Can armed officers reduce injury and death in school shootings?

Miranda Hester

Ms. Hester is Content Specialist with Contemporary OB/GYN and Contemporary Pediatrics.

The presence of armed officers at school has been one of the measures aimed to protect students and staff. An investigation looks at whether the reality measures up.

In the years following the Columbine shooting in 1999, schools across the United States instituted a number of measures meant to ensure the safety of students and teachers including metal detectors, active shooter drills, and School Resource Officers. In fact, Florida requires a law enforcement officer at every school and some states have advocated arming teachers with guns. A research letter in JAMA Network Open looks at whether having armed school officials had an impact on injuries and deaths from gun violence.1

The researchers looked at every identified case of either at least 1 person being intentionally shot in a school building during a school day or a person who went to a school with the intent of indiscriminately firing a gun from 1980 to 2019, using the public K-12 School Shooting Database. They looked at a variety of factors including the offender’s motive, presence of an armed guard at the scene of the shooting, the number and types of firearms used by the offender, and other factors.

A total of 133 school shooting and attempted school shooting between 1980 and 2019 were studied. The age of the perpetrator ranged from 10 to 53 years, but just 16 of the shooters were aged 22 years or older. Many of the perpetrators were either current students (70%) or former students (15%) of the school. Additionally, most were male (98%) and White (76%). One hundred and twenty-one cases had full information and 57 of the cases were found to be targeted shootings. An average of 1.35 people per case were killed in a shooting and 3.15 people per case were injured. An average of 1.63 weapons were used per shooting and they were predominately handguns. Armed guards were present for 23.58% of the studied shooting. Multivariate models showed that armed guards were not linked to a significant reduction in the rates of injury. When controlling for factors of location and school characteristics, the rate of death was 2.83 times more in schools that had the presence of an armed guard (incidence rate ratio, 2.96; 95% CI = 1.43-6.13; P = .003).

The investigators concluded that there was no link between violence deterrence and the presence of an armed officer. In fact, an armed officer was the number one factor linked to increased casualties following the perpetrators’ use of assault rifles of submachine guns. The fact that research indicates that a number of school shooters are actively suicidal and intend to die during the shooting, could mean that armed officers could be seen as an incentive for a shooter, rather than the deterrent.

Reference

1. Peterson J, Densley J, Erickson G. Presence of armed school officials and fatal and nonfatal gunshot injuries during mass school shootings, United States, 1980-2019. JAMA Netw Open. 2021;4(2):e2037394. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2020.37394