Last June, Ohio passed House Bill 99 (O.R.C. 2923.122, 5502.703) permitting “a school district board or governing body to elect to arm specific staff members” after 24 hours of training. This bill also created the Ohio Mobile Training Team (OMTT) to develop this training. Two days before the 10th anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, the OMTT released its approved curriculum. After only 24 hours of training, school staff in Ohio will be allowed to carry weapons on school grounds, respond to active threats, and use techniques designed to ensure the bullet hits its target. In at least half of school shootings (including countless active shooting threats beyond mass shootings), this target is a child.
This approach is alarming, especially as a violence prevention organization that recognizes the interconnectedness of violence.
In the last few years, with permission to study gun violence and its prevention with federal dollars, several evidence-based strategies have emerged as promising practices to reduce gun violence. In that research, it is unequivocally clear that arming school personnel will not reduce gun violence in schools, nor will it decrease youth deaths from gun violence.
Gun violence (including homicides, suicides, undetermined, and unintentional injury) is an important issue and is now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States; it is especially concerning for boys and Black and Indigenous young people. Laws like HB 99 target a particular type of gun violence — mass school shootings — which make up a small portion of gun violence in K12 schools and colleges. Suicide by firearm is becoming a much higher risk to our students.
- While no “typical” student is involved in gun violence against others, there are usually signs prior to a mass school shooting or when someone is suicidal or having suicidal thoughts. Some suggestions include ensuring access to caring adults in school, including trained mental health professionals, and adopting behavioral threat assessment procedures.
- We can also create a supportive whole-school climate. Bullying, individual disputes, and other adverse childhood experiences are all associated with school gun violence. Adopting a school culture that is supportive, inclusive, and adopts positive social norms (such as anti-bullying, healthy relationships, open communication, and respect for each other) can all help students feel safe and connected to school. This includes making students feel physically safe in their school buildings by addressing “hot spots” or physical spaces where students feel unsafe and eliminating zero tolerance policies which are punitive and disproportionally affect students of color.
- Addressing student social and emotional needs, knowledge, and skills can also address risk factors for gun violence (and other forms of violence). The Ohio Department of Education’s strategic plan adopts a Whole Child Framework and includes social and emotional learning standards. Parents and those associated with schools can inquire if and how their school meets these standards.
- Adopting a supportive school culture also means moving outward to include the adults associated with the school. Safe gun storage is associated with reduced gun violence and is supported by gun owners. Ohio does not have a gun storage safety law, and the approved curriculum by OMTT does not appear to include safe gun storage education. Parents and students can petition their school to provide gun storage safety training for any armed school personnel.
- Learn about, invest in, and support your local violence prevention programs. There are several evidence-based and effective community violence programs, including violence interrupters, hospital-based violence intervention programs, and addressing the physical conditions of a community (such as creating green spaces, addressing street lighting, and fixing up abandoned buildings). These strategies may address the school gun violence associated with disputes or existing issues outside the school building.
We all want our young people to feel safe; gun violence threatens their safety. To really reduce the violence they experience, we must listen to the evidence. The evidence points us in many directions that do not include arming teachers. We encourage parents, teachers, school personnel and administrators, and community members to seek effective violence prevention solutions and support the work already happening in their communities. Together we can create a safer future for our children — one where they don’t have to learn with guns in their classrooms.
“The State of Prevention” is a blog series that explores Ohio’s prevention landscape, highlighting both history and current events that impact the field.