National Principals Groups Oppose Proposals to Arm School Officials
Firearms in principals' and teachers' hands might do more harm than good
December 19, 2012; Reston, VA– In the aftermath of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, we all feel a desperate need to honor the memories of the victims and take steps to prevent such horror from happening again. In that spirit, many well-meaning policymakers are proposing to allow teachers and principals to carry firearms in school. As the professional organization for our nation’s principals, we strongly oppose such policies.
A principal’s first responsibility is to foster a safe, orderly, warm, and inviting environment. To be effective, schools must be perceived as safe havens where students want to be. The presence of armed school officials on campus conveys the opposite message to students and to the local community. Is the school really safe, a parent might wonder, if the principal feels that he or she needs to carry a firearm? Any impression that obstructs a trusting relationship in school compromises school safety instead of enhancing it.
That compromise would perhaps be necessary if arming teachers and principals actually made schools more secure. We believe, however, that such policies will not produce the intended effect—and they might do more harm than good. NASSP School Safety Specialist Bill Bond, who experienced a school shooting as a principal in 1997 and who has assisted in the aftermath of just about every school shooting since, reminds us that most of these incidents happen very quickly and last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. Bond’s close examination of each shooting incident reveals a complex series of decisions that a school official would have to make to eliminate the threat while still safeguarding the school. It is not reasonable to expect that a school official could intervene in a deadly force incident, even with a modicum of training, quickly and safely enough to save lives.
Yet even the slightest hope of saving lives bumps up against another well-researched reality: gun-related violent behavior is closely connected to local access to guns. If we increase the number of guns in schools—no matter how carefully we safeguard them—we can expect an increase in gun violence.
Sadly, there is no simple solution to this complex problem, regardless of whether the perpetrator is a student or an outsider. But we know that there is something schools and communities can do. It has been identified time and again by the Secret Service, the FBI, and numerous researchers as the most effective way to prevent acts of violence in schools: build trusting relationships with students and others in the community so that communication flows freely among public agencies and threats come to light quickly. We need policymakers to support and promote collaboration among community-based mental health organizations, local law enforcement agencies, schools, and other key community stakeholders to create a system of community-based mental health response and threat assessment. These efforts should promote wellness in schools, including how to address the mental health needs of students and all community members, while responding to potential threats to community safety. Schools also need to have the means for appropriate personnel and programs to establish positive connections with the community.
The solution is a matter of school culture. It’s a matter of community engagement and coordination. It’s a matter of public health. It’s a matter of funding for school resource officers. And yes, it’s a matter of gun access. The real solution is multifaceted and complex, but as with most complex problems, the simple and obvious solutions often fall far short.
The National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP) is the leading organization of and national voice for middle level and high school principals, assistant principals, and all school leaders from across the United States and 36 countries around the world. The association provides research-based professional development and resources, networking, and advocacy to build the capacity of middle level and high school leaders to continually improve student performance. Reflecting its longstanding commitment to student leadership development as well, NASSP administers the National Honor Society, National Junior Honor Society, National Elementary Honor Society, and National Association of Student Councils.
Established in 1921, the National Association of Elementary School Principals (NAESP) serves elementary and middle school principals in the United States, Canada, and overseas. NAESP leads in the advocacy and support for elementary and middle-level principals and other education leaders in their commitment to all children.