Fourteen years ago, two students at Columbine High School gunned down 13 kids before killing themselves. Forgotten in the maelstrom of the coverage and its aftermath was the fact that the school had an armed guard on duty. He was the first to exchange gunfire with the killers that infamous day. Obviously, it wasn’t enough
Protecting students from well-armed gunmen who are determined to kill is not as simple as having armed security guards in schools. In fact, armed security guards may do more harm than good to morale inside the school.
Now, in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, CT, where 26 children and teachers were massacred in its elemenary school, South Dakota has become the first state to authorize teachers to carry guns in schools, the New York Times reported. This kind of action will not make schools safer.
One middle school principal in Brooklyn believes giving the security guards guns would give “a negative connotation to the building.” Principal Berry Kevorkian of Ditmas Middle School says that guns in his building would rachet up students’ fear of a potential intruder. It would make parents feel that he didn’t have control of the building.
A study, published in the journal Youth Society, supports Kevorkian’s view, to some degree. The study found that the presence of certain security measures in schools actually made students feel less safe. Metal detectors and security cameras made all students feel less safe, while the presence of security guards increased only white students’ perceptions of fear. The study noted that things like metal detectors and security cameras could serve as “cues to danger.” They could result in distracting students from learning, increasing levels of disorder and promoting a feeling of mistrust in the school community.
The same study warned school administrators away from quick, costly fixes that don’t necessary solve the problem. The Washington Post calculated that placing armed guards in America’s schools would cost upwards of $2.5 billion a year.
Currently, the New York Police Department assigns safety agents to each of New York City’s public schools. These unarmed officers receive the same training as regular police officers, so it might seem a simple step to give them guns in order to ward off potential assailants. However, even trained personnel are not necessarily fit to stop the horrific scenes that have played out in America’s schools over the past several decades.
“You can never be prepared for nothing like that,” said a safety agent at Ditmas Middle School when asked about school shootings. He did not want his name printed because he said he is not allowed to speak to the press.
No matter how prepared, armed guards run the risk of harming the innocent. Last summer nine bystanders were shot by well-trained NYPD police officers who were chasing a gunman in front of the Empire State building.
Furthermore, some principals don’t trust every guard that the police department places in their schools.
“It’s really hit or miss in terms of quality and competency,” said the principal of an elementary school in lower Manhattan of the safety agents. She said she did not want to be identified because the issue is so controversial. “I worry about a gun being in the wrong hands,” she said.
The safety agent at her school had a different worry. He expressed concern over unruly students finding a way to take a gun from an officer.
The Department of Education requires that all schools practice safety drills, which are much more effective in helping students feel proactive about their safety, while still preserving the feeling of security in a school. One of the three kinds of drills that the lower Manhattan elementary school practices is specifically designed to protect students from a gunman in its halls. Teachers lock classroom doors and windows that open out onto the school’s central corridor while students hide.
“I’d rather that they have those lessons than think that there’s always going to be some one out there to protect them,” said the principal.
Let’s be honest not only about the cost in morale, but the cost in priorities. Armed guards do not come cheap. The high cost of bringing more guns into campuses could be used instead to enrich the curriculum, hire new classroom teachers and provide mental health services to children.