This is a guest post from Jacqueline Higgins with MSW@USC
After a tragic shooting at UCLA left both a professor and the gunman dead this past June, national attention has once again turned to the issue of gun control on school campuses. Though President Obama led a major legislative push to prevent gun violence in schools after the fatal shooting of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, none of his proposed federal reforms — including increased funding to train police officers and first responders, state grants to help schools develop emergency response plans and contributions to expanding mental health programs for young people — have been passed by Congress.
But while federal lawmakers have been at a standstill, some state legislators have been adopting policy that purports to keep students safe from gun violence with a very different tactic: allowing teachers, security guards and officials to carry guns on school grounds to defend against potential attacks. Eighteen states have laws that allow adults to carry loaded guns on campus with only a few or minor conditions.
In Alabama, for example, carrying a gun “on the premises of a public school” is only prohibited for those with the “intent to do bodily harm.” In Wyoming, firearms on public school grounds are only prohibited if they are concealed. In New Jersey, they are only prohibited “without the written authorization of the governing officer of the institution.”
Similar laws are in place in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Utah.
The laws echo sentiments and policy suggestions expressed by the NRA soon after the Sandy Hook shooting when Wayne LaPierre said “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” which was swiftly criticized by gun control advocates for pushing the organization’s agenda of selling more guns under the guise of protecting students. There is evidence that suggests past legislation that made schools gun-free zones decreased student homicide rates and that arming school employees would do nothing to prevent the attack of an armed assailant. However, some states do have bills introduced in their state legislatures that will change or address guns on school campuses. Below you will see a list of some of the current bills going through state legislatures in relation to firearms on school campuses.
According to the graphic, school gun violence since Sandy Hook has remained startlingly high, with a total of 182 shootings. Thirty-three of those shootings occurred in states that allow K–12 staff to carry firearms on school grounds, meaning approximately 18 percent of the new shootings occurred in states that recently granted adults greater gun-carrying privileges. At bare minimum, the 33 shootings indicate the increased presence of guns on school campuses does not eradicate the potential for violent attacks or stop them from causing damage.
While the public conversation surrounding laws that allow the possession of firearms in schools revolves around student safety, the overlap with NRA rhetoric should give pause. If federal laws enacted in the 1990s that restricted guns in schools decreased student homicide rates, there’s no reason to think that 20 years later the opposite would be true. Research on gun violence has been stagnant since the passing of the Dickey Amendment in 1996, which forbade the CDC from spending any funds to “promote or advocate gun control.” Research is needed to understand what direction the laws need to go in order to stop the increase in school shootings.