Arming teachers to stop school shootings is a dangerous myth

The NRA's tired talking point to solve mass shootings has been proven false again and again.

Trump seaks during a meeting with local and state officials on school safety at the White House. CREDIT: Chris Kleponis/Pool via Bloomberg
Trump seaks during a meeting with local and state officials on school safety at the White House. CREDIT: Chris Kleponis/Pool via Bloomberg

After last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Florida, Americans are imploring their leaders to take serious action on gun control. During a town hall Wednesday night, for instance, survivors of the shooting suggested plenty of steps that could be taken, from banning bump stocks to limiting magazine capacity, strengthening background checks, and  easing the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians.

President Donald Trump, however, decided instead to return to a debunked right-wing idea for solving gun violence: more guns in schools.

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“I want a hardened school,” he said on Thursday during a meeting with law enforcement officials. “I would like to see true people with great talent at guns, being adept at guns, of which there is only a percentage of people. You can’t hire enough security guards.”

The idea that armed personnel in schools would help stop school shooters is one that has been consistently advocated by the NRA; executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, famously said “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In fact, Trump’s latest comments mirrored what LaPierre had said just a few hours beforehand at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC). “Our banks, our airports, our NBA games, our NFL games, our office buildings — they’re all more protected than our children at school,” La Pierre told the audience.

But research shows both Trump and the NRA are wrong. Armed personnel within schools would have very little chance of stopping a school shooter. What’s more, it’s been consistently proven that more guns in schools increases the risk of a deadly accident.

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“There are some myths behind the armed teacher idea in the U.S. The first is that good guys with guns can easily stop mass shootings and there have been numerous studies to show that’s not true,” said Eugenio Weigend, associate director for gun violence prevention at the Center for American Progress. (ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in CAP.) “The FBI conducted a study of 163 instances of mass shootings and found that only one was stopped by an armed individual versus 21 that were stopped by unarmed people.”

Weigend added that, even in the cases often cited as examples of “good guys with guns” stopping bad guys, there were still casualties. He pointed to the shooting of Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) last year, where U.S. Capitol Police Officers managed to stop the shooter after he injured five people. “That cannot be a successful policy at all,” Weigend said. “One person being shot is not a successful policy.”

There’s also the idea, consistently advocated by the NRA, that “gun-free zones” somehow represent easy targets for school shooters. Trump echoed this in his remarks Thursday. “We have to harden our schools not soften them,” he said. “A gun-free zone to a killer or somebody who wants to be a killer, that’s like going in for the ice cream. That’s like ‘here I am, take me.'”

But again, this notion isn’t backed up by the data. According to Louis Klarevas, author of the book Rampage Nation: Securing America from Mass Shootings, of the 111 mass shootings in the U.S. between 1966 and 2015 where six or more people were shot, only 18 occurred in areas that would be classified as “gun-free zones.”

Then there’s the issue of the extensive training school personnel would require in order to have any chance of neutralizing a school shooter. As Lawrence O’Donnell pointed out Wednesday night, the type of training teachers or other school personnel would require to prepare for school shootings is incredibly difficult and similar to that undertaken by police SWAT teams — clearing buildings packed with students, making split-second decisions to avoid accidentally shooting either an innocent victim or another armed responder.

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With schools like Marjory Stoneman Douglas, which had more than 3,000 students, the idea of one or even a half-dozen armed personnel being able to quickly find and neutralize an active shooter in the ensuing chaos seems ludicrous. That’s if they even decide to enter in the first place. According to the Broward Sheriff’s Office, Marjory Stoneman Douglas’ armed school resource officer did not go inside the school to confront the killer when the shooting happened. He has since resigned.

As the Trump administration moves to cut millions from school safety programs, schools would likely balk at the idea of paying for their personnel go on expensive training programs — especially considering how unpopular the idea is among educators. According to Weigend, 68 percent of members of the National Association for Education oppose the idea of firearms training or carrying weapons in schools, a fact echoed by several teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the wake of last week’s shooting. The idea is not popular with students either.

“I think it’s an extremely bad idea to arm teachers with guns,” history teacher Greg Pittman told MSNBC. “I’m going to have to make a determination of should I shoot this student or not? Is this the correct student? What if I make a mistake and I’m wrong?”

Finally, more guns in schools raises the risk of a gun-related accident — a correlation that has already been demonstrated several times. In 2016, elementary school children in Pennsylvania accidentally found a loaded pistol their teacher had left in the bathroom — although luckily no one was injured. In 2014, a sixth-grade teacher in Utah injured herself when she accidentally shot herself in a bathroom. A week beforehand, an Idaho State University professor accidentally shot himself in the foot.

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Mark Barden, a father who lost his son Daniel in the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and whose wife, Jackie, is a teacher, rejected the idea — being pushed anew by Trump and the NRA — that an armed teacher could stop a determined school shooter.

“A deranged sociopath on his way to commit an act of murder in a school with the outcome — knowing the outcome is going to be suicide,” Barden said. “They’re not going to care if there is somebody there with a gun.”