Seeking a response to the tragedy of school shootings, legislators in some states have eschewed proven solutions that approach the problem from every angle and have been seduced by the risky and false idea that arming teachers and school staff will make our schools safe. In fact, an armed teacher cannot, in a moment of extreme duress and confusion, be expected to transform into a specially trained law enforcement officer. An armed teacher is much more likely to shoot a student bystander or be shot by responding law enforcement than to be an effective solution to an active shooter in a school.
Our leaders should instead pursue an evidence-based intervention plan that addresses what we know about school gun violence. For more information about evidence-based school safety solutions, visit: everytownresearch.org/school-safety
A March 2018 survey of almost 500 U.S. teachers found that 73 percent oppose proposals to arm school staff.1Brenan M. Most US teachers oppose carrying guns in schools. Gallup. March 16, 2018. https://bit.ly/2MPTRV5.
Another survey found that 63 percent of parents of elementary, middle, and high school students oppose arming teachers.2PDK Poll. School security: is your child safe at school? September 2018. https://bit.ly/3VeRkGW.
Arming teachers is opposed by school safety experts like law enforcement, and teachers and parents.
The American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are the nation’s two largest teachers’ organizations representing millions of educators and staff. They oppose arming teachers.1Everytown for Gun Safety. Keeping our kids safe at school: a plan to stop mass shootings and end gun violence in American schools. everytownresearch.org/schoolsafety. February 2019.
The National Association of School Resource Officers strongly opposes proposals to arm teachers due to the risk it would pose to law enforcement, students and the school community, as well as the risks to the armed teachers themselves.2National Association of School Resource Officers. NASRO opposes arming teachers. https://nasro.org/news/ press-releases/nasro-opposesarming-teachers/. Published February 2018.
The notion of a highly trained teacher armed with a gun is a myth.
Law enforcement officers receive an average of 840 hours of basic training including 168 hours of training on weapons, self-defense, and the use of force.5Reaves BA. State and local law enforcement training academies, 2013. US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics. July 2016. https://bit.ly/2pg0whI. In states that have laws aimed at arming school personnel, school staff receive significantly less training. In some of these states there is no minimum training required at all.
Even some of the most highly trained law enforcement officers in the country, those of the New York City Police Department, see their ability to shoot accurately decrease significantly when engaged in gunfights with perpetrators.6Rostker BD, Hanser LM, Hix WM, et al. Evaluation of the New York City Police Department firearm training and firearm-discharge review process. Rand Corporation. https://www.rand.org/pubs/ monographs/MG717.html. Published 2008.
1. Students will access teachers’ guns.
Research strongly supports the idea that children will access guns when guns are present.
One study showed that the majority of children are aware of where their parents store their guns. In fact, more than one third of those children reported handling their parents’ guns, many doing so without the knowledge of their parents.7Baxley F, Miller M. Parental misperceptions about children and firearms. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2006; 160(5): 542-547. Nearly a quarter of parents did not know that their children had handled the gun in their house.8Baxley F, Miller M. Parental misperceptions about children and firearms. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 2006; 160(5): 542-547.
There have been numerous incidents where guns carried into schools were misplaced — guns left in bathrooms,9Metrick B. Ex-teacher charged for leaving gun in school bathroom, police say. USA Today. September 13, 2016. https://bit.ly/2G9jlfF. locker rooms,10Associated Press. No charges after Isabella Co. sheriff accidentally leaves gun at school. Detroit Free Press. April 3, 2018. https://bit.ly/2GtNfeb. sporting events,11Laine C. Woman finds gun in bleachers at basketball tournament. WNEM. January 24, 2019. https://bit. ly/2PqmERG. even an incident where a gun fell out while a teacher did a backflip.12Rojas J. Student: substitute teacher was doing back flip when gun fell out. Bay News 9. October 24, 2018. https://bit. ly/2t4SlFF.
There are also multiple incidents where guns were stolen from teachers by students, or cases where guns were misplaced and later found in the hands of students.13Harten D. Police: Jacksonville High student steals gun from teacher. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. January 17, 2012 https://bit.ly/2V3psWX; Madden R. Police find teacher’s stolen gun with student. Fox 2 Now St. Louis. October 25, 2018. https://bit.ly/2S9hqy7.
2. The risk of shootings increases.
Access to a firearm, irrespective of age, triples the risk of death by suicide and doubles the risk of death by homicide.14Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: a systematic review and metaanalysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160: 101–110.
