When it comes to the controversial topic of arming teachers, nearly one in five of the country’s 3 million K12 teachers would, if allowed, carry a firearm to work, new school safety data shows. Currently, at least one adult—including police officers and other nonsecurity school staff—is legally carrying a firearm in roughly half of U.S. public schools, according to the latest American Educator Panels survey by the RAND Corporation.
Still, bullying ranks above active shooters as teachers’ No. 1 safety concern, RAND’s researchers found.
Meanwhile, a growing number of Americans are worried that schools are not safe from gun violence. Some 57% of Americans now say they think the schools in their community are safe from gun violence, a drop from the 65% who said the same in 2019, an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist University national poll found.
More than 330 people were injured or killed in approximately 300 school shootings in 2022; there were 250 shooting incidents in 2021, the RAND Corporation reports. “These two most recent years have seen well more than double the number of shooting incidents at schools each year throughout the 2000s,” the authors of the study said. “All told, more than 330,000 students have been exposed to gun violence in a school setting in the past two decades.”
Teachers remain divided on the issue of letting educators carry firearms. While 54% said it would make schools less safe, 20% said arming teachers would improve security. The rest landed in the middle, saying guns would make schools neither more nor less safe. More white teachers than Black teachers said they believe arming teachers would improve safety while male teachers in rural schools were most likely to say they would carry a firearm at school if allowed.
Several past surveys by other researchers have found lower levels of support among teachers for arming themselves, RAND’s researchers add. Meanwhile, about half of teachers think more common safety measures—such as locks, ID badges, cameras, and security staff—improve their school’s climate.
Arming teachers: What’s next?
Administrators and policymakers are encouraged to take a look at school districts that have more expansive teacher-carry programs to understand if the policy has made schools safer or if there have been unintended consequences, such as accidental discharges of firearms. How parents, students and staff have responded to the policy in those districts should also be considered.
Here are other steps that RAND recommends K12 administrators take before arming teachers:
- Assess their outcomes potential outcomes by conducting a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of teacher-carry programs.
- Develop risk analysis approaches that focus on both frequent, lower-level forms of school violence (such as bullying) and less likely, extreme forms of school violence—such as shootings.
- Develop a deeper understanding of the sources of teachers’ safety concerns.
- Identify how fears of victimization and other safety concerns contribute to teacher and principal turnover and to student enrollment, attendance and academic performance.
- Take the pulse of parents, teachers, administrators, and students about school safety measures. Disaggregate feedback by type of community to zero in on the perceptions of school safety.