“Where economically feasible and embraced by local governance, schools should have the benefit of an armed school resource officer or an armed school protection officer in every school to provide an immediate response in the event of an active shooter situation.”
— Governor’s School Safety Task Force report
Though a state school safety panel made a number of worthwhile findings, the recommendation of an armed school resource officer or school protection officer in schools won’t make students safer.
We expected the recommendation, and the panel led by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe notably suggested the decision be left to local school boards. For school resource officer, read trained security guard or police officer. Many schools can’t afford the trained officers. It would cost more than $35 million to put a trained armed officer in every Missouri school. The Legislature has set aside $300,000 for school safety initiatives. The alternative for most is a school protection officer — an armed teacher or staff member. Schools can even use federal education funds to buy the weapon.
The good guy with a gun narrative is a favorite, but the idea doesn’t hold up to even casual scrutiny. There was an armed security officer at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, 20 years ago when two students shot to death 13 people, wounded 21 then killed themselves. An armed security officer at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, failed to stop the slaying of 17 students and staff on Valentine’s Day 2018.
Armed teachers have discharged weapons when there was no armed threat. Further, studies show armed civilians are likely to freeze when facing a shooter. Do you really believe there were no armed civilians in that El Paso, Texas, Walmart?
That is not to deny there are also examples of quick action by law enforcers to halt attackers. There are also examples of action by armed — or more often unarmed — civilians to stop shooters or intervene to reduce the loss of life in attacks.
Since Columbine, school security has increased dramatically. Yet attacks in schools continue unabated. Armed teachers and active shooter drills are little more than security theater — a show designed to assuage the public’s fears. Stopping mass attacks takes more than good security. The problem of school shootings cannot be separated from other high-profile mass attacks across our nation.
The report finds our schools are actually pretty safe places. The primary focus of our schools should be education, and diverting funds from education to arm teachers is a bad idea. Many of the other recommendations in the report are more worthy of consideration.
The panel recommends the state provide standards for conducting drills and exercises. The report finds that different state departments, partner programs and organizations offer conflicting advice. A best-practices guide could help. Those recommendations will do more to promote school safety without turning our schools into armed camps.
One of the best ways to keep schools safe is to identify threats, most of which will come from within the school. Better reporting, mental health evaluations and counseling will stop many would-be attackers.
Turning our schools into armed camps isn’t the answer. We must become willing to tackle the gun violence in our broader culture.