There have been several incidents of guns intentionally or unintentionally discharged on school grounds by school staff. This includes both intentional and unintentional shootings such as:
A janitor who killed two of his colleagues at a performing arts school in Florida.15Seltzer A, Winston H, Hitchcock O. Breaking: Man arrested in 2013 murder of Dreyfoos school janitors. The Palm Beach Post. May 25, 2017. https:// pbpo.st/2RE4R8V.
A Spanish teacher who was fired and then returned to school with an AK-47 in a guitar case that he used to kill the school headmaster and then himself.16Nelson R. “My school shooter was a teacher,” Jax school shooting survivor speaks out against arming teachers. Actions News Jax. February 14, 2019. https://bit.ly/2BAc0lg.
Firearm suicides by faculty or staff at schools.17McCray V. Lithia Springs shooting intentional, teacher ID’d. Atlanta Journal Constitution. August 21, 2017. https://on-ajc.com/2M6D42h.
Unintentional incidents, by both school resource officers in schools and teachers who accidentally discharged their firearms.18Schrott M. Officer accidentally discharges weapon at George Washington Middle School. Alexandria Times. March 13, 2018. https://bit.ly/2BnC8zT.
3. Arming teachers introduces new liability risks.
When several districts in Kansas sought to arm teachers, the insurance companies informed them that they would not insure such a dangerous practice.19Hiltzik M. One big problem with the idea of arming teachers: insurance companies won’t play along, and for good reason. Los Angeles Times. February 26, 2018. https://lat.ms/2BkRxBb.
School policies may expose teachers to criminal liability in the event policies are not consistent with state law. It is also unlikely that insurance companies would indemnify schools from monetary claims in these cases.
State immunity laws cannot exempt schools from all legal liability, particularly federal civil rights liability.
The best way to protect American schools from mass shootings and gun violence is to adopt an evidence-based intervention plan like the one proposed by Everytown, The American Federation of Teachers, and The National Education Association.
Using what we know about school gun violence, our organizations have put together a plan that focuses on intervening before violence occurs.
1. Enact Sensible Gun Laws
The first part of this plan focuses on preventing shooters from getting their hands on guns by enacting sensible laws including:
Extreme Risk laws
Laws that empower family and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily prevent a person from having access to guns when they pose a serious risk to themselves or others. These laws empower family members and law enforcement to act on warning signs of violence, which most active shooters exhibit before shootings at school.
Responsible firearm storage laws
Laws that require that people store firearms responsibly when they are not in their possession in order to prevent unauthorized access. These laws, along with building public awareness of responsible storage, can address the most common source of guns used in school gun violence.
Raising the age to purchase semiautomatic firearms to 21
These laws raise the age to purchase all semiautomatic firearms to 21, to match the age to purchase a handgun from a licensed gun dealer. Most active shooters at schools are school-aged. These laws can prevent minors from easily obtaining guns.
Requiring background checks on all gun sales
Under current federal law, background checks are only required for sales from licensed gun dealers, but not for sales between unlicensed individuals. This gap enables people exhibiting warning signs, minors, and people with dangerous histories to evade gun laws and get their hands on guns at gun shows or from strangers they meet online. Requiring a background check on all gun sales is the foundation of any comprehensive gun violence prevention strategy.
2. Protect Schools with Evidence-Based Actions
The second part of the plan focuses on evidence-based and expert-endorsed actions that schools can take to intervene and address warning signs of violence and to keep shooters out of schools. Schools can do this by:
Establishing threat assessment programs
Threat assessment programs are school programs to identify and manage potential threats of violence. These programs allow schools to understand and intervene when a student is a risk to themselves or others.
Implementing basic security upgrades
Basic security measures that prevent unauthorized access to school buildings, grounds, and classrooms, including access control measures and interior door locks, can intervene to prevent access to a school and give law enforcement time to respond.
Planning in advance for emergencies
Effective emergency planning, which facilitates communication, can empower staff to immediately lock out schools and allow law enforcement to respond quickly.
Establishing safe and equitable schools
Schools should review school discipline practices, establish community schools, ensure threat assessment programs are not having a disproportionate impact on communities of color, and promote effective partnerships between students and adults in order to keep schools safe.
Everytown Research & Policy is a program of Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, an independent, non-partisan organization dedicated to understanding and reducing gun violence. Everytown Research & Policy works to do so by conducting methodologically rigorous research, supporting evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge to the American public.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. WONDER Online Database, Underlying Cause of Death. A yearly average was developed using four years of the most recent available data: 2018 to 2021.