The Debate over Guns in School

Last year marked the 15th anniversary of the deadly shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. The number of shootings since then varies depending upon how school shootings are defined. According to a USA Today article, there have been 20 other deadly school shootings up to the end of 2014. CNN, in a June 2014 article, reports that there have been 15 shootings similar to Sandy Hook in schools since that incident in 2012. However it is defined, gun violence in schools is very real, prompting heated debates about guns in schools. Let's take a look at both sides of the issue as they pertain to whether teachers and staff should be armed.

The shooting from the University of Texas Tower in 1966, in which 14 were killed and 32 others were wounded, was the first mass campus murder in U.S. history.

Why Arming Teachers and Staff is Necessary

Advocates for allowing guns in schools reason that, because people know that schools are gun free zones, shooters feel confident that the schools are easy targets. Having armed personnel would serve as a deterrent, and in case shootings did occur, they could quickly be stopped by the armed teachers, staff, or guards.

In 1999, following the Columbine shootings, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre testified before a Congressional hearing and said, "We think it is reasonable to support the Federal Gun Free School Zones Act." In 2012, after 20 students and six adults were fatally shot at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, LaPierre reversed his position and gave a speech stating that "gun-free zones" and a lack of armed guards was a primary reason for the massacre. He argued that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." He presented a plan to have police, active and retired military, and other armed staff guard the schools.

Colorado state Senator, Ted Harvey, introduced legislation in 2013 to allow Colorado school boards to decide whether to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons; it did not pass. On December 13, 2013, a student opened fire in Arapahoe High School, killing one student before killing himself. Harvey's wife is a teacher, and his son attended Arapahoe. Harvey said that the shooting "validated" his position for having armed school personnel. He said, "I don't want my wife and kids to be sitting ducks."

An armed school resource officer and a retired deputy confronted the shooter in the Arapahoe incident. The Arapahoe County Sheriff, Grayson Robinson, said he felt that the sight of armed individuals prevented further casualties and was probably a key factor in the decision of the shooter to commit suicide.

Utah state law says that school districts must allow employees to carry guns under the state's concealed weapons permit law. A poll conducted for the Exoro Group in January 2013 reported that 59% of those in Utah favored allowing full-time employees to carry weapons. Jacob Paulsen, an NRA-certified firearms instructor from West Provo, said that his class attendance increases every time a school shooting happens. He said teachers tell him that they feel like targets.

In January 2013, the School Improvement Network published a poll of more than 10,000 educators from across the U.S. The survey indicated that, while the majority of educators said they would not bring a gun to school if allowed, most would favor armed guards. Sixty-six percent of those who work at schools where armed guards are already present feel the guards make the schools safer, while only about 10% of those polled felt having armed guards would make campuses less safe or more dangerous.

Why Arming Teachers and Staff is Not a Good Idea

Opponents of guns in schools feel that having armed teachers and staff would only make schools more dangerous. They feel there won't be adequate training to prevent accidents and over-reaction to situations. Restrictions such as re-implementing the ban on semiautomatic and automatic weapons and limiting magazine clip sizes would go farther to establishing school safety than armed teachers.

Opponents of guns in schools point to Australia as an example. In 1996, Australia had a mass shooting similar to Columbine and Sandy Hook. Australia enacted strict bans on semiautomatic and automatic weapons, established a program to buy back guns, and set up a national registry and licensing system. Those in favor of such restrictions note that Australia has not had an incident involving a mass shooting since.

In 2013, South Dakota enacted a law that specifically states that school employees, even volunteers, can carry weapons – concealed or otherwise. Those whom question the law cite an FBI crime report that stated South Dakota only had five gun-related homicides of any kind in 2011. Many feel that states like South Dakota are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist and are creating a different issue. They feel it is teaching kids that the solution to violence is violence. In addition, there are a number of incidents where teachers have accidently shot themselves, leading some to wonder when a student might be next.

While 18 states have some provisions that allow educators to carry weapons to varying degrees, other state leaders denounce such programs. In his 2013 State of the State address, Connecticut Governor Malloy stated, "Freedom is not a handgun on the hip of every teacher, and security should not mean a guard posted outside every classroom."

The leaders of the two large teachers' unions—American Federation of Teachers President, Randi Weingarten, and former president of the National Education Association, Dennis Van Roekel—both feel that guns and schools don't mix. Instead, there should be common sense gun-control legislation and a reversal of the trend to slash budgets for mental health counseling not only in schools, but in the public sector as well. Opponents of guns in schools point out that there was armed security at Columbine and it did not stop the killing of 12 students and a teacher.

Teach Gun Safety in Schools?

Here, too, there are disagreements; usually not in whether there should be gun safety taught, but how. The NRA offers the Eddie Eagle Gun Safe Program to schools, while the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence offers its own gun safety education program called STAR, or "Straight Talk About Risks." The NRA program is criticized by opponents calling it "Joe Camel dressed in feathers" with the same effect of glamorizing something that only adults should do. The NRA criticizes STAR as teaching that guns and guns owners are bad.

There doesn't seem to be an end to the debate and, so far, no end to the threat of gun violence in schools.