#07: Armed Guards On Campus

Table of Contents:

Armed Guards On Campus
Stopping Gun Violence By More Guns On Campus
Safer Schools Without Armed Guards
Alternative Viable Solutions Without Armed Guards On Campus
Preventing School Shootings
Diminished Coping Skills—Isolation—Paranoia—Bullying

Armed Guards On Campus

The central focus of my reporting on this website is Guns On Campus, writ large. I’m inalterably opposed to guns in the hands of students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Armed guards on campus is a different matter. Yes, they are necessary—on some campuses. Yes, they make the campus safer—most of the time. Emphatically, we can only hope they are well trained, vigilant, and keep their guns holstered.  

Arguably, three school shootings mandated the era of armed “School Resource Officers” on K-12 campuses—Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.[1] In short order, states passed legislation mandating trained school “guardians” or law enforcement in K-12 systems.[2] 

JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association is a peer-reviewed medical journal. It publishes original research and reviews on all aspects of biomedicine, including the physical and mental health issues embedded in school shootings. They published a study on armed guards on school campuses. “By examining every recorded incident where one or more people was intentionally shot in a school building during the school day, or where a perpetrator came to school heavily armed with the intent of firing indiscriminately, we examine the association between the presence of an armed officer on scene and the severity of shootings in K-12 (kindergarten through 12th grade) schools.”[3]

The study is limited to public data, no community characteristics, and the basic problem of actually “deterring” campus shootings. But the result of the study is categorical. “The data suggest no association between having an armed officer and deterrence of violence in these cases. An armed officer on the scene was the number one factor associated with increased casualties after the perpetrators’ use of assault rifles or submachine guns.”[4]

Are armed guards To evaluate the effectiveness of armed guards, the study also looked at the simple presence of weapons on a campus? Does that simple fact increase the possibility of gun aggression? “Prior research suggests that many school shooters are actively suicidal, intending to die in the act, so an armed officer may be an incentive rather than a deterrent.[5] The majority of shooters who target schools are students of the school, calling into question the effectiveness of hardened security and active shooter drills. Instead, schools must invest in resources to prevent shootings before they occur.”[6]

Stopping Gun Violence By More Guns On Campus

The data is not encouraging. We can’t know with certainty whether we are safe against gun violence by killing campus shooters. Maybe in one case the armed guard shoots the bad guy. Maybe in the next case he doesn’t. Maybe the gun is the problem, not the finger that pulls the trigger. The Trace offered its two bits in 2019. “In much of America, the response to school shootings has been to put more guns in schools. In line with the National Rifle Association’s position that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” an increasing number of police — usually known as school resource officers — have been assigned to guard students. Florida is considering legislation to allow teachers and administrators to carry guns on the job, bringing to nine the number of states that allow school staffers to go to work armed. One Florida town hired veterans to keep watch with assault rifles.”[7]

The reality is less encouraging. During the 2015-16 school year forty-three per cent of schools added armed guards in response to Columbine, Sandy Hook, and Parkland.[8]  Active shooter cases are incidental to the much larger issue of overall gun violence. “Despite the prominent media coverage of mass shootings, and school shootings in particular, only about 1 percent of all firearm fatalities each year occur during such incidents. Last year there were 24 shootings causing injury or death in K-12 schools throughout the entire country, whereas there are more than 100,000 K-12 schools. Meanwhile, the choice to put people with guns in schools comes with costs that are mostly borne by students.”[9]

Safer Schools Without Armed Guards

If armed guards are not the answer, what is? A 2019 assessment argues that more security and hardening campus is essentially useless. They are politically desirable, but practically ineffective. Studies found armed guards attract shooters. “Ronald Stephens, Executive Director of the National School Safety Council, told The Guardian that officers carrying weapons can stop a shooting inside a school and deter assailants from attempting to enter. But not all are convinced that arming adults is how to improve school safety. There is increasing evidence that armed school Resource Officers (as school-based police officers are called) can have unintended consequences. In districts with large populations of students of color, armed officers lead to more suspensions, expulsions and arrests. There are multiple examples of concerning data about armed officers or teachers.”[10]

Other studies identified three reasons armed guards on campus are not helpful. (1) Systems with school Resource Officers have a “criminal justice orientation.” Lower-level offenses become criminal justice issues instead of social or psychological issues. (2) Police officers hit their targets in an active shooter situation 20 percent of the time. The hit rate will likely be lower with teachers. (3) Schools with armed police officers report a higher percentage of non-serious crimes to law enforcement. More study on the impact of armed officers on school climate and outcomes is needed.[11]

