Note: this background briefing is one of two articles on the school board’s potential shift to arming some of its civilian employees. See: “Flagler School Board Will Consider Arming Teachers and Staffers in Addition to Sheriff’s Deputies.”
In the wake of the latest school shooting, in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 elementary-school students and two teachers, state legislatures and local school boards–Flagler County’s among them–are again reassessing their security protocols and evaluating whether to increase the presence of armed personnel on campus.
There is data on where and how armed personnel are used in school districts across the nation. There is less data on how effective that armed presence has been: Texas is among the more gun-friendly states in the nation, including on school campuses. There is a partisan divide over guns on campus, but the lack of data is not a result of partisanship but simply a matter of fact: little systematic and peer-reviewed research has been carried out on the subject, and what little there is tends to lack the sort of rigor that can be the basis for sound conclusions one way or the other.
Here’s a summary of what’s known.
A diminishing majority of states prohibit guns on campus. At least seventeen states, among them Florida, do not, with varying degrees of regulations. For example, North Dakota, Wyoming, South Dakota, Texas, Missouri, Montana, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Georgia and Tennessee all allow school personnel in some form to be armed. In Delaware, New Hampshire, Hawaii and Utah, any permit holder may carry a firearm on campus. Laws are changing quickly in light of recent mass shootings, with more states rather than less going the way of arming personnel, or loosening rules allowing personnel to be armed.
Contrary to public perception, Ohio did not just enact a law allowing the arming of teachers. It already had that law on the books. The difference in the law Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed this week is that it reduces the training hours required of teachers or staff to be armed on campus, from 700 hours to no more than 24 hours.
Florida requires a 144-hour training program at a minimum, including 12 hours of a certified nationally recognized diversity training program and 132 hours of comprehensive firearm safety, according to the Florida Department of Education. Local sheriff’s offices may require more training. When Staly has discussed the option, he’s referred to 160 hours of training. Participants get a one-time stipend of $500. Sheriff’s offices’ training is underwritten in part through a recurring $500,000 state grant. But any additional training costs must be funded locally. The state leaves it to local districts to decide whether they’d have their civilians carry weapons openly or in a concealed manner, and whether to have guardians in uniform or in plain clothes.
Currently, 45 of Florida’s 67 districts participate in the program in some form, according to the state department. Those include Volusia and St. Johns counties. Each county’s sheriff’s office is responsible for providing the training. But it isn’t required to. If a district were to ask its own sheriff to provide the training and the sheriff declines, that district may contract with a different county’s sheriff.
Texas for many years has had different levels of armed measures on K-12 campuses. It has the traditional school resource officers or deputies. Some districts have their own police force. Some employ private security. Texas has had what it calls the Guardian Plan since 2007, allowing teachers to be armed. They must complete just 16 hours of training. They are considered the last line of defense before the arrival of law enforcement, but they have no law enforcement training or responsibilities. In 2013, after the Sandy Hook massacre, the state launched the Texas Marshal Plan, enabling a school employee to serve as an adjunct law enforcement officer in the absence of police. A marshal must complete 80 hours of training. (See a comparison between the guardian and marshal plans here.)
The plan has not been embraced in Texas. “The initiative has seen fewer than 300 educators sign up across 62 school districts, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement,” Politico reports, “even after some restrictions around the program were loosened following a deadly 2018 mass shooting at a Houston-area high school.”
“One of the most candid conversations we have with school districts is: When an officer shows up and doesn’t know if you’re the good guy or the bad guy, he’s not gonna ask questions,” Kathy Martinez-Prather, the state school safety center’s director, is quoted as saying in the article. Florida, by contrast, has embraced its guardian program, albeit with its more rigorous training requirements. “The results indicate the Guardian Program’s success is based on solid training,” a white paper by the Florida Department of Education concluded.
Does arming teachers reduce shootings and violence on campus? The answer is inconclusive. The research on arming teachers is scant and it is of poor quality, making it unreliable, according to the Rand Corporation, the think tank whose research standards tend to be exhaustive. When Rand set out to study the issue in 2020, it found “no qualifying studies” showing that laws allowing armed staff in K–12 schools increased or decreased any of the eight outcomes investigated. The outcomes included the incidence of mass shootings, suicides, unintentional injuries or deaths and violent crimes.
Rand conducted its analysis with those qualifiers, laying out pros and cons and correcting misconceptions rather than reaching a conclusion either way. But the analysis combined law enforcement with armed civilians.
On the side favoring armed personnel or law enforcement on campus, Rand found that it’s a means of confronting or deterring shooters since, without armed personnel, teachers and students are left to hide or run. Arming a teacher or staffer, the argument goes, adds another level of protection because at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, for instance, “a school resource officer reached the school building under attack within 99 seconds of the first shot being fired, but 21 people had already been shot by then, nine fatally,” Rand found. “This makes clear that seconds matter and that [school resource officers] cannot be relied upon as the only protection for schools,” the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission concluded in 2019.
Arguments against arming teachers and even school resource officers focus on the increased risk of accidents or negligence. “The Associated Press reported, for instance, that there were more than 30 incidents between 2014 and 2018 that involved a firearm brought to a school by a law enforcement officer or that involved a teacher improperly discharging or losing control of a weapon,” Rand reports. “This compares with around 20 active-shooter attacks at schools over a comparable period.” Rand notes that even trained police officers hit their target only 18 percent of the time, so “critics question whether teachers can be expected to effectively return fire without inadvertently injuring the children they mean to protect.” Armed civilians could also create confusion for trained law enforcement as to who the assailants are during a response to a crisis.
The Pew Research Center last year found that 43 percent of all adults favor arming teachers and school personnel. That compares with 70 percent support for school resource officers or deputies. The proportion rises to 63 percent among gun owners. (The proportions are reflective of all states combined, but are likely to be much higher in pro-gun environments like Florida and Flagler.)
It is also a partisan issue, with Republicans favoring arming personnel over Democrats by a two-to-one margin. But the majority of teachers–including the National Education Association, the teachers union–parents and students are opposed.