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Immunization not ammunition: School
safety means fewer guns.
New research shows that armed guards inspire
more schoolyard bloodshed.
Published 12:00 p.m. ET Feb.26,
2021 | Updated 12:41 p.m. ET Feb.26, 2021
Whether it is for five
days a week or just some hybrid arrangement, school districts across America
are looking to welcome students and teachers back to the classroom. However,
despite the limitations of remote learning and its impact on working
parents, not everyone is keen on the idea, at least not yet.
Backed by their unions,
many teachers oppose in-person instruction unless and until they, if not
their students, are vaccinated against COVID-19. They are not alone in their
reservations, according to a recent survey of more than 2,500 respondents
nationwide. Despite the substantial educational and practical advantages of
having children back at school, a slight majority believe that vaccination
should be a prerequisite.
Not that long ago, notions of school safety had a
very different meaning. It was not about getting shots in arms, but concern
for being shot by someone armed. Those worries had parents purchasing pricey
bullet-resistant backpacks to protect their kids from an active shooter as
well as insisting that their child's school be fortified with armed guards,
preferably sworn police officers.
Now that attention is focused more on school
ventilation than surveillance, it is a good time to rethink the wisdom of
armed guards and other physical security measures. After all, a
fortress-like setting can do more to instill fear than alleviate it, by
relaying the message that school is a dangerous place. Moreover, an
overprotective environment is not conducive for learning.
This month, the Los
Angeles School Board voted unanimously to eliminate one-third of its school
police positions, replacing them with climate coaches. This form of
defunding the police, which other major cities have taken in response to
Black Lives Matter protests, will help to counteract the so-called
"school-to-prison pipeline." Having cops in schools has resulted in more
punitive and formalized responses to fighting and other common types of
But there is another curious benefit of retreating
from the school resource officer model. Armed police can actually increase
the risk of bloodshed. A new study of 133 school shootings over the past
four decades found that the presence of an armed guard significantly
increased the number of fatalities,even after controlling for other
confounding factors. "Many school shooters are actively suicidal," suggested
the researchers, "so an armed officer may be an incentive."
Of course, the perils
of having a sworn police officer well-trained to respond to an active
shooter threat is multiplied when far less skilled school personnel are
allowed to carry guns on campus. At least nine states permit
firearms-trained teachers and other personnel to possess weapons in schools.
And in some districts, the minimal level of training required is just that
minimal, and certainly inadequate should a crisis situation arise.
are not the solution
the firearms-for-faculty idea is not very new. Back in the late 1990s, when
mass shootings in schools were even more prevalent than in recent years,
various proposals for arming teachers were being advanced in state
legislatures. The argument was one of deterrence: that because of the 1994
Federal law establishing schools as gun-free zones, an armed intruder could
be assured of no real opposition. Of course, for some alienated adolescent,
the prospect of a shoot-out at high noon with the vice principal in the
school cafeteria could be seen as an opportunity for revenge against the
administration as well as celebrity among peers.
Just as we would not
want school resources officers to teach math, it is imprudent to have
teachers packing heat. For educators, marksmanship is about A's and B's, not
guns and ammo. They should be equipped with chalk, not a Glock, especially
when dealing with an unruly student in their classroom. I am hardly alone in
resisting the idea of deputizing educators, as survey after survey have
found the overwhelming majority of teachers wanting gun control, not gun
Here's hoping that we can soon repopulate our
vacant classrooms with students and teachers engaged in the process of
learning. Can this be done safely? Sure, once teachers, administrators and
other school employees are properly prepared with immunization, not
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public
Policy at Northeastern University and co-author of "Extreme Killing:
Understanding Serial and Mass Murder." Follow him on Twitter @jamesalanfox
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