GunsDo armed guards prevent school shootings?

By Alex Yablon

Published 9 April 2019

The presence of guns in schools is a fact of life for millions of American children. Forty-three percent of public schools had an armed law enforcement officer during the 2015-2016 school year. Does increasing armed school security could reduce deaths from active shootings or deter the attacks in the first place? Experts say the data is not encouraging. Guns have stopped some mass shootings — but not usually in schools.

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.

The presence of guns in schools is a fact of life for millions of American children. Forty-three percent of public schools had an armed law enforcement officer during the 2015-2016 school year, according to a survey released last year by the National Center for Education Statistics. That doesn’t include the unknown number of schools that employ armed private security guards or arm teachers or administrators.

As part of our Ask the Trace series, a reader wondered how effective guns are in keeping kids safe at school.

In moments of extreme crisis like when an active shooter attacks, it’s true that an armed guard could potentially end the terror. But the presence of security hasn’t definitively deterred attacks in the first place.

“We don’t have any rigorous causal evidence that says armed guards reduce school shootings or school violence,” said Matthew Mayer, a professor at Rutgers University who studies violence in educational settings.

And in any case, active shooter incidents make up a very small part 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