Should schools have armed staff members?
People too often discuss this controversial topic with emotional feelings or political motivations instead of facts, logic and reasoning
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In 2018, the Missouri legislature passed into law the School Protection Officer (SPO) program. This law allows school districts to designate specific school staff who meet the criteria as SPOs.
By statute, an SPO must be a teacher or administrator. Once the school district complies with the public hearing requirements and decides to move forward, the staff selected must attend and successfully pass the Department of Public Safety-approved training program of at least 112 hours.
Upon completion of the training and after passing the strict performance standards (standards similar to what police recruits must meet), the applicant can submit documents to the Department of Public Safety to be certified as a School Protection Officer. Once certified, they are allowed to carry a concealed firearm, as well as defensive spray (normally OC). Each SPO must attend 12 hours of continuing education annually to maintain certification.
Roger Moore addresses The arguments against arming school staff
I have taught and continue to teach both civilians and law enforcement (both in-service and academy) in the area of firearms. My company, Peacekeepers Training LLC, in partnership with Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri, also instructs the School Protection Officer training program.
One of the arguments that have been presented against arming school staff focuses on the amount of training required. I would offer that after training both civilians and law enforcement for several years, there are quality people in both groups fully capable of being trained to the same performance standards. In fact, there are many police recruits who are marginally proficient with firearms and so far many school staff who excel at meeting the performance standards. I have encountered many citizens who are very dedicated to their personal firearms skills.
In my opinion, it would be best to have a fully commissioned law enforcement officer in every school building where students are present but that is simply not possible. First, the cost is prohibitive and with the current staffing shortages almost every law enforcement agency is experiencing you couldn’t fill the positions even if you had the funding. The SPO program is meant to be a supplement to the School Resource Officer (SRO) in districts that have one and an alternative to no responder in small jurisdictions, mostly rural areas where law enforcement response can be 30 minutes or more.
In 2023, the Missouri legislature will consider changing the criteria to allow other school staff to volunteer to become SPOs as opposed to only teachers and administrators. I support this change as it is still the responsibility of the district to vet and select those they want to send to the training and increasing the pool of candidates allows us to choose the very best people for these important responsibilities.
When I retired from my agency in 2014 our average response time to a priority call was seven minutes; almost 70% of active shooter events are over in five minutes or less. This is a math problem to solve.
My friend Ed Monk is considered by many in the training world to be one of the leading experts on this topic. I have asked him to contribute his research below.
Ed Monk addresses
People too often discuss this controversial topic with emotional feelings or political motivations instead of facts, logic and reasoning.
The goal of any school response plan for the active shooter should be to end the attack with a single-digit (0-9) victim count. All school plans policies, and training should focus on what saves lives most. Well, what saves lives most? Ending the attack within the first 30 seconds.
An active shooter will shoot someone every few seconds if we do not stop them. The Parkland shooter shot 14 victims in the first minute. The Stockton (California) killer averaged 12 victims per minute while shooting kids on that elementary school playground. These examples and the data from other shootings, clearly show that the only way to expect a single-digit victim count is to immediately counterattack and stop the attack within the first 30 seconds. It is impossible for responding police to accomplish this, so math and time dictate that the attack must be stopped by the intended victims – the people close enough to hear or see the start of the attack.
It is not enough to have an SRO “somewhere” on the campus. Unless the active shooter starts their attack very close to the SRO, the law enforcement officer will have to wait on a phone call and/or radio call to learn of the attack, then drive or run to that location. The killer could be well into double-digit victims by that time. Only one SRO has been close enough to stop a true school active shooter that quickly.
We know the Columbine and Parkland attacks had high victim counts despite SROs being on campus. The Santa Fe High School in Texas had two SROs on campus and there were still 23 victims. Ten schools have seen active shooter attacks despite having armed SROs on campus, and despite the attackers being students who knew the SROs were on campus. SROs provide some level of deterrence, but not 100%, and are not a guarantee of a low victim count if the school is attacked.
The math shows that the only response plan that has a high probability of a single-digit victim count is for the intended victims to immediately counterattack the shooter and stop the attack. This can be done with a gun or without a gun. Successful unarmed counterattacks by faculty, students and bystanders include Thurston High School, Noblesville Middle School, STEM School, Kelly Elementary School and Deer Creek Middle School. But there have also been unsuccessful attempts at unarmed counterattacks because a gun is such a superior weapon.
By far, the best way to fight and stop an active shooter is with a gun. Why do victims scream into the phone during the 911 call begging for the police, and not any other government employee? Law enforcement has guns. If asked whether you would prefer to fight an evil armed killer with a gun or barehanded, honest people will answer “with a gun” every time.
Ask a law enforcement officer if he/she would respond to an active shooter call with or without a gun, and he/she will look at you like you’re crazy. Law enforcement knows it would be insane for them to intentionally fight an active shooter unarmed. Why should we expect school staff to do so?
It does not take “police training” to know how to shoot a gun and do so successfully under stress. Several armed citizens have stopped active shooters with no police or military experience, most recently at a mall active shooter incident in Indiana.
An armed citizen has never shot the wrong person while stopping an active shooter. Law enforcement have. Law enforcement have shot and killed each other by mistake twice.
It’s not logical to insist that a high school graduate who barely passed the police academy can be safe and effective with a handgun, but the AP Calculus teacher isn’t smart enough to work a Glock. If school staff stops the attack in the first 30 seconds, there is very little chance of law enforcement misidentifying the armed staff member 4-9 minutes later when they arrive due to a 911 call.
The solution to a low victim count is not better police training. The best trained, bravest law enforcement officer in the world who arrives 3-8 minutes into an attack cannot keep the victim count low. The only thing that can is a counterattack by the victims. The best plan for the best chance of a low victim count is enough armed staff members geographically and intelligently spread out on campus so that at least one will hear or see the start of any attack, allowing a good chance of ending it quickly.
U.S. Secret Service, & U.S. Department of Education. (2004). The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.
The law regarding School Protection Officers in Missouri can be found in Chapter 160 of the Missouri Revised Statutes. Specifically, sections 160.665 to 160.696 outline the powers and duties of School Protection Officers, the training requirements for these officers, and other related provisions.
About the authors
Roger Moore is the former Academy Director for the Springfield (Missouri) Police Academy and recently retired as the Assistant Professor and Program Coordinator for the Evangel University Criminal Justice degree program. He is one of the owners of Peacekeepers Training LLC in Springfield, Missouri, and can be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed Monk has researched and provided training on countering the active shooter for over 15 years. He trains and consults with schools, churches, businesses and law enforcement agencies nationwide. He has been a featured speaker at several conferences including ALERRT and ILEETA. He is a law enforcement officer, gun trainer, a former schoolteacher and retired Army officer. He has a BS in US History from West Point, an MS in Education from Kansas State University, and is a graduate of the US Army Command & General Staff College. Ed can be contacted by email at email@example.com.