MCGHEE: Yes. Yes. I went through a conceal and carry handgun course.

SIMON: And why did you feel that was important?

MCGHEE: I felt like if I was going to take on the responsibility of owning a gun that I also needed to have training, as well. I just think education is the key to that responsibility.

SIMON: Mr. Waldrop, from what you've heard, people you deal with and people you train, why do a lot of people buy guns?

WALDROP: It's along the lines of what Michelle said. In this area specifically, it's kind of a retirement area. Usually, what has happened is it's the husband that has the guns, that does all the protecting or is the protector of the family. And then he ends up dying. And now you've got the wife at home with plenty of guns and has been around them her whole life. But as far as how to actually operate them safely, she really doesn't know. So a lot of my students in the past, really, year want to get more comfortable operating this firearm in all aspects.

SIMON: About two-thirds of the states around the country do not permit teachers and nonsecurity staff to bring a gun into a school kindergarten through 12th grade. Do you know the law in Arkansas right now?

WALDROP: Yes, sir. I'm familiar with it. It is up to the individual districts, whether they...

SIMON: Yeah.

WALDROP: The school boards will vote and decide. And then from there, it's up to the superintendent, the administration to decide, yes, we're going to do this or no, we're not going to do this.

SIMON: Can you tell us, do you know teachers who are arming themselves, concealing it?


SIMON: You do.

WALDROP: I know within about a 50-mile radius, and we're 10 miles south of the Missouri state line. So my coverage includes into Missouri. Between Arkansas and Missouri, where I cover, there are several schools that arm their staff.

SIMON: What do you teach teachers about gun owning?

WALDROP: I teach teachers the same thing I teach anybody that comes in just off the street wanting to take firearm safety courses or shooting courses. The mechanical part is what I say, the actual operating the firearm - that's the easy part. I can teach that in a couple weeks. I can have somebody as a proficient shooter in a controlled environment. The difficult part is that mindset, that mental part where, yeah, I'm trained, but do I have to think about it?

You get into a room full of children, and by children, I mean seniors all the way down to kindergarteners. There is going to be a lot of chaos. There's going to be a lot of other events going on. Kids don't always behave. And the danger there is, can I put the shots? Can apply my skill on demand? And what is the penalty for missing? It could be another teacher I hit. It could be a student. It could be an administrator. It could be a first responder. I've got plenty of drills and scenarios that I can run through that simulate that stress. It's not ever going to be the same, but I can get your heart rate up. I can get you task-saturated. And now let's get into some shoot, don't shoot scenarios.

SIMON: Mr. Waldrop, the group Everytown for Gun Safety says that having a gun in a classroom, even in possession of a teacher, increases the likelihood that somebody will use that gun in a nonactive shooter situation, that something will happen, an accident, an act of anger and that more innocent people will get hurt. I wonder how you feel about that.

WALDROP: I don't know that I necessarily believe more people will get hurt because you have more guns. It's all - it all boils down to training, proficiency and mindset. I would not imagine that in the hands of a well-trained, well-equipped and well-armed teacher - I just can't see that happening. I don't know that I believe that.

SIMON: Michelle McGhee, would you rely on the police if something - God forbid, some kind of terrible shooting broke out into your school?

MCGHEE: I think I would want to be proactive. I would also support doing anything that we needed to do to keep our kids safe and our colleagues and our faculty safe until police can arrive. If there is a - you know, a well-trained staff member who volunteers and would want to carry and our board supported that, then I would be I would be for that.

SIMON: Do you - and if you don't want to answer, I am prepared. Do you bring your gun to school?

MCGHEE: I actually do not. I live in town. I'm about four minutes from my house to the school building. So it's a straight shot. So I do not carry mine. But if the board approved and I decided that that's a responsibility that I wanted to take on and if I went through proper training, I don't think I would hesitate.

SIMON: Is this what life is in America now?

MCGHEE: It's a sad reality. Every day, we're losing our kids. Every day, we are losing moms and dads who come to work to educate kids but are having to step in the line of fire and are dying, trying to teach. And we're sending our kids to school to become educated, not to have to fight for their lives. And they shouldn't have to.

SIMON: Michelle McGhee teaches high-school English, and Dirk Waldrop is a defensive firearms instructor in Mountain Home, Ark.

I want to thank you both very much for speaking with us. Thank you.

MCGHEE: Thank you.

WALDROP: Mr. Simon, thank you very much for having us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.