Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Can A Gun Problem Be Solved With More Guns?

By Shraddha HarshvardhanPublished February 28, 2019

A warning sign stating staff is armed inside a school
President Trump has recently proposed arming school teachers as a solution to mass shootings in schools. However, the outcome of this policy might not satisfy its intent.

Guns in schools have been a hot topic in the news. Some support President Trump’s idea to arm school teachers and faculty members with guns because it would “end the attack very quickly” and stop “maniacs,”. However, requiring teachers to carry guns, or giving them bonuses to do so, has a number of flaws that would make it an ineffective policy, even if the policy intends to protect schools and children.

First, President Trump hopes this policy would allow teachers to hurt school shooters before they are able to hurt children. Yet the Brookings Institute notes that trained and professional police officers only hit their target less than 20% of the time. It is unlikely for armed teachers, without the same training, to be an effective method of protection. In fact, this may lead to harming innocent children. This policy idea was not just proposed to stop shooters in action but also to prevent them from participating in school shootings in the first place. However, the Parkland shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School shows that armed individuals, guards in this particular instance, do not necessarily deter mass shootings, so an armed teacher may not “scare off” shooters.

Not only would this policy idea be ineffective but it also has the potential to put both teachers and students at risk. Often times, mass shootings are planned, in which case a shooter would be likely to know that teachers would be armed. This has the potential to make teachers the first target, leaving students to fend for themselves.

Furthermore, there is a negative externality that should be taken into account. Shooters may not be the only ones aware of a teacher’s gun. If a student comes to know, given their immaturity, they may take the gun whenever they find themselves to be angry; for example, a student stole a gun from an armed teacher at Jacksonville High.

Even if the policy were effective, there is no appropriate method for its implementation. Requiring teachers to carry guns takes away their autonomy and disrespects their opinions regarding gun violence. On the other hand, providing bonuses to teachers that carry guns, making the policy based on an incentive rather than a requirement, would, similarly, reward teachers based on their political beliefs, exacerbating inequity in our school systems.

Instead of President Trump’s proposal, there are many other solutions to preventing violence in schools, caused by shootings, that ought to be assessed. A simple example would be, as the BBC recommends, not to name the shooter but rather focus on the suffering of victims in the media, discouraging future shooters, since one mass shooting usually sparks more. Or, another simple action individuals can take is to be cognizant of people who seem obsessed with firearms or guide those who you notice wish to hurt others. More difficult to implement is a long-term solution; instead of trying to solve a gun problem with more guns, we need to think of how to best approach gun restrictions, so guns do not enter the hands of misusers. Other long-term solutions include improving upon accessibility and availability of mental health services and trying to add greater security in schools, in a non-threatening way, through alternative methods. Let us not add fuel to the fire. Let us extinguish it.