What Science Says About Bringing Guns Into Schools

We understand that some might see this as a political issue and might dislike scientific input on the matter. However, science is non-partisan. It simply presents conclusions drawn from thorough research – whether we like those conclusions or not.

The recent school shooting in Florida left 17 people dead.

However, this is hardly an outlier – it’s merely a symptom of a systemic problem which seems to plague the US alone among all other developed countries. Already, there have been 30 mass shootings in 2018, and it’s only February. In the past 1,870 days, there have been 1624 mass shootings (defined as gun-related incidents which kill or injure four or more people).

In the wake of the Florida shooting, US President Trump said that “highly trained” teachers with guns could help prevent tragedies. “A teacher woulda shot the hell out of him before he knew what happened,” Trump told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday. The idea is also supported by a majority of US gun owners, according to surveys from the Pew Research Center. But is this really backed by anything concrete?

Teachers don’t want guns

For starters, study after study found that teachers don’t really want guns on campus. The number of American colleges and universities that permit concealed firearms on campus is small, but the number is growing, wrote Dahl et al. in 2016. Out of the staff they surveyed, just 17.8% said they would even consider carrying a hidden gun, and most didn’t support the idea. Despite Trump’s statement that 10 to 20% of teachers are “very gun-adept,” teachers are notoriously anti-gun. If you talk to them, you’ll likely get stern responses.

“Every teacher I have any contact [with] says that they don’t want to be armed, that kids would be killed by errant bullets, that the halls would be pandemonium and many lives would be lost in crossfire,” said NYU educational policy analyst and former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch about the plausibility of Trump’s remarks. On the statistic itself, she added that Trump “made it up.”

There are 3.1 million public school teachers and 400,000 private school teachers in America, according to a 2015 National Center for Education Statistics survey. Some 76 percent of public school teachers are women. We don’t know how many of them own guns, but we do know quite a lot about female gun owners in general. They’re much less likely than men to own guns. Fewer than 25% of female gun owners have earned at least a bachelor degree (a basic prerequisite for teaching).

More guns lead to more killings

It’s not just that teachers don’t want guns on campus. Science fundamentally contradicts the idea that bringing more guns, especially to classrooms, will solve the problem; quite the contrary: several studies have found that more guns lead to more killings. In a 2004 review of scientific studies, Harvard’s Lisa Hepburn and David Hemenway found that no matter where you go, whether you’re in the US or another country, in the classroom or at home, more guns equal more killings. Here’s what they wrote:

“Our review of the academic literature found that a broad array of evidence indicates that gun availability is a risk factor for homicide, both in the United States and across high-income countries. Case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the U.S., where there are more guns, both men and women are at a higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide.”

At least six different studies have found the same things – no matter how you go about it, bringing more guns into the equation adds more problems than it solves. The corollary was also proven true: having fewer guns, enforced through legislation, reduces the number of victims.

So, what does work?

Several other countries used to have a gun problem. Among them, the case of Germany is particularly telling. Germany drastically reduced its gun-related homicides through legislation.

“The numbers of people killed in Germany by guns has been falling steadily for several years, and a large part of the reason for that is the tougher laws and diminished availability of guns,” said Dagmar Ellerbrock, a history professor and authority on gun crime at Dresden’s Technical University.

In classrooms, instead of arming teachers, Germany instructed them to look for so-called “leaking” behaviors that might indicate whether someone is planning an attack. In the case of the Florida shooting, as with most other tragedies, there were plenty of these behaviors.

It’s not just Germany: a 2016 study also concluded that gun control works, and in the same year, a meta-analysis reviewed the results of 130 high-quality studies. This is probably the most comprehensive systematic review of its kind, and researchers found strong evidence that a strict gun control policy (i.e. banning automatic rifles, making background checks, requiring permits and license for firearms) reduces all types of gun-related violence. Here are the review’s main findings:

  • It usually takes major legislation overhaul – not just one new law – to see significant change.
  • Restricting access to guns and their purchase is associated with reductions in firearm deaths.
  • Individual studies need to be better executed and planned in the future to get more convincing results.

