Arming Teachers Won’t Make Schools Safer: Viewpoint

May 21, 2019

Florida this month became the latest state to allow teachers to carry guns at school — even though there is no evidence to suggest this can reduce school violence, and ample reason to fear the unintended consequences.

The new law coincides with the release of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s most recent reporton active shooters — the armed and violent who have terrorized so many American schools. The bureau documented 27 incidents in 2018 in which one or more shooters attempted to kill people in a “populated area,” such as a place of business or a school. (Gang- and drug-related shootings aren’t included.) Not counting the shooters themselves, there were 213 casualties, including 85 deaths.

The report hardly inspires confidence that arming teachers will minimize school shootings. In two of the 27 incidents, armed civilians exchanged gunfire with a shooter. At Dixon High School in Illinois, a school resource officer shot and wounded a shooter, then apprehended him. At Santa Fe High School in Texas, a shooter shot and wounded a school resource officer. On three occasions, though, unarmed citizens succeeded in ending a shooting.

Previous FBI reports tell the same story. In four out of 50 such incidents in 2016 and 2017, an armed citizen successfully stopped a shooter. But in one case, after a citizen fired, the shooter fled to another scene and continued shooting. In another, a citizen was wounded before he could fire.

Meanwhile, in four other incidents, unarmed citizens successfully confronted a shooter or persuaded the person to stop. Indeed, since 2000, unarmed civilians have successfully intervened in shootings more often than armed civilians have.

How would armed teachers change the course of highly volatile school shootings? In 2003, a 15-year-old shooter at Rocori High School in Minnesota killed two people. After an unarmed teacher ordered him to put down his gun, he complied and was arrested. A similar scene unfolded in 2014 at Berrendo Middle School in New Mexico, ending in the shooter’s arrest. Would these shooters have given up if the teachers had been armed, or would that have provoked them to commit greater violence? No one knows.

That includes members of the Florida legislature. Yet the majority concluded, with the support of the gun lobby, that the best response to gun violence can only be more guns. Guns, however, are not cure-alls, and teachers don’t always know how to handle them.

Consider the Pennsylvania teacher who left a loaded gun on a toilet, where a group of 6- to 8-year-olds discovered it. Or the Missouri middle-school teacher who brought a gun to school and didn’t notice until the end of the day that students had taken it. Or the Texas superintendent who left her gun in a school district van for a student to find. These are just a few of many known incidents of recklessness involving guns at schools.

Arming teachers raises the level of risk in a world already made dangerous by too-easy access to firearms. Students, teachers and parents deserve safer schools.

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