More Guns On Campus Won’t Make Schools More Secure

Improved access control, locks and audible alarms, however, can lower your risk.
Published: January 2, 2013

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” That quote from NRA spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, sounds almost rational.  It was enough to send a number of school teachers and administrators to the gun range in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Here is another quote; this one from renowned psychologist, Abraham Maslow: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, you begin to look at all problems as nails.” That is only one of the traps that the NRA has fallen into regarding its response to the Sandy Hook tragedy.

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Sandy Hook was an unimaginable disaster, one that captured the anger and sympathy of an entire nation. The impact of this event was heightened by an inordinately large number of casualties. It made children, parents and educators feel at risk, particularly since this school had taken precautions to guard against acts of violence.

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It is a sad reality, but no security program can completely eliminate the possibility of gun violence. Good security, can, however, significantly lower the odds of an occurrence. Richard Esposito, of ABC News, wrote an article in 2010 discussing the tragic deaths of 323 persons from school and university shootings in the 15-year period leading up to his story. That works out to 21.5 undeserved and deplorable deaths per year from campus gun violence during that period. The United States Census Bureau reports that there are 107,863 schools in the United States, including K-12 public schools, charter schools, colleges and universities.  Statistics can be cold in the light of this shooting, but the results suggest that, if that trend continues, the average school would need to wait 5,124 years for a shooting to occur on their campus. 

The fact that shootings are rare does not mean that administrators should not utilize every reasonable precaution to keep students and staff members safe from violence. The key will be to find measures that prevent shootings while increasing survivability if prevention fails. It does not follow that bringing more guns onto campus will accomplish that goal. The American Journal of Public Health, Volume 95, No. 5 determined that having firearms in the home increased the chance of injury or death. A South Carolina study determined that employees, allowed to carry guns in the workplace, increased their risk of injury five times. 

Here are some other reasons when guns on campus are a bad idea:

  1. More guns on campus increases the potential for unauthorized access to guns by the wrong people. The probability of the wrong person gaining access to a “good guy’s” gun is greater than the chance of that gun being used to save student lives. Guns can be accidentally left in purses or jacket pockets, and legitimate users can be overpowered by persons inside on campus.
  2. Teachers and staff members are not trained to handle gun combat in a dynamic environment. Where police officers have ongoing training in the law, policy and procedure, this is not the case with civilians. The competence of a police officer is often judged by their ability to know when not to shoot, not just when they should pull the trigger.
  3. Placing armed police officers in schools is incredibly expensive, particularly given the low number of incidents on a nationwide basis. Armed security can also become the first target of a determined gunman. School resources officers (SROs) should be considered an exception since they provide a wide variety of services beyond just being there with a gun. 
  4. The FBI reports 1.7 million incidents of workplace violence each year. Anger often displaces reason. Having guns in the hands of employees can turn a shoving match into a deadly confrontation. Workplace violence can also involve outsiders, parents, students, other employees or persons involved in a significant romantic relationship.  Adding guns to the mix can make all such confrontations highly problematic.
  5. Who’s the bad guy? A good guy with a gun may enter and see a man holding a smoking gun. That begs the question—is this the bad guy or another good guy with a gun?
  6. Guns can breed overconfidence, where deadly force becomes the first rather than the last option. Instead of reporting a suspicious person, a good guy with a gun may take direct action—consider the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Much of this blog was written to discourage the use of guns as a solution to violent campus events. Here are just a few the things that can help lower the risk.

  1. Improve school access control. Consider ballistic windows or Mylar window coverings that will prevent a window from becoming an entry point.
  2. Add magnetic locks to doors with existing electric strikes for remote access, making it harder to use a weapon to open the door.
  3. Install a loud distinctive audible alarm to deter shooters and notify the campus to shelter in place.
  4. Improve shelter in place options through hardened rooms with reinforced doors and ballistic sheeting.

These are just a few of the potential options that could be used. All of these are less costly, more effective, and safer than increasing the number of guns on campus.

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Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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