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What Teachers Think Might Prevent School Shootings

4 minute read

Next month marks the two-year anniversary of the shooting in Uvalde, Texas, during which 19 elementary-school students and two teachers lost their lives, and 17 other people were shot. So far this year, there have been at least 50 shootings on school grounds, causing 16 deaths. So it's probably not surprising that more than half of public-school K-12 teachers in the U.S. are at least somewhat worried about a shooting in their place of work.

In a new survey by Pew Research Center, about a quarter of teachers report that their school had at least one gun-related lockdown in the last year, and 15% had more than one. Most of the teachers whose school had such a lockdown taught at high school level and in urban areas. Teachers in urban schools were also the most likely to say they felt their school had ill-prepared them for a shooting, and the least likely to say the school had an armed guard. Overall, about 60% of teachers are worried about a shooting at their own school and 7% are extremely worried.

Read More: It's Even Bleaker for Teachers Than You Thought

To some extent, teachers agree about what should be done to address the issue. On April 10, lawmakers in Tennessee, which lost three 9-year-olds to a school shooting in Nashville just over a year ago, passed a bill that allowed some staff to carry concealed weapons on school grounds. According to Pew, the overwhelming majority of teachers (70%) do not think that is the answer. (A RAND study taken last year found that more than half of teachers believed that carrying guns would actually make schools less safe.) A large proportion (69%), however, believe that improving mental-health screening and treatment for children and adults would help prevent shootings. About half think police officers or armed security guards would make a difference, and a third endorse metal detectors.

But a closer look at the findings from Pew suggests that teachers are divided along similar lines as the rest of America about how to solve the problem of guns in schools. While relatively few teachers, regardless of politics, believe it would be "extremely or very effective" if teachers and administrators carried guns, those who lean Republican are about nine times more likely than those who lean Democratic (28% to 3%) to think so. Only 37% on the Democrat side think having armed security staff would work well, while 69% on the Republican side do. And while close to half (43%) of GOP-aligned educators endorse metal detectors, only slightly more than a quarter (27%) of Dem respondents do.

These findings among teachers arrive as a subtle but detectable change in public perspective on who is responsible when a student fires a gun at school has begun to emerge. On April 9, it was revealed that a former assistant principal in Virginia, who allegedly did not heed warnings that a 6-year-old boy had brought a gun to school, had been indicted on charges of child abuse and neglect after that boy shot a teacher in 2023. That same day the parents of a school shooter in Michigan were sentenced to at least 10 years of prison time after they were convicted of involuntary manslaughter for failing to prevent their 15-year-old son from killing four of his schoolmates.

Tennessee parents who opposed their state's new legislation, including some of those whose children lived through the shooting in Nashville, expressed dismay at the new legislation. "As mothers of survivors, all we can do is continue to show up and keep sharing our stories and hope that eventually they will listen to them and take our advice," Melissa Alexander told The Tennessean. "We have real experiences in these tragedies. We are the ones who have been there, experienced this and lived through the aftermath of it." Beth Gebhard was even more blunt. "If what had happened on March 27 had gone down the way that it did with a teacher armed with a handgun attempting to put the perpetrator out," she said, "my children would likely be dead."

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