More states are allowing schools to have armed staff to defend students against active shooters, nearly a year and a half after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings in Connecticut.
In 2013, 21 states strengthened gun laws to require trigger-locking devices and background checks for private sales, says Laura Cutilletta, senior staff attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. At the same time, the National Rifle Association (NRA) made a public push to allow more security guards or staff members to carry guns in schools, after 40 to 60 hours of firearms training.
Now, more states allow schools to designate staff to carry firearms; often, the person chosen already has a concealed weapon permit, Cutilletta says. Some lawmakers have argued publicly that schools are targets for gun violence because they are gun-free zones, but a shooter might not attack if they know someone at the school could fire back.
Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas all passed laws in 2013 that allow school employees to be armed in some capacity on school property, according to data from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Each state’s law differs slightly. In South Dakota, for example, districts need police consent to let security guards, staff members or volunteers from the community carry guns in schools. In Tennessee, school personnel can possess a firearm on school property if the person has a concealed carry permit and is authorized by the district superintendent.
In March, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed into law a measure to allow adults to keep handguns and other firearms locked in cars in school parking lots. Proponents, including the NRA, say it will prevent adults with gun permits from potentially being charged with a felony for having a firearm in the car while dropping a student off at school.
Lewis D. Ferebee, superintendent of Indianapolis Public Schools, wanted Pence to veto the bill. “We have the complex responsibility of maintaining safety without compromising it,” Ferebee says. Determined criminals will find a way to harm others, he adds. “We are at risk when we are unable to protect ourselves. However, greater risk may be present when guns are allowed on campus.”
Even in states where laws have been passed allowing weapons in schools, districts make the final decision on staff members carrying guns, says Bill Bond, school safety specialist for the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP). Utah districts have had such options for over a decade.
The NASSP recommends that schools hire police rather than allow school staff to arm themselves. “A teacher has enough responsibility in the classroom, and if you give them the responsibility for firearms, we think it’s going to create a more dangerous situation and distract from the teacher’s ability to focus on teaching and learning,” Bond says.
There were 28 shootings in K12 schools and 16 on college campuses between December 2012 and February 2014, according to a report from activist groups Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In one third of these incidents, at least one person was shot after a schoolyard confrontation escalated and a gun was at hand. These shootings resulted in 28 deaths and 37 non-fatal gunshot injuries, the report states.
There is no evidence that arming school employees makes schools safer, but also no evidence to the contrary, Bond says. “It comes down to what a district school board and administrators feel is best for their schools,” he adds.