President Obama’s new plan for reducing gun violence includes a $150 million proposal to give school districts money that they can use to hire specially trained police officers, social workers or other support staff. Recent polling shows some support for the idea of more armed adults on school grounds, but how likely is it to become widespread?
In the wake of Newtown, there has been a push for more armed staff—including teachers and even janitors—in some areas of the country. Two hundred teachers in Utah and 400 in Texas have reportedly flocked to conceal-and-carry courses, and a gun rights group in Ohio offering free classes for teachers has reported big interest in its program. In Ohio last week, one school board unanimously passed a plan to arm janitors. In many states, it’s legal for teachers and other school staff to carry concealed firearms with permits, as long as they have admistrators’ permission (typically from the principal or school board), though few schools have taken advantage of that loophole in the past.
In most cases, however, there’s a big difference between installing a police officer and a social studies instructor who’s gotten some basic firearms training. Is arming school teachers and janitors a good idea at all? For starters, as Mother Jones’ in-depth investigation showed, data on mass shootings strongly suggests that it’s neither a smart nor effective solution for stopping massacres. And that’s aside from the fact that studies show when more firearms are around, the odds of more people getting shot go up significantly, whether accidentally or otherwise.
Other bad outcomes may be in store, as some scenarios in Mississippi demonstrate. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves recently proposed spending an additional $7.5 million on hiring more law enforcement officers in schools, but as a newly released report on school discipline in Mississippi shows, only 4 percent of arrests at schools in Jackson in 2010 and 2011 were for incidents that posed any serious threat to students, teachers, or staff. That report comes on the heals of a US Department of Justice lawsuit filed against the city of Meridian, Miss., alleging that students have been arrested at school and incarcerated for disciplinary infractions, punished without due process, and held in jail for days at a time without probable cause hearings.
Opponents of having armed personnel in schools also point out that there’s no clear correlation between having more armed staff at a school and reduced violence. Resources, they say, would be better spent on mental health professionals and other support services.