There has been a lot of talk over the years about the reasonability of safety officers and/or teachers carrying guns in schools. The recent shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary have escalated these conversations and there seems to be a sharp divide between those in favor and those opposed. Regardless of where you stand there are a few situations that must be considered before we take such a step in our public school system.
The facts are that eighteen states have laws that allow police and SROs (security resource officers) to carry guns on school campus. These include Alabama, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming. An additional eleven states – Alaska, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Tennessee - are considering laws allowing concealed weapons carried by police and teachers on campus. On Friday, March 8, 2013, South Dakota became the first state in the nation to enact a law explicitly authorizing school employees to carry guns on the job. Many more school districts have allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons on campus with the approval of the school board and some only require that the principal sign a written statement that he or she approves the individual to carry a concealed weapon on campus.
Should school employees be allowed to carry a concealed weapon on campus? This is a question that encourages vehement arguments on both sides. Those in favor of resource officers and/or teachers being allowed to carry a concealed weapon are certain that this measure would ensure a decrease in loss of life and possibly would even deter school shootings entirely. Those opposed are just as certain that allowing resource officers and/or teachers to carry concealed weapons would only lead to more loss of life and injuries. Who is right? How can we know?
Those in favor of “guns in school” believe that if teachers were allowed to carry concealed weapons, they would be able to stop a shooter before he/she is able to carry out their plan. This may be true to some extent; however, there are a few flaws inherent in that idea. First, the shooter would have to begin his or her plan in order to gain the attention needed for someone to know to intervene. Second, the teacher or other staff would need easy access to their gun. In the attempt to stop the shooter, a third party that might never be involved could also be shot. Additionally, the shooter could react to the threat by taking hostages. Finally, the shooter could kill the individual attempting to stop him or her and take their weapon, only increasing their firepower. In addition to what can go wrong during an active shooter attack are the consequences of having a weapon on school grounds at all times. Even if locked, there is always the potential for students gaining access to the gun and causing injury for other students. If the weapon is on the person of the individual who owns it, there is a chance for it to go off expectantly and cause injury or death.
On the other hand, if guns are banned in school, the only alternatives for those “under attack” are to lock their class into the room and try to keep students calm and safe; evacuate the building when safe; or wait for the authorities to clear the building. Each of these plans accepts a certain amount of risk. Ammunition can penetrate walls and windows. Evacuation plans can always go awry, putting students and staff in the line of fire. Authorities can add to the panic and chaos in the mind of the students and staff as more people with more guns invade the building.
Is one situation better than the other? It is certainly clear, at least in my mind, that there is little control over the situation in either case. School shootings are the acts of emotionally disturbed individuals who have decided before they walk onto school grounds that violence is the answer to their problems. There is no control possible in such a situation. However, the simple presence of the weapon on school grounds at any given time increases the potential for injuries and death, whereas the denial of such a privilege eradicates some of the danger factors. Some people would want to consider the statistics of the states that have passed laws allowing guns in schools and those who cannot. New York – where guns are allowed in schools – has the highest number of school shootings. There are also states in both categories that have had no school shootings. It does not appear that the law regulating whether or not guns are allowed on school grounds has any effect on whether or not school shootings take place. As for whether having guns on school grounds prevents deaths in the event of an active shooter, we have no way to tell because the theories are only just being tested.
Where do you stand in this debate? Consider both elementary and high schools, along with colleges and universities. (In colleges and universities, many students want the right to carry concealed weapons themselves.) Let’s discuss it in the forum!