Despite periodic pushes by politicians and community groups to outfit teachers with firearms they could carry on campus to take down a shooter, more than half of educators think doing so would make schools less safe.
In a survey of randomly selected teachers conducted by the RAND Corporation, about 20 percent said arming teachers would make schools safer, and 26 percent were neutral on the issue. The remaining percent said the change would make schools less safe.
The survey results, released in late May, could help inform policy debates around allowing educators to be armed at school, which surface cyclically, often after high-profile mass shootings.
Advocates argue that having armed staff in the event of a shooting could reduce the number of injuries and deaths because someone could intervene immediately, rather than wait for police to respond. The argument is especially persuasive in small, rural communities that do not have their own police departments.
Opponents, including most teachers, say it should not be educators’ job to take down a school shooter, and having firearms on campus could increase the risk of unintended consequences, like a student stealing an unsecure gun or an accidental firing.
As of 2021, 28 states allowed schools to arm certain teachers or staff beyond trained school safety guards, according to the RAND report.
Men (58 percent) were slightly more likely than women (53 percent) to say arming teachers would make schools less safe, but white teachers (21 percent) were more likely than their Hispanic (15 percent) and Black (9 percent) peers to say armed teachers would make schools safer, according to the RAND survey results.
Where teachers are located seemed to make the biggest difference in educators’ viewpoints. About 30 percent of those teaching in rural schools said armed teachers would make schools safer, compared with about 15 percent of urban and suburban educators. Advocates for allowing teachers to be armed often say rural schools would benefit most, because they are often the farthest away from the nearest police agency.
While white teachers were more likely than others to say that allowing teachers to be armed would make schools safer, they were no more likely than other demographics to say they were interested in personally carrying a firearm (suggesting that more support arming teachers in general, but wouldn’t want to do it themselves).
Based on the survey results, RAND estimated that about 550,000 of the nation’s roughly 3 million public school teachers would be personally interested in being armed at school. The majority of those teachers (roughly 358,000) would be women in rural or suburban schools, the RAND report says.
While shootings dominate policy discussions about school safety, only about 5 percent of respondents to the RAND survey cited shootings as the largest safety concern at their school.
And those who reported interest in personally carrying firearms and those who indicated that teacher-carry policies would make schools safer were no more likely than other teachers to select active shooters as their top school safety concern, RAND researchers said.
Forty-nine percent said bullying and cyberbullying were their top safety concerns. Bullying was educators’ biggest worry across all school levels. But there was some divergence, depending on grade level, about what other safety issues were top of mind.
Aside from bullying, elementary teachers were most concerned about educators being attacked, middle school teachers were most concerned about fighting, and high school teachers were most concerned about drugs.
Teachers seem to be more interested in measures that would tighten firearm access over measures that would bring guns into schools.
That finding aligns with the results of an EdWeek Research Center survey in June 2022.
When asked what measures should be included in any school safety laws, teachers participating in that survey were least likely to select arming teachers. The vast majority focused on closing loopholes in background checks for firearm purchases, raising the minimum age to purchase weapons like AR-15s, funding additional community mental health resources, and enacting “red flag” laws that allow judges to restrict a person’s access to firearms if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.