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With lawmakers questioning the ability of teachers to assign appropriate books, it is baffling that some states are moving to trust school staff with firearms. One week after the school shooting in Uvalde, the Ohio House passed HB 99, a bill to allow school staff to carry firearms after about two days of training. Governor DeWine “looks forward” to signing it, despite even the Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio opposing it. Other states, such as Louisiana, are also moving similar legislation forward.
HB 99 Poses Risks to Staff and Students
One reason that the Ohio FOP opposes the bill is that when the police show up to an active shooter event, they may shoot someone who is holding a gun, unable to distinguish between a “good guy with a gun” and the instigator of the violence. Further, the 24 hours of training required by HB 99 is far less than the minimum of 60 hours required of officers. Shooting accurately can be challenging for well-trained officers, and errant shots in a school may kill innocent people. The chaos amid a school shooting is likely to add to errors by those who have little training.
Another reason that schools and guns don’t mix is that the people in charge of the guns could become unstable, or students may access the guns. Everytown Research and Policy suggests that students will gain control of guns in schools. Even if accidents happen infrequently, that will increase gun violence in schools dramatically. Students can learn how to access guns from storage, overpower the person in charge of the gun, or find a gun when an inevitable error occurs, such as leaving it in a locker room or bathroom. Insurance companies have refused to insure districts that adopt practices to have staff carry firearms due to the high risk. Further, incidents of staff committing violence in schools make laws like HB 99 highly questionable because it would give people easy and legal access to a gun in schools.
HB 99 Could Place Students and Staff of Color at Higher Risk of Violence
When staff have ready access to a firearm, when will they use it? To stop fights? To gain control when they perceive a group getting rowdy? There is no limiting this power to mass shootings once the genie is out of the bottle.
Considering that students of color are more harshly disciplined than white students, guns in schools present a unique threat to students of color. Ohio HB 99 requires no training about implicit bias, and the one holding the gun may see a deadly threat where none exists. Each new policy in schools needs to consider the impact it may have on students of color, as a population that is suspended disproportionately too often. We must consider how staff with guns could have tragic consequences for youth already subject to harsher punishment.
Efforts That are More Likely to Keep Schools Safe
With the education unions and police groups opposing bills like HB 99, what can we do? Widely-supported, evidence-based interventions have the best chance. According to Everytown Research and Policy, they are:
- Simply raising the age to buy a semiautomatic weapon to 21. This may have prevented deaths in Uvalde. Students in schools are almost always below this age, and since shooters are often students, this could prevent deaths.
- Requiring background checks on ALL gun sales.
- Supporting “Extreme Risk” laws to keep guns out of the hands of people known to pose a serious risk to safety, as determined by a judge.
- Laws to strengthen safe gun storage.
Implications for Staff in States Allowing Firearms
One important note, specific to Ohio HB 99, allows districts to opt out of allowing staff to have firearms or to require more rigorous training first. Given the insurance policy problems, this is necessary and may save most children and staff members in the state from the consequences of this bill. School staff will be able to learn if their district allows this law, and for some, this may be the final reason to exit the profession.
In Ohio and other states like it, school staff will soon consider if they want to continue to work alongside people who are carrying a firearm. Parents and guardians will also have a new important consideration to weigh when making educational and safety decisions for their families.
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