After a close encounter with a potential shooter at the McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., the principal is considering placing armed officers on school premises. The NRA proposed a similar solution after the Sandy Hook shootings, but armed guards are an inefficient use of police resources and can actually harm students by increasing the level of fear within a school. To ensure school safety, school districts should increase the mental health counseling opportunities for students.
Although Columbine and Sandy Hook are fresh in our memory, the majority of students in classrooms are not in danger. In 2004, 21 students were murdered on school grounds while more than 1500 were murdered off school premises. Law enforcement should focus patrolling areas outside of schools to keep communities secure. There are only about 760,000 state and local law enforcement officers in the country, but nearly 100,000 would have to be reallocated to even consider patrolling all the schools in the nation. Theoretically, the government could hire new officers. However, the National Association of School Resource Officers estimates the annual cost to be $8 billion for these officers' salaries, benefits, and equipment.
Having armed volunteers protect school also would come up at a high cost because of the costs of liability insurance. Most importantly, this proposal for armed guards may not actually increase security within a school. Even though the guards at Columbine were famously armed, they were unable to stop the massacre. Recently, an armed security officer at a Michigan school forgot his gun in a student restroom, which could have been a disaster.
Larry Johnson, executive direct of public safety and security of the Grand Rapids School District in Michigan, believes school counseling is the appropriate solution. Counseling helps troubled kids become stable adults so that they never commit these heinous crimes in the first place. In fact, it was bookkeeper Antoinette Tuff's counseling that forced the shooter to surrender his weapons to the police in Decatur.
New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie warned that armed security guards would turn schools in to "armed camps for kids." A University of Delaware study confirmed that security guards and metal detectors increase students' levels of fear.
It is a sad state of affairs when armed guards are considered a viable solution to school shootings. Students should perceive their school to be a safe and welcoming place, not a high-security camp. The International Association of Chiefs of Police, an organization with a keen understanding of violence, recommends prevention, preparation, and threat mitigation strategies to respond to these problems, not turning schools into radical police states.