Urban Wire States Cannot Rely on School Resource Officers to Stop School Shootings
Wesley Jenkins
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A woman looks on at the memorial for the Covenant School shooting victims at the Covenant School.

Thanks to Jesse Janetta, senior policy fellow in the Justice Policy Center, for assisting with this post.

On Sunday mornings as a high schooler in Nashville, Tennessee, my mom, my sister, and I would venture across the street to Covenant Church, walking up the verdant promenade toward the chapel’s two towering double doors. Inside, we would find a seat among the dozens of rows of wooden pews below the intricate stained glass windows letting in the morning light.

Two weeks ago, just down the hallway from that beautiful chapel where I spent so much time as a teenager, a heavily armed person entered the Covenant School and fatally shot six people, three 9-year-old children and three adults.

In response, the Tennessee House of Representatives passed a bill intended to increase school safety, and the governor amended his budget proposal to dedicate $205 million of funding to school security, with the majority of it going toward more armed guards and security in schools. The Tennessee house majority leader called these “aggressive and necessary steps that will ensure Tennessee’s schools are the safest, most secure in the nation.” With $140 million of the proposed funding earmarked for armed guards at schools, the measures are certainly aggressive. But research does not support that this funding will lead to Tennessee schools becoming any more secure.

Multiple studies on the effects of armed guards on school grounds have shown that their presence is not related to school shooting severity, with one study finding that the death rate during shooting incidents in schools that had an armed guard present was nearly three times as high as during shooting incidents in schools without an armed guard. Other research has shown compelling reasons not to mandate armed officers. Tennessee has one of the highest state rates of armed guards in schools already, with about 86 percent of high schoolers in the state attending a school with a police officer. Even with those officers present, only seven states have had more instances of gunfire on school grounds in the last decade than Tennessee.

If policymakers want to prevent school shootings, rather than putting millions of dollars toward an intervention that research suggests does not help accomplish that goal, they could adopt the following policies instead:

As a native Nashvillian and former Covenant congregation member, my heart breaks for the families of those killed and for all of the children who will never again know peace at school. I want my home state to take proactive steps to prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again.

This week, Governor Bill Lee has signaled willingness to pursue some of these measures, signing an executive order strengthening background checks and urging legislators to pass an extreme risk law. These are steps in the right direction, but to truly ensure the safety and security of Tennessee’s students, the evidence suggests that policymakers should continue to pursue strategies with proven benefits instead of putting more guns in school corridors.

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Research Areas Crime, justice, and safety
Tags Community public safety investment Crime and justice analytics Delinquency and crime
Policy Centers Justice Policy Center
States Tennessee
Cities Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN
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