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Researchers Refute NRA Proposal to Arm Someone at Every School

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Even before the National Rifle Association shared a plan this week to secure schools by arming at least one person at every campus, researchers had already punched holes in that approach.

In the most recent edition of the American Journal of Criminal Justice, researchers analyzed the proposal and found that it would be expensive in terms of implementation and civil and criminal liability; would boost students' contact with the juvenile justice system; increase the potential for injuries; and potentially only serve to increase profits for those invested in the security industries. They call it "superficially simple" and too focused on a symptom of the problem of troubled current and former students.

The piece is titled with a twist on NRA executive Wayne LaPierre's own words. About a week after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., he famously said that "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

In "The Only Thing That Stops a Guy With a Bad Policy Is a Guy With a Good Policy: An Examination of the NRA's 'National School Shield' Proposal," the authors write that "serious questions complicate [the NRA proposal's] plausibility, necessity, motive, and effectiveness."

Some of their concerns:

  • Adding weapons to a school setting, they write, will do away with students' needs to bring them to school—guns will already be there. "The only remaining question at that point is how to obtain one of those weapons. It is easy to imagine that the more desire a student has to obtain a weapon, the more violence that student will generate to obtain it."
  • Even if adding armed personnel is a local decision, and "these decisions will reflect popular opinion at the local levels... that might not be smart policy. ... If the parents decide to allow armed faculty, the school district will ultimately be responsible for suits and criminal charges arising from bad choices or accidents that injure or kill someone." (When I wrote about districts that already arm a select group of employees, superintendents told me their liability insurance rates did not rise. But none of the employees in these districts have ever had to draw their weapons, either.)
  • If every school, or even most, follows the plan's advice and adds armed personnel, "it is hard to know where the line will be drawn if it is followed to its logical conclusion." Would school buses need armed guards? What about school yards and playgrounds? Or would students be banned from outdoor activities, the researchers wondered.

The paper does go into some detail on concerns about the idea and cost of using armed volunteers to patrol and protect schools, a suggestion the NRA's National School Shield program leaders advocated in the past. But this week, the NRA consultants said after talking with superintendents, they were uncomfortable with the idea.

"As many emphasized after Newtown," they conclude, "the problem is troubled students, many who have suffered from significant mental health issues, behavioral disorders, and the systemic neglect of parents and teachers."

To that end, a group of education organizations this week unveiled their own plan for safe schools that pays close attention to students' mental health issues. Those groups, including the National Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of School Resource Officers, and associations of elementary and secondary school principals, cautioned against arming school personnel.

In their Framework for Safe and Successful schools, they advocate for better access to mental health services at schools, balancing physical and psychological safety to avoid overly restrictive measures that can undermine the learning environment, and for the funding of continuous and sustainable crisis and emergency preparedness.

Some of their ideas were advanced last week in yet another guide to school safety from a collection of civil rights and education groups that urges a focus on mental health care and positive school climate as a long-term solution to preventing school violence.

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