The 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, which left 26 people dead, prompted schools across America to step up security. The measures taken have included keeping more doors locked, holding more emergency drills and requesting an increase in police presence on school grounds. One school district in Georgia is currently considering equipping its schools with assault rifles. The proposal, which came originally from Gainesville Police, would see each school in the district equipped with one Colt M4 carbine. The rifle would be stored in a safe at each school and only the school’s resource officer would have access to it. During times when the schools are closed, the weapons would be locked in the officers’ vehicles.
The plan has yet to be approved by school boards and, according to a report in the Gainesville Times, only Gainesville Middle School has voted so far; the school has chosen to support the measure.
In August, the McNair Discovery Learning Academy in DeKalb County was the scene of an active shooter scenario when 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill entered the school armed with an AK-47. He quickly surrendered after a brief exchange of fire with a police SWAT team. No-one was killed or injured in the incident.
The idea of having firearms present on school grounds raises a number of questions for police, parents, teachers and – not least – students. Accessibility is a key issue. The Gainesville plan requires the weapons to be stored in secure safes in the offices of the resources officers. Gainesville High governance council chairman Ashley Bell summed up the issues for the Gainesville Times; “Now we have a good understanding for three big questions, which are: Is this going to make our kids safer? How much is it going to cost? And will these weapons be secure?”
Mass-casualty shootings occur in locations where no firearms are immediately present. There are no recorded instances of active shooters killing large numbers of people when firearms were immediately available and deployed against the shooter. Whilst active shooters have, in a few instances, attacked a location that has armed guards, they have either targeted the guards first or have entered the facility in an area where guards were not present. No active shooter has exposed themselves to the possibility of being immediately engaged in a gunfight. Numerous potential mass-casualty shootings have been prevented by armed citizens merely producing a weapon, without needing to fire upon the assailant.
In January, the School Improvement Network conducted a school safety survey of 10,661 educators from across the country. Whilst 91.6% of those surveyed felt that their schools were safe, 31.1% expressed the opinion that their schools were not safe from gun violence. 87.8% of those surveyed believe that their schools would be safer if an armed guard were present.
Were this Georgia school district to approve the equipping of resource officers with assault rifles, the resulting increase in security against a potential active shooter may be intangible: Whilst the tragedy of a mass-shooting cannot be downplayed, only a tiny minority of US schools have been targeted by active shooters. It would be difficult to ascertain, therefore, if the presence of assault weapons actually deters a shooter. Given the known statistics regarding active shooter incidents, however, it seems highly likely that the presence of weapons on school property will deter the would-be mass murderer.
An editorial by Graham J Noble