The mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has left many alarmed parents seeking immediate ways to better secure our schools against such future horrific attacks.
Beyond improving police response and ensuring basic security measures like locking doors during school hours are followed, there is one additional measure that can be installed to enhance school safety.
It is, however, controversial: Permitting teachers and school resource officers on school grounds to be armed. While many parents who support gun control measures would shudder at the thought of allowing armed teachers at the schools their little ones attend, there is surprising evidence that suggests it may be a simple, powerful solution.
A 2019 study conducted by gun violence expert John Lott Jr. shows there wasn’t one school where a teacher was armed that had a non-suicidal gun violence incident during school hours.
“After the Columbine school shooting 20 years ago, one of the more significant changes in how we protect students has been the advance of legislation that allows teachers to carry guns at schools, the study notes. “There are two obvious questions: Does letting teachers carry create dangers? Might they deter attackers? Twenty states currently allow teachers and staff to carry guns to varying degrees on school property, so we don’t need to guess how the policy would work.”
“There has yet to be a single case of someone being wounded or killed from a shooting, let alone a mass public shooting, between 6 AM and midnight at a school that lets teachers carry guns,” the study continues. “Fears of teachers carrying guns in terms of such problems as students obtaining teachers guns have not occurred at all, and there was only one accidental discharge outside of school hours with no one was really harmed.”
“While there have not been any problems at schools with armed teachers, the number of people killed at other schools has increased significantly – doubling between 2001 and 2008 versus 2009 and 2018,” the report adds.
The study’s dataset shows only a few schools with potential qualifying incidents where teachers were armed, but the cases were either suicides or fell outside of school hours (5 total incidents). The one case that came the closest to qualifying was a 2017 incident that took place in a school parking lot outside of Spanish Fork High School at 2:30 a.m. in the morning.
“A 19-year-old man shot an 18-year-old man in the parking lot of Spanish Fork High School before turning the gun on himself early Friday morning,” Fox 13 reported at the time. “Police were called to the school parking lot near 99 N. 300 W. at about 2:30 a.m. where they found the 18-year-old had been shot in the upper arm.”
“Officers said the victim and other witnesses ran when the shooter fired three to five shots in the air and also shot at a witness,” the report added.
As of January 1, 2020, 28 states allow schools to arm teachers or staff in at least some cases or as part of a specific program.* (See list below)
Education Week, which tracks school shootings, reports that “there have been 119 school shootings in which at least one person was killed or injured since 2018.”
Education Week also provides a map for the school shooting locations in 2020. We will examine those incidents due to there being a more authoritative list on states allowing teachers or staff at that time (provided below). Certain anti-gun activist websites proved to be unreliable in terms of their relevant lists. Additionally, current regulations are in flux, as Louisiana and Ohio are now moving to allow armed teachers. It must be qualified, however, that remote learning in some school districts during the 2020 Covid response limits the generalizability of the analysis.
According to Education Week, there were 10 school shooting incidents in 2020.
Of those 10 cases, 3 incidents in states that permit armed teachers or school resource officers occurred outside of the school building itself (Florida, Ohio, Texas), and 4 incidents appear to be accidental discharges (California, Florida, Texas). (This is consistent with many — but not all —mass shooting reports in 2021 and 2022.)
There was one case that took place inside a school gym in Dallas, Texas in January 2020. A 15-year-old shot and killed an 18-year-old after a brawl over a basketball game and also wounded a police officer. The teenage suspect later turned himself in.
It is now 2022, and there are more cases than in 2020. The source cites 27 school shooting incidents already. The most startling case, of course, is that of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School that killed 19 schoolchildren and two teachers. In the case of Uvalde, contrary to early misleading reports from the Texas Department of Public Safety, “there was no school resource officer on site” that confronted the mass shooter at Robb Elementary School.
The Uvalde case highlights that there is a major difference between allowing a teacher or school resource officer to carry a gun and there actually being one on hand to stop a mass shooter should one attack.
The deadly mass shooting incidents that appear to shock the public conscience the most are ones that occur in schools. According to the strictest technical definition, there have been thirteen deadly mass shootings in the United States since 1966. That doesn’t make the events any less tragic, but it does suggest that the solution does not lie in depriving law-abiding gun owners of personal defense firearms, but rather in identifying young persons prone to mass violence and ensuring there are responsible adults nearby who can put a quick end to a potential shooting rampage.
While there are states that are now moving to implement stricter gun control laws in the aftermath of Uvalde — namely, Colorado, Connecticut, New York, and California — there are nearly as many states seeking to arm qualified teachers: Florida, Louisiana, and Ohio. Each list can be expected to grow in the weeks and months ahead. Along with these new state proposals, there should be more comprehensive analyses on school shootings and the effects of arming teachers and school resource officers to inform this vitally important debate.
* [Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. See Ivey, 2018; Crime Prevention Research Center, 2018b; Hernandez, 2018; Fla. Stat. § 1006.12; Ga. Code Ann. § 20-8-5; Hawaii Rev. Stat. § 302A-1134(b); Ida. Code Ann. § 18-3302D; Ind. Code Ann. § 35-47-9-1(a); Ia. Code § 724.4B; Kan. Stat. Ann. § 75-7c10; Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 269, § 10; Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 750.237a; Minn. Stat. § 609.66 subdivision 1d, item 8; Miss. Code Ann. § 97-37-17; Mo. Ann. Stat. § 571.107; Mont. Code Ann. § 45-8-361; N.H. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 193:13; N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:39-5; N.D. Cent. Code § 62.1-02-14; Ohio Rev. Code § 2923.122(B); 21 Okla. Stat. Ann. § 1277; Ore. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 166.370; S.D. Codified Laws § 13-64-1; Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-816; Tex. Educ. Code Ann. § 37.0811; Utah Code Ann. § 76-10-505.5; Knicely, 2018; Wyo. Stat. Ann. § 21-3-132.]
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