As a teacher in the Walla Walla Valley, Lynn Maxwell thinks about her personal safety and that of her students every day.
“School are not safe places anymore … It’s the same story as across the nation, we’re no different here.”
Maxwell is referring to America’s school-shooting problem, recently punctuated by the Parkland, Fla., killing of 17 students at Marjory Stoneman-Douglas High School.
“There seems to be a prevailing attitude that because we are a small, agricultural community, we’re safe,” Maxwell said.
She sees it differently.
“I don’t think we are insulated, and it makes us more vulnerable to think that we are,” the teacher said.
Maxwell said she fears reprisal from her employer for her views; at her request, the Union-Bulletin is not using Maxwell’s real name or identifying where she works.
Maxwell said she plans to attend Saturday’s “Train a Teacher Day,” presented in Milton-Freewater by Stacy Alexander of Savvy Shooters women’s shooting club. The event is free to area educators, meant to help people understand how guns feel and work, Alexander said.
While Maxwell is an experienced gun owner who regularly practices shooting, her first thought was to sign up for training. Not only does every shooter need all the additional training they can get, it’s a chance to vet her own views on arming some teachers, she said.
“I wanted to see if there are other teachers who feel the way I do,” she said. “I want to see who shows up.”
Maxwell said she believes teachers are on an unexpected front line, even in this rural community. At the school where she works, some parents coming to fetch children are gang members or are people who break laws and can’t follow community rules.
The sign posted declaring the campus to be a gun-free zone won’t convince everyone to suddenly adopt a legal viewpoint, the teacher added.
Students with behavioral-health issues are always a concern as well, Maxwell said.
“We are sitting ducks here, with a sign on the fence saying ‘nobody here is armed.’”
Hard-wired to intervene
These days, Maxwell always carries a concealed gun before and after the school bell rings, she said.
“I have to uncarry to come to work,” she said.
That can sound shocking to some, she conceded, adding neither she nor her husband grew up around guns. But in a long stint of working at the Department of Corrections, Maxwell was trained in firearm use and how to protect people around her.
“That just confirmed and validated so much of what is hard-wired in me,” she said.
When facing danger, people are divided into three response groups: fight, flight or freeze, she explained, adding that she definitely fits into the “fight” category — usually headfirst.
“I mean, responding to violence, medical emergencies, escalating verbal confrontations … things most people shy away from,” she said. “I question myself, ‘Why do I go to it?’ I am one of those people when huge adrenaline dumps happen, in my brain everything slows down, and I have lots of time to think.”
If an incident at her school demands teachers take action, Maxwell said she will be running toward the problem.
“And I’m going to die, because I am not armed,” she said.
Her school, like others, practices safety drills, discusses personal safety and teaches students critical thinking skills, she noted. “But there is no perfect plan to keep our building safe.”
Maxwell was not always in favor of carry and conceal. A decade ago, she turned down a job that would have required it, she recalled.
“When it came right down to it, I wasn’t comfortable carrying a weapon.”
Over the years, as mass-shooting tragedies occurred in the United States, Maxwell found her views changing, she explained, “along with our society. I realized I needed to protect myself and my family.”
Some educators are apprehensive they will be forced to carry a gun as part of the job, but that’s not how she sees it at all, Maxwell said.
“What I want to see, as the very first step, is let the teachers who are already carrying them carry at work, with the knowledge of local law enforcement and the district’s backing,” she said. “These are people who are already fingerprinted and trained. Make it a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy.”
Most people would be surprised to discover who is already packing a gun in Walmart, next to them at church or at the soccer field, Maxwell said.
“They are not talking about it. I believe people who are in favor of carrying want to remain anonymous. The element of surprise is taken away if everyone knows their face.”
There are conversations happening in Walla Walla about this topic, she pointed out, “just not at the right level.
“The people in the trenches are talking about it,” she said. “We know this is a very tricky situation.”