The provision of concealed firearms to teachers in rural/suburban schools elementary schools.
In light of the recent massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, as well as other contemporary tragedies of a similar sort, policy makers are tasking analysts with evaluating varying forms of legislation that seek to diminish the scale of carnage associated with such forms of mass violence. Specifically, the area of concern regards elementary and middle schools in rural/suburban areas where police response time may be slow and/or ineffective.
Scope: In many urban high schools across the country it has become commonplace to find either a uniformed police officer or guard bearing an unconcealed firearm. Insofar as metal detectors, entry screening procedures and armed personnel are effective in deterring violence in high schools, it falls beyond the scope of this memorandum. The reason is that such an armed presence seeks to deter violence largely, although not exclusively, from the student population.
The population within a high school tends, naturally, to be of a different sort than that of an elementary school. Specifically, students are more capable of committing criminal acts and being charged as adults. Whereas in an elementary school, the likelihood of a small child unleashing violence on a scale of criminality, whose prevention is sought by this policy, is practically nil.
In a high school environment, students would be more capable of disarming protection personnel. For example, unconcealed weapons remain in visible holsters, which are designed for varying degrees of retention. To disarm a police officer or security guard would take an emboldened, albeit rare, effort toward a potentially lethal end. In an elementary school environment, such an occurrence would be less likely.
Additionally, in the case of a police officer in a school it is assumed that the communications advantage of a police radio provides a force multiplying effect, as other officers may be contacted and respond quickly, particularly in a relatively urban environment.
Intent: For the above-enumerated reasons, the policy focus turns to the elementary (and potentially middle) school environment with specific regard to suburban/rural areas. With special regard to the protection of children within the elementary education age range, a policy that seeks to provide immediate defense to the most defenseless individuals is addressed here.
Design: Although there may be a number of ways to implement the policy prescription surrounding the arming of some teachers a general set of parameters follows:
- Conceal/carry permits within the geographical limits of school grounds may be issued by the local pistol permit office. That is, as a stipulation on the permit itself (e.g. hunting, target practice, and other stipulations are often listed as a means of restricting pistol possession beyond certain boundaries) could indicate the limit of possession.
- A school psychologist and/or other mental health professional should assess the prospective armed teacher’s mental fitness to possess a weapon on school grounds.
- An administrator at the level of principal and/or superintendent assesses the teacher’s record of nonviolence, mood stability and appropriate dealing with children.
- The local law enforcement agency should complete the appropriate background check with specific regard for any criminal accusations of violence.
- The local law enforcement agency should administer the appropriate “use of force” indoctrination, weapons familiarity, and weapons training necessary to obtain and retain the permit.
- The local law enforcement agency should incorporate school staff members in “active shooter” training scenarios, with both weapons-bearing teachers and non-weapons-bearing teachers (and administrative personnel).
- Weapons selection procedures should be in accordance with local law enforcement preferences, along with school administrative final approval. Limitations to be imposed would likely outlaw any long guns (rifles, shotguns).
- Annual range fire, mental health assessments, and physical fitness assessments would be a standard practice.
- Weapons should be owned by the school, stored in a secure location (meeting federal guidelines on proper firearms storage), and be signed in and out before and after school hours, respectively.
- The size and/or population of the school could limit a certain number of faculty members possessing a firearm. Perhaps a ratio of one armed teacher per five hundred students may be a suggested guideline. Alternatively, a ratio of one armed teacher per desired square footage or floor level may be more appropriate.
- Information coordination between the school and local law enforcement should convey who is assigned a duty weapon for the day. This minimizes the possibility that an armed teacher, performing their task of defending students from would-be aggressors, is mistakenly identified as the latter.
- Additional means of reducing confusion might be to have a certain colored weapon of a non-standard variety. In addition, along with the proper identification that is typically displayed on a visible location of the body, the teacher bearing arms would also have an indicator known to law enforcement to represent the same.
Outcome: Enhancing the defense of students, while offsetting the possible delayed response of law enforcement officers responding to the scene of a mass shooting.
Costs: The range of costs depends upon a variety of factors:
- Whether a teacher’s weapons possession and associated training are funded by a stipend or on a voluntary basis.
- Whether the cost of weapons procurement is borne by the school, the district, or other local government office.
- Whether annual mental health assessments, range fire, and certification are costs borne by the school or some other entity.
- Whether practice ammunition is supplied by the school or the local law enforcement agency.
- What number of weapons, magazines, ammunition are considered to be necessary.
- What the insurance implication might be. This may represent a reduction or an increase depending on the insurance company’s perspective.
- The length of debate on such matters may be considered as a cost. It will require time, a possible study of the efficacy of the program, parental consultation, additional board of education meetings, and possible joint operational exercises (with first responders and governmental oversight).
