Guns into the ClassroomsMass shootings represent only 1 percent of the overall gunfire incidents that happen in or around school property. However, they disproportionately account for the highest number of deaths and injuries. Gun laws, policies, and gun culture have an evident influence on incidents of mass shootings. In addition to mass shootings, other incidents of gun violence are also being evidenced in schools at a distressing frequency. These include unintentional discharges that result in death or injuries, homicides, assaults, and suicides using firearms. Regardless of the intent or the number of victims, all the aforementioned gun violence incidents compromise the safety of the students and staff members in schools, thereby requiring the implementation of feasible solutions that can minimize or even eliminate this threat.
In order to better understand the effectiveness of any proposed solution, it is important to analyze the link between gun laws and policies and the rate of school mass shootings. Through an empirical research study, the states with more permissive gun laws and less restrictive possession rights experienced higher rates of mass shootings than the states with more restrictive gun laws (Reeping et al., 2019). Specifically, this study found that an increase in state gun law permissiveness by 10 units resulted in a 9 percent increase rate in mass shootings while a 10 percent gain in permissiveness in gun ownership laws resulted in a 35 percent increase likelihood of mass shootings. Essentially, the states that have relaxed gun laws have higher numbers of people who own guns and subsequently experience higher rates of mass shootings.
The primary trend in many states is to enact laws and policies that restrict gun ownership and accessibility.
On the other hand, Texas has some of the least constrictive gun laws. The state has also experienced some of the deadliest cases of mass shootings in schools. For example, in 2018 a school shooting happened at Santa Fe High School killing 10 people. The shooter used a shotgun and a .38 revolver which were legally owned by a local father. In August 2019, a shooter opened fire in a crowded bar, resulting in the deaths of 9 people and injuring 27 people more in El Paso, Texas. This incident happened only a few hours after another shooter opened fire in a Walmart store in El Paso, killing around 20 people and injuring 27 others.
The Texas legislature has enacted some of the most liberal gun laws allowing its citizens to carry concealed weapons in public places such as churches and public school grounds. Some of these laws include allowing the storage of weapons and ammunition in the same locked location by licensed foster parents. Previously, it was required that weapons and ammunition were stored separately. Licensed gun holders are also free to carry weapons into church grounds. Senator Donna Campbell, who sponsored the bill allowing guns into houses of worship stated that the guns would help law-abiding citizens defend themselves against individuals with evil intentions (Johnson, 2019). Within the school grounds, the Texas law bans school districts from specifying how gun owners should store their guns, thereby allowing them to transport and carry guns into school premises.
However, it may also be argued that more restrictive gun laws may not necessarily translate to increased safety and fewer mass shootings. For example, California is regarded as the ‘capital of gun control’ due to the state’s restrictive and comprehensive gun laws. California is a ‘may issue’ state whereby state authorities exercise discretion in giving permits for carrying concealed weapons to the citizens. The permitting process is quite rigorous. Some of the requirements include being 21 years old and above, background checks to check previous criminal activities, providing an ID or driver’s license, providing proof of residency, and also undergoing a Firearm Safety Certification. The certification includes a test on California gun laws and safety rules. There is a list of handguns that Californians can purchase. As a ‘may issue state, the permitting process helps the relevant authority to determine whether the applicant has a good cause to be issued with a permit. In addition, the permit only allows the individual to carry the weapon at certain times or circumstances and not at all times, during which times the permitted individual is still subject to the terms of the permit. Violating these terms may result in the revocation of the permit.
However, despite the restrictive nature of California’s gun laws, the state has also experienced some of the worst school and public mass shootings in the country.
This goes to show that even though restrictive gun laws may have the effect of reducing the rate of mass shootings, they can only go so far. Motivated individuals will always look for ways to go around these laws, whether through purchasing firearms over the internet, asking third parties to purchase them on their behalf, stealing the firearms from family members, or taking advantage of the porous state borders to transport guns from states with less restrictive laws. For example, Chicago has some of the strongest gun controls but also experiences disproportionately high rates of gun violence. According to a press statement from the Mayor’s office, many of the guns found in gun violence crimes were bought outside Illinois potentially from states with permissive gun laws (City of Chicago Office of the Mayor, 2017). These factors, therefore, make it imperative for the creation and implementation of measures against gun violence.
The gruesome and overwhelming consequences of mass shootings in schools have resulted in widespread debates on the most effective measures to stop them at both the national and state levels. Federal agencies, local enforcement agencies and associations, public safety groups, disaster response, and preparedness groups, and scholars are among the groups that are invested in understanding school mass shootings in order to provide effective solutions. For example, following the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 a presidential task force was created to provide recommendations on how to end public mass shootings, and at a broader aspect, solutions to gun violence (Lemieux, 2014). As is with any gun control-related debate, there are always two major and opposing positions. On the one hand, there is the group that advocates for the protection of Second Amendment rights with regard to gun ownership. This group recommends measures that address the American violent culture without restricting the citizens’ constitutionally protected rights. On the other hand, there is a group that advocates for more restrictions on the accessibility and the subsequent use of guns such as requiring background checks before selling a gun as well as restricting the sale of specific types of military weapons that when used in a mass shooting can inflict optimum fatalities.
