Former high school principal talks about guns in schools

AMES, Iowa – School safety is now an issue of national debate following the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. Part of that discussion has focused on the suggestion of arming school principals or other administrators.

“Personally, I would have felt very, very uncomfortable,” said Chuck Achter, a lecturer and assistant director of the School of Education at Iowa State University. “I don’t believe that you can create a really welcoming feeling, like it’s a family atmosphere, with a principal carrying a gun.”

Achter worked for 32 years as a high school principal in Iowa and Minnesota before coming to Iowa State. Lockdown drills and procedures became routine in schools across the country after the Columbine school shooting in 1999. From that point forward, school security was something he would think about every day, if not every class period. 

While a principal at a high school in Coon Rapids, Minn., Achter said they locked all the doors during the school day, had a security guard and 72 security cameras in the halls. But no matter how many security measures a school may put in place, Achter said there is no perfect system.

“It’s just literally impossible, unless it’s a prison, to keep people out and you certainly don’t want that,” Achter said. “I think we have to work with a lot of ills that we have in society, along with schools, but I want the public to know that school officials and school districts and school teachers take security very seriously.”  

Not only is the liability of having a gun in school a concern, but Achter questions how it would be possible to keep a firearm secure at all times as well as what would happen when the principal or administrator is out of the building. While it is natural for parents to want additional security measures after this latest school shooting, Achter does not believe armed administrators are the answer.

“Students have to feel comfortable in school and I think you work with them individually, like schools do, to help them. But I would have a hard time sitting as the principal talking to a class knowing that I had a firearm on me,” Achter said.

Preventing this type of violence, Achter said, is a larger societal issue that not only impacts schools, but shopping malls and other public areas that have been the scene of recent mass shootings.