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Violence Policy Center Backgrounder: Arm Teachers? The Facts Argue Against It

WASHINGTON - The Parkland high school shooting has prompted renewed debate regarding the idea of arming teachers or other school personnel to fend off attacks by armed intruders or students. Similar arguments were put forward by the gun lobby following the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado (this is even though armed personnel were present at Columbine, but were outgunned by the teen attackers) and the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut 

Nationally, guns are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes.  

The May 2017 Violence Policy Center study Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self Defense Gun Use reveals  that private citizens use guns to harm themselves or others far more often than to justifiably kill in self-defense. The study uses data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s Supplementary Homicide Report (SHR) and cites survey data from the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS). The VPC study finds that in 2014 there were only 224 justifiable homicides involving a private citizen using a firearm reported to the SHR. Eighteen states reported zero justifiable homicides in 2014. That year, there were 7,670 criminal firearm homicides reported to the SHR. In 2014, for every justifiable homicide in the United States involving a gun, guns were used in 34 criminal homicides. This ratio does not even take into account the tens of thousands of lives needlessly lost in gun suicides and unintentional shootings that year. The study also finds only a tiny fraction of the intended victims of violent crime or property crime employ guns for self-defense. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), over the three-year period from 2013 to 2015, only 1.1 percent of victims of attempted or completed violent crimes used a firearm, and only 0.2 percent of victims of attempted or completed property crimes used a firearm.

Arming teachers presents a unique set of risks to students and faculty.

The arguments against arming teachers are multiple. The gun, by definition, would potentially be available to every student, teacher, and school visitor. Moreover, those contemplating armed attacks on schools would know that a gun is available and could act accordingly.  

In addition, highly trained police officers, whose only job is law enforcement, all too often fail to use firearms successfully: 

--One study found that 21 percent of officers killed with a handgun were shot with their own service weapon. 

--Trained law enforcement officials have only an average 20 percent hit ratio in armed confrontations, meaning that only 20 percent of shots fired hit the intended target. 

Experience also teaches that when police officers fire their weapons, they sometimes make grave mistakes in deciding when deadly force is justified. Teachers will not likely perform any better. Moreover, the close quarters of a classroom may make it more difficult, not less, for teachers to effectively use deadly force against an assailant: 

--From 1990 to 1999, nearly 75 percent of police officers feloniously killed by suspects died within a 10-foot radius of the offender. This area is known as the killing zone because of the acute danger it represents to police officers. 

It will also be a huge burden for school districts, individual schools, and teachers to ensure that firearms are not lost or stolen, recognizing that even federal law enforcement agencies have problems keeping track of firearms: 

--The Department of Homeland Security reported that between fiscal years 2014 and 2016, its personnel lost a total of 228 firearms. Many losses occurred because officers did not properly secure their firearms. 

Another serious threat is unintentional discharge. Many handguns, including popular models used by police departments, can fire when dropped or bumped. One errant bullet could kill a teacher, student, or other innocent bystander. 

In conclusion, the focus should remain on preventing guns from getting into schools and restricting the sale and possession of assault weapons, rather than relying on teachers or other education professionals to prevail in a shootout. 

Related Violence Policy Center Materials  

Firearm Justifiable Homicides and Non-Fatal Self-Defense Gun Use: full study http://www.vpc.org/studies/justifiable17.pdf; press release http://www.vpc.org/press/self-defense-gun-use-is-rare-new-vpc-study-confirms-2/ .

Armed Citizens Are Not the Answer to Mass Shootings fact sheet:  http://concealedcarrykillers.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Armed-Citizens-not-the-Answer-Fact-Sheet-Nov-16-2017.pdf.

Concealed Carry Killers, an ongoing tally of non-self defense killings involving concealed handgun permit holders:  http://concealedcarrykillers.org/.

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The Violence Policy Center is a national tax-exempt educational organization working for a safer America through research, investigation, analysis, and advocacy. The VPC provides information to policymakers, journalists, organizations, advocates, and the general public.

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