To put this debate into perspective, following the Columbine High School shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher, the role of firearms was stressed from the very beginning, with the accessibility with ease to guns being attributed as the main reason that enabled the shooting. The killings were specifically attributed to too many guns and few gun control laws. This resulted in gun control laws being the second highest most proposed bills in Congress, only preceded by bills that focused on school programs and security (Kleck, 2009). The pro-gun and anti-control conservatives on the other hand were apprehensive of any preventive measure that gun control would have had on the two shooters arguing that even though there were dozen gun control laws in Colorado at the time, the shooters were still able to purchase their arsenal.
These two positions are both at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Arguably, situational solutions are some form of compromise between these two hard stances.
One of these situational solutions is allowing teachers to be in possession of a firearm in the classroom. Having a teacher use a gun to apprehend a shooter on school property is not a new concept. In one of the first school shootings at Pearl High School, Mississippi in 1997, the shooter, Luke Woodham, had killed 2 students and wounded another 7 before the school’s Vice Principal apprehended him (Jones, 2016). The teacher, Joel Myrick, had retrieved a gun he kept in his truck to capture Woodham, further stopping him from allegedly continuing with his shooting rampage at another school. Myrick became the first ever school employee to use his gun to stop a shooting within school premises.
One of the major arguments that may be advanced against arming school employees is the potential for the armed employee to become violent against the students and staff members. For example, a South Pasadena High School principal, Verlin Spencer killed 5 of his colleagues due to being disgruntled about a decision to fire him. The principal had been fired from the school due to friction with colleagues. The shooting occurred on his way to an appeal hearing against the school board’s decision. However, it was later established that Spencer had an unusually high amount of bromide in his blood, a highly addictive active ingredient that was used to treat headaches before it was banned. It was established that the amount in Spencer’s blood at the time of the shooting was enough to render him legally insane, which was consistent with his claims that he did not remember anything from the shooting. The insanity ground goes to show that shootings by armed school employees can only happen in exceptional circumstances.
It can also be argued that a layperson, as many school employees are, does not possess the necessary training to enable them to handle a firearm under highly volatile and unpredictable circumstances. A school shooting incident is a stressful situation whereby all the individuals are acting under pressure to maintain their own and other people’s safety. For example, armed security and law enforcement personnel undergo intense training in order to acquire a firearm certification. The training enables these individuals to accurately shoot a firearm. Moreover, constant and ongoing training enables armed individuals to maintain proficiency.
In order to mitigate the potential risks, the decision-making process allowing teachers to carry weapons into the school grounds should undertake a risk management approach. This approach requires the relevant policymakers as well as the school administration to undertake a risk assessment, identification and analysis of the exposure risks, evaluation of the alternatives to deal with the exposure risks, the selection of the best option, the implementation of the chosen solution, and monitoring the effectiveness of the option. This process may include analyzing the popular culture within the school and attitudes towards guns, the storage and training requirements, determining the difference between having armed security guards over armed employees, analyzing any measures that may mitigate against the risks of having armed employees, adopting the policy and actually providing the weapons to the teachers or other considered employees, and finally enforcing and evaluating the effectiveness of the standards and controls.
Gun violence is a multi-faceted problem that requires a complex and comprehensive set of solutions. In many cases, gun violence, in schools and elsewhere, is mainly premised on the interpretation of the Second Amendment. Some guns approach in school premises are a compromise between the two sides of the debate. The risk and liability of having armed teachers in schools are far lesser than that of restricting all individuals from possessing guns. Having armed teachers provides a higher safety advantage. In many of the school shootings that have previously occurred, the shooter(s) committed suicide after establishing that law enforcement officers had arrived. Arguably, an incident with an armed employee may prevent further deaths or injuries from being perpetrated. However, it is crucial to provide sufficient training for the teachers to be armed.
- City of Chicago Office of the Mayor, (2017). Gun Trace Report. Retrieved from https://www.chicago.gov/content/dam/city/depts/mayor/Press%20Room/Press%20Releases/2017/October/GTR2017.pdf
- Johnson, A. (2019). As many call for tighter gun laws, Texas is set to loosen up. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/many-call-tighter-gun-laws-texas-set-loosen-n1039481n,
- Jones, C. W. (2016). Armed to Learn: Aiming at California K-12 School Gun Policy. Naval Postgraduate School Student Thesis.
- Kleck, G. (2009). Mass Shootings in Schools: The Worst Possible Case for Gun Control. American Behavioral Scientist, 52(10).
- Lemieux, F. (2014). Effect of gun culture and firearm laws on gun violence and mass shootings in the United States: a multi-level quantitative analysis. International Journal of Criminal Justice Sciences, 9 (1), 74-93.
- Reeping, P. M. (2019). State gun laws, gun ownership, and mass shootings in the US: cross-sectional time series. The BMJ, 364.