A report by three experts on school violence and criminal justice casts doubt on the National Rifle Association’s proposal to stop gun violence.
The review article, published in the American Journal of Criminal Justice last month, examined the NRA’s proposal to prevent mass shootings by placing armed guards in every school. Based on previous research, the article concluded the proposal was a “superficially simple solution.”
“We hope our critique will emphasize issues that must be considered prior to simply implementing blindly what is being proposed,” Dr. Gordon A. Crews of Marshall University told Raw Story via email. Crews co-authored the report along with his wife Dr. Angela Crews, who is also a professor at Marshall, and Dr. Catherine E. Burton of The Citadel.
The NRA released its “National School Shield” Task Force report on Tuesday, outlining a plan to reduce gun violence in schools using armed guards.
“We wrote our article as a rebuttal to the initial NRA press conference in December announcing the National School Shield proposal,” Gordon explained. “We saw nothing presented today that would change anything we wrote in the article. In fact, we are more concerned that many of the issues we described in the article were confirmed today.”
The proposal appears to be based on a faulty — although widespread — opinion. The NRA has said schools are not safe places for children because gun-free zones make them “utterly defenseless.” However, the article contends schools are in fact safe places. Though gun violence is the second leading cause of death among those ages 5-9 and 15-24, nearly all of those deaths occurred outside of school. In fact, Stephen Brock of California State University, a leading expert on school violence, described schools as “the safest place for a student to be.”
“To try and reduce something that already is rare… is tricky business,” Crews remarked, noting that there is only 1 homicide or suicide at school for every 2.7 million students.
Crews and his colleagues found there was little evidence to suggest that placing armed guards in schools would actually prevent gun violence. About 27 percent of schools in the United States already have armed or unarmed security officers. Both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech had armed security guards, but that did not prevent two deadly mass shootings. A 2011 study found schools with armed guards actually had higher rates of violence than similar schools without armed guards.
Having armed guards in schools also raises the troubling possibility that a student could get ahold of their firearms.
“Ongoing research that we are conducting with incarcerated perpetrators of school violence also indicates that school shooters have easy access to weapons, often getting them (either as gifts or stealing them) from their parents, neighbors, or friends who may have purchased them legally,” Crews explained. “Putting more weapons in schools just makes more weapons available because inevitably, someone will forget to lock their drawer, misplace their key, or otherwise lose track of their firearm, making it easy for kids who want to have one to take it.”
Reports have also found placing security guards in schools results in children coming into contact with the criminal justice system for minor infractions, which is a major concern for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The NRA has proposed allowing teachers or volunteers to carry firearms if they complete 40 to 60 hours of training. Though having armed volunteers guarding schools seems like a cost-effective solution, it adds another layer of potential problems. Crews and his colleagues warned that schools would face the risk of costly civil and/or criminal liability lawsuits if they went that route.
“Even firing on a would-be school shooter trying to enter a school would likely bring civil suits from that person’s family,” Crews and his colleagues noted in the report. “In addition, if a shooter happened to make it past security, even more significant liability issues would arise.”
The article concluded by suggesting that focusing on mental health services and helping troubled students would be a more effective strategy.
“In our opinion, relatively little can be done at the national, state, or even local level to prevent school violence,” Crews told Raw Story. “We have to go to the family, intimate peer, and individual levels for prevention. The decision to commit school violence seems to be an individual one, primarily driven by individual factors, but also significantly influenced by family factors, peer factors, and school factors that impact a student individually (e.g., personal interaction with teachers and staff, perception of fairness, perception of safety).
“Adding an armed officer will never impact those factors,” he added. “In fact, this approach tends to worsen school climate, increase students’ dissatisfaction with school, and increase the likelihood of violence.”