Benefits: The primary and most visible benefit is to provide an adequate and immediate defense in the event of an unlikely, yet mass casualty- inducing traumatic event. If done properly other benefits may include:
- Parental satisfaction that school safety is foremost in the minds of their local governmental representatives, law enforcement, and public school administrators.
- Teachers’ ability to perform a most vital role in saving the lives of their students.
- Local law enforcement’s ability to close the response time gap in the most urgent of circumstances.
- Reducing a sense of helplessness for all would-be victims of violent crime.
- Reducing death rates.
Cost-benefit Summary: While it is difficult to affix a dollar value to each cost, it is nearly impossible to square this with a set of presumed benefits. For instance, one pistol may cost $450.00. Annual ammunition for practice, upkeep and persistent availability may be approximately $100.00. Assuming an annual stipend paid to one teacher for their acceptance of this responsibility could reasonably be $700.00. Other costs certainly accumulate, but so far the assessment is about $1250.00. Even if it were to be assessed that additional expenditures per armed teacher were $1000.00, is the benefit of saving one life worth more than $2250.00? What about two lives, or twenty-six (in the case of Newtown, CT)?
The cost-benefit calculus thus nears the impossible, as expressing costs (if the task can be done in advance) in a mathematically sound manner may not yield a precise result in benefits. It is with this quandary in mind that other value considerations may likely be more suitable to consider. Namely, the lives of defenseless children that may be saved by the proactive efforts of a community working toward that end, rather than reacting too late. Therefore, on a raw cost-benefit basis a net positive cannot be shown to obtain. This does not, however, render the policy option to be suboptimal and hence ineffectual.
The policy outlined above hinges on whether or not it is likely to be politically palatable. That is, parents would be the crucial audience to consider as bearing the most political weight within the context of a school board’s purview. Although voters on the state level at large are most likely to have an influence, at the local level it is the parents’ concerns that should be most carefully dealt with for obvious reasons (their children’s safety forms the focal point of this policy).
One manner in which to gauge parental concern may be to poll parents within a school district, offering this policy as a prescription and requesting their feedback. At least it is possible to gather parental input and understand whether or not the political will exists, is nearly in existence, or needs some tinkering with. Another means of evaluation would be to offer alternative policy choices, such as providing all schools with armed, uniformed guards and/or police officers. This may not be a viable option and may create a contravening lobby from within the law enforcement and parental communities.
While it is seemingly nice to have a School Resource Officer (SRO) from a local police department it can be an expensive enterprise. Police officers require additional training and are generally on the downswing of their career when they become SROs; thus, many are reluctant to be assigned such a detail. (It also places officers in the position of “baby-sitter” and takes them out of the realm of law enforcement activity, consequently creating a potential for staleness vis-à-vis law matters). Additionally, some departments are unable to spare an officer each day for each school. Because this policy option is being presented in the context of small towns and villages, it is likely that a local police department may be inclined toward lobbying against having their officers assigned in such a way.
Another point of contention may be the visible presence of a gun in schools. The above-outlined policy offers the opportunity for guns to be invisible to children (hence their concealment), while still being available for use by teachers. Placing armed, uniformed personnel in an elementary school may not sit well with a lot of students and parents. The prospect of introducing lethal weapons in plain view of children may be too much for parents to imagine as a solution to the problem at hand.
As a result of the most recent spate of shootings in public places, particularly schools, many citizens will likely demand governmental action. Calls for stricter gun control will undoubtedly result. Whether or not gun control legislation can have any positive effect is unknown. There are enough guns available (both legal and illegal) to pose a threat to innocent school children should a person suffering a psychotic episode desire to cause them harm.
Many citizens will also insist upon changes in the mental health field. Clearly, this is a noble call, as acts of extreme violence against six-year-old victims could not be sensibly made with a sound mind. Nonetheless, all psychotic episodes involving murder are unlikely to cease.
As has been discussed, a cost-benefit analysis is somewhat implausible. However, there is some hope that such an assessment can be made. There are school districts in which such a policy has been instituted; for instance, the Harrold School District in Wilbarger County, Texas. In terms of political willpower to commit to such a program, we may look to St. Louis County, Missouri, where County Police Chief Tim Fitch is calling for a similar program. When faced with circumstances similar to that which has provided an impetus for this policy proposal, it is possible to look at how other countries, such as Israel, have managed a similar program.
Overall, the prospect of arming teachers to protect students will probably hinge on the manner in which the program is proposed to parents on the local level. On the state and federal levels, legislative battles are bound to take a fair amount of time. As such tragic incidents involving violence against innocent children are seemingly on the uptick, it is assessed as a worthy objective to offer citizens a proactive policy alternative. Short-circuiting the rising death toll in schools is the guiding logic that may serve the public interest in the short, medium, and perhaps long term.