Despite the unpopularity of the policy among parents and educators, Ohio recently made it easier for teachers and staff to carry guns in schools, passing legislation that drops the firearms training requirement from 700 hours to no more than 24 hours of training, according to the New YorkTimes.
Even among law enforcement who support arming teachers and staff in schools, one primary caveat to that support is ensuring sufficient training for people in possession of firearms, says Jaclyn Schildkraut, an associate professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Oswego and a national expert on mass shootings research. So, why do we keep seeing these kinds of policies being passed in various states?
Schildkraut, who is also interim executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government and whose work has focused on the effects of lockdown drills on students, faculty, and staff, is joined in conversation on this topic by Johanna Vollhardt . Vollhardt is a social psychologist and associate professor at Clark University in Massachusetts and one of the editors-in-chief of the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, where political psychology generally looks at the effects of individual and group processes on political attitudes and decision-making. making. They each took some time to talk about safety responses that have been proven effective in protecting students and staff during school shootings, and what the thinking behind the political support of arming teachers in schools could be rooted in. (These interviews have been edited for length and clarity.)
Q: Can you talk about what your own work and research in this area — arming teachers in schools — have revealed about these kinds of policies?
Schildkraut: With a colleague at ALERRT (Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training), we’ve done some work trying to understand the law enforcement perspective of these practices. In doing a lot of the preliminary work to understand the policy and what might be the arguments for and against it, one of the things that kept standing out to us [regarding] the conversation about training, is just accuracy. If you look at the research on law enforcement and how often they hit their intended target when they’re firing their weapons, most research finds it to be 50 percent of the time or less, and that’s when nobody is firing their gun back at them . When somebody is shooting their gun back at [law enforcement officers], it drops to about 18 percent. A case that is pointed to a lot is a shooting at the Empire State Building in 2012, and police responded and ended up neutralizing the shooter, but they also shot nine bystanders in the process, so one of the significant concerns about arming teachers is that one of law enforcement’s main responsibilities in training is learning how to accurately fire their weapon in stressful situations. They spend a tremendous number of hours in training, and they also have time on the range and annual retraining; most policies that are implemented right now for teachers don’t have anywhere near that amount of hours in training.
Q: What does political psychology tell us about what the idea of arming teachers in schools is rooted in?
Vollhardt: This is definitely a very American phenomenon, arming teachers as opposed to imposing stricter gun policies and banning certain types of weapons. Or, in general, the idea that people are allowed to carry weapons. [Banning weapons] has been the solution in many other countries that faced shootings, like New Zealand, like Norway, so we also have to look at the cultural and historical roots of it in the US
As a psychologist, we usually start with the individual and try to figure out what motivates this type of response. In general, the very basic process is that when people are under threat, they feel that certain assumptions about the world — that the world is a safe place — have been shattered. When that happens, people want to restore control. One way to restore control is that people will have the urge to defend and protect the in-group and do certain things to restore a sense of safety and control. Then, you can look to different solutions, and I think that’s where the structural level comes in with the culture, the history, and the other societal-level phenomenon. In some contexts, the solution may be to ban guns; but in the context where the right to bear arms is so deeply entrenched into, frankly, the settler-colonial history of this country, in the Constitution, the “natural” response within this societal-historical context is to double down on what we know , what we are familiar with, what is seen as part of the culture. Here, in the US, the right to bear arms is what we are familiar with, so many people will turn to that. That is coupled with another societal-level phenomenon in the US, which is much higher compared to many other countries, and that’s the sense of individualism and a focus on individual solutions. An overall ban on weapons would be a more collective policy solution, whereas arming individual teachers to restore a sense of control and safety feeds into the sense of individualism and individual rights, which is deeply rooted here in the US and much higher than in other societies. .
Q: What alternative responses to this issue in schools aren’t getting enough consideration, and what does the existing research suggest about the efficacy of those responses?
Schildkraut: The number one, life saving device in an active shooter situation in a school is a door lock. So, the most important thing that we could be focusing our efforts on is ensuring that our schools have proper lockdown procedures and that they are being crafted effectively.
There are four main considerations when you are either practicing or activating a lockdown in a real-world situation: Number one, is that you want to get that door locked.
The second consideration is that you want to turn the lights off, which provides an added layer of concealment so that it makes it harder for somebody to see and figure out where you are.
The third thing is that you want to be out of sight, which basically means that you visually get out of sight of any corridor or window. I always tell students when we’re working on this, that if you can’t see out of the window, someone can’t see you in the window. Just make sure you can’t see into the hallway from your position. Also, maintain silence. We don’t want to do anything that calls attention to our room. Again, make it look vacant, get out of the way, and be quiet. That way, nobody knows where you are.
The fourth consideration is just making sure that once you get into that lockdown position, you don’t come back out until you’re being escorted out or given directions to leave. Teachers are encouraged, before they fully lock down, to do a visual sweep of the hallway to make sure all students have been picked up, and then to get everybody locked down. Once you’re locked down, you don’t come back to the door at all.