Looking at the data about arming school teachers

  • 20 March 2018
  • NormanL
The evidence just isn't there

The White House seems intent on pursing its proposal to allow school teachers to carry firearms in the classroom. While they would specially and thoroughly trained in the use of firearms, there are questions about whether this approach would make any effective difference in school safety.

A Congressional Research Service report says the data is weak, with no clear indication whether armed teachers can stop mass shooters:

There is no sound research on whether arming teachers prevents school shootings. The theory underlying arming teachers is similar to that of placing school resource officers (SROs) in schools: their presence could have a deterrent effect and they could react quicker than the police to active shooters. However, one review of the literature on SROs and armed guards finds mixed results regarding their effect on school crime, and no research has evaluated their effect on mass shootings. The review noted anecdotal evidence that mass shooters were not deterred by the presence of law enforcement officers during shootings at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.

Limited evidence exists to indicate whether armed teachers could end active shooting incidents. In a few instances, private citizens carrying firearms have halted active shooters. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released a report on active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013. Of the 160 active shooter incidents both inside and outside of academic settings that the study identified, five (3%) ended when armed private citizens exchanged gunfire with shooters. Most incidents concluded after police and shooters exchanged gunfire (28%), when shooters committed suicide before the police arrived (23%), unarmed citizens subdued shooters (13%), or shooters committed suicide after police arrived but before they could act (11%).

So, the data is scant, and not very good. That ought to be a concern.

There are other questions the proposal to arm teachers raise that need to be carefully considered:

One is whether teachers would be allowed to possess firearms on school grounds. The Gun-Free School Zones Act generally prohibits individuals from knowingly possessing firearms on school grounds. However, this does not apply if someone is licensed by a state or locality to possess a firearm. A patchwork of state laws addresses who can possess a firearm on school property. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that 19 states allow anyone with permission from a school authority to possess a firearm on school grounds. Another five states allow anyone with a concealed carry permit to possess a firearm on school grounds. New Hampshire allows anyone, except for students in certain circumstances, to possess a firearm on school grounds. Missouri allows people with a concealed carry license to have a firearm on school grounds if approved by the school authority, Wyoming allows school staff to carry a firearm if they have permission from the school authority.

Another issue policymakers might consider is whether the federal government would cover the cost of purchasing firearms for teachers and providing training on active shooter situations. Doing so might require a sizable investment on the part of Congress. An analysis in the Washington Post estimates that it would cost anywhere from $250 million to $1 billion to arm one-fifth of all teachers (President Trump clarified that he thought 20% of the most adept teachers should be armed). Total expenditures would depend on the cost of firearms and whether training on active shooter scenarios is covered.

Little evidence of effectiveness. Legal and cost considerations, not to mention liability issues.

We prefer school safety be left to those specifically trained in, and assigned to, the task. Say, through the National School Shield program. And let teachers worry about teaching.