Alternative Viable Solutions Without Armed Guards On Campus

University of Southern California professor Ron Avi Astor, who studies school violence and bullying, urges school districts to closely monitor students for indicators of violent behavior. “Student and teacher awareness of weapons and threats is a potentially powerful way to prevent future tragedies. These voices are much closer to the ground than anonymous calls to an FBI tip line.”[12] He also recommends, “Utilizing technology to identify new visitors. Instead of metal detectors, and Resource Officers, there is another way to screen new visitors. When you are able to utilize a visitor management system, you’ll be able to flag at-risk visitors with the swipe of their driver’s license, connecting to a sex offender registry. This is a proactive solution to securing your campus without the threat of weapons present. Smart ID Card solutions and engage parents more. Schools and parents should partner to address attendance issues, address and educate about social media and screen time, and have frank conversations.”[13]

Preventing School Shootings

 If armed guards are not effective, what else could be done to prevent school shootings? Safewatch.com’s April 2021 posting asks and answers that question.[14] Like nearly all related websites, news stories, and social media content suggests, school shootings are every parent and teacher’s nightmare. This site is confident—yes we can prevent school shootings. They answer the principal question by posing and answering related questions. 

Diminished Coping Skills—Isolation—Paranoia—Bullying 

While few students, teachers, or parents can fathom the reality of gun violence on campus, law enforcement members and legal scholars have evidence-based answers. They believe the primary reason is diminished coping skills. “We have kids who are so isolated inside . . . they don’t learn problem-solving skills. Isolation happens in many ways. They’re glued to technology or perhaps their parents and caregivers are the ones sucked into a screen. They don’t learn coping and conflict resolution skills, so when they get angry, they lash out in violent ways.”[15]

This site also reports, “Depression is one the largest contributing factors. . . Depression is often the first symptom of isolation. Most, but not all, shooters suffered from depression and/or paranoia, particularly those who were adolescents. While we can’t blame mental health issues for school shootings, they are a risk factor.”[16]

The U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education found, nearly 75 percent of school shooters were bullied or harassed at school. The isolation of our students doesn’t just come from video games and technology; it also comes from their peers.[17]

Alfred University surveyed American students on school shootings. They identified 17 reasons students shoot up their own schools. (1) They want to get back at those who have hurt them. (2) They have access to firearms—studies confirm seventy-three percent of the firearms school shooters acquired were from the home of a parent or a close relative. (3) Other kids pick on them, make fun of them, or bully them. (4) They don’t value life. (5) They have been victims of physical abuse at home. (6) They have mental problems. (7) It is easy for them to get a gun. (8) They do not get along with their parents. (9) They have witnessed physical abuse at home. (10) They drink alcohol or use drugs. (11) They do not have any good friends. (12) They see violence on TV, in movies, in videos, and in computer and video games. (13) Violence is a way of life in their neighborhood. (14) Other kids encouraged them to do it.      (15) Their teachers don’t care about them. (16) They are afraid of their own safety. (17) They are bored.[18]

This long list does not explain all school shootings. Nor does it purport to identify risk factors. Clearly the problem is troubled kids with access to guns. Any grouping of reasons why kids shoot other kids is problematic and unhelpful. But there is a common denominator in every single case. Item (7) above is the first hint—easy access to guns. Another way to put it is to say that none of the school shootings in this century would have occurred but for the presence of a gun. The Second Amendment does not prohibit reasonable regulation of guns in the hands of school age children, or adults who act like school-age children.  

[1] Madfis E. How to Stop School Rampage Killing. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2020. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-37181-4. As reported in, https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2776515

[2] Whitaker A, Torres-Guillen S, Morton M, et al. Cops and No Counselors: How the Lack of School Mental Health Staff is Harming Students. ACLU; 2020. See also,  https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2776515

[3]. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2776515

[4] Ibid.

[5] Peterson J, Densley J. The Violence Project database of mass shootings in the United States. Accessed October 28, 2020. https://www.theviolenceproject.org

[6] https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2776515

[7] https://www.thetrace.org/2019/04/guns-armed-guards-school-shootings/

[8] Survey by National Center for Education Statistics. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_233.70.asp

[9] https://www.thetrace.org/2019/04/guns-armed-guards-school-shootings/

[10] https://www.scholarchip.com/how-to-improve-school-safety/

[11] See, https://openscholarship.wustl.edu/law_lawreview/vol93/iss4/6/

[12] https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/21/opinions/guns-in-schools-opinion-astor/index.html

[13] Ibid.

[14] https://www.saferwatchapp.com/can-we-prevent-school-shootings-and-gun-violence-among-american-youth/

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf

[18] https://www.alfred.edu/about/news/studies/lethal-school-violence/can-we-prevent.cfm

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