Study finds consensus for arming school resource officers, division on arming teachers and other staff

February 03, 2021

In the wake of repeated school shootings across the United States, today's youth have been called the mass shooting generation. A new study examined public support for arming school employees. The study found consensus for arming school resource officers, but division over whether to arm teachers and nonteaching staff. The research has clear implications for policy, including the possibility that support for arming school staff may diminish over time as young people (who are less supportive) make up a larger share of voters.

The study was conducted by researchers at Xavier University, the University of Cincinnati, the University at Albany, and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. It appears in Criminology & Public Policy, a publication of the American Society of Criminology.

"As communities and school districts adapt to living in an age of school shootings, school safety will remain a salient issue," according to Cheryl Lero Jonson, associate professor of criminal justice at Xavier University, who led the study. "And with decisions often made at the local level and influenced by the prevailing will of the community, public opinion will continue to play a role in this debate."

Most states permit school security officers (typically officers on assignment to schools from local police departments) to carry firearms, and at least 466 school districts in 19 states allow teachers or staff members to be armed. To examine public support for arming those who work in U.S. schools, researchers commissioned YouGov (which conducts academic survey research) to launch a nationwide survey of 1,100 American adults in 2018. The demographic and political similarities between those who were surveyed and the U.S. population suggest that the study's findings are generalizable to American adults, the researchers say.

Respondents were asked to indicate how much they supported nine policies related to arming people in schools as a response to school shootings. Among the school personnel, the survey asked about teachers, nonteaching staff (e.g., janitors, coaches, administrators), and school resource officers. The survey also asked the respondents about their political views, moral and cultural values, and other factors such as firearm ownership, and demographics (e.g., race, gender, education, income, marital status, household composition, religion, and region of residence).

The study found consensus for school resource officers carrying weapons, with 70 percent of respondents in favor and only 10 percent opposed. But it found division for arming teachers and nonteaching staff, with 40 percent of respondents supporting arming these school employees and 40 percent opposing the policy.

Respondents who are older, believe in the effectiveness of guns as defensive weapons, lean right politically, are racially resentful, and have children were more likely to endorse arming school personnel who are not law enforcement officials. Membership in the National Rifle Association and concern about students, faculty, and staff were associated with support for arming teachers, while a belief in the moral wrongness of harming others predicted opposition to arming teachers.

"Our findings signal that support for arming school staff may wane in the coming years," suggests Alexander L. Burton, a PhD Candidate in the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Cincinnati, who coauthored the study. "Older individuals were more likely to support arming school employees, and with a younger, more liberal, more diverse generation becoming a larger voting bloc, support for arming school staff may dissipate in the near future."

Crime and Justice Research Alliance

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