It seems surprising that the US, which has the highest rates of firearm-related fatalities in the developed world, hasn’t carried out more studies into this issue – but there’s a very serious reason for this. In 1996, the U.S. Congress enacted a federal ‘ban’ on gun control and violence research. Even twenty years later, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a public health agency with an annual budget of seven billion dollars that’s tasked with saving lives, is essentially neutered on the issue. The same carries for other public agencies. While the US Congress vehemently refuses to even consider gun control, they also sealed the door for research on the issue.

So even though eliminating the federal ban we would certainly produce more studies on gun violence, there is still a solid body of research suggesting that adding more guns does nothing to reduce violence, working instead to increase it.

Time and time again after a tragedy, the US population starts to discuss what should be done about guns – and time and time again, nothing substantial is done. The science strongly suggests what kind of action is necessary. Whether or not that course of action will be followed remains to be seen.

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Posted by on February 27, 2018. Filed under COMMENTARY/OPINION,Science,Social Issues. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry
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5 Responses to What Science Says About Bringing Guns Into Schools

  1. Michael John Scott Reply

    February 27, 2018 at 11:47 am

    Since the election of Trump science in government has become irrelevant, giving way to Right Wing conspiracies and Jesus myths.

  2. Bill Formby Reply

    February 27, 2018 at 12:57 pm

    They may not want studies on deaths by firearms but just watching the news gives one a good idea of the depth of the problem. There is one interesting commonality among the pro gun crowd, they all seem to know exactly how many people have been killed in any given year in Chicago. Of course, what everyone seems to forget when the topic of gun control comes up after each mass killing is that there is virtually a mass killing by firearms everyday in America. It’s just that all of the victims are not in the same place. Usually one can look at their watch for two hours while three people in this country died as a result of a firearm injury. I think that people either just do not know the volume of deaths caused by firearms or they have become numb to the reality of 36 people per day dying.

    • Michael John Scott Reply

      February 27, 2018 at 2:38 pm

      I’m afraid they’ve become numb to the reality Bill. I confess when I hear about a school shooting I am no longer shocked because it has become de rigueur in the USA. How fucking sad is that?

      • Glenn Geist Reply

        February 28, 2018 at 2:02 pm

        Could be, but for many American males, reducing their firepower is another form of incremental castration. We equate gun ownership with patriotism, with power against the evils of government seeking to interfere with our right to ignore laws we don’t like or give us responsibilities we don’t want.

        So many Americans feel powerless and helpless and a gun is power. They see the requirements civilization puts on them as making them more powerless. I suspect even some of the goofy gun owners who dress up like mountain men or explorers and spend a fortune on hand made muzzlepoaders feel a little of that nostalgia for the lives of Davy Crockett or Lewis and Clark. A gun can be a time machine too, in a time when are lives are hemmed in and limited and even our language is subject to ever increasing restrictions. Whether it’s Rambo or Gene Autry or Daniel Boone, a lot of this is playacting and some of it is delusional.

        I continue to be astonished at the pervasive idea that all our rights are subordinate to unlimited access to guns.

  3. Glenn Geist Reply

    February 28, 2018 at 1:51 pm

    Reducing the number of guns is obviously a factor, if not the only factor, but it may be an easier factor to control than others. I suggest that a major reform of our drug policies would reduce the overall rate as well. We do have a habit of faith in legislation and the risible belief that laws enforce themselves, and then there’s the constitution, but limiting firepower has long legal standing and is effective. BUT we’re going to have to spend the money to enforce bans and we’re going to have to stop sabotaging things by writing bans and restrictions that don’t hold water. That means no “grandfather” clauses for equipment built before now and no banning only things built abroad and no limiting bans to things that look military and modern. Pistol grips aren’t the problem, but 100 round magazines are. What good is it to ban “assault rifles” when we permit UZIs and Mac-10s and AKs with short barrels with no shoulder stocks because they’re “pistols?”

    That’s what you get from hit and run legislation drafted by people who learned everything they know from other people who know nothing but are motivated.

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