The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee advanced a bill last month that would place armed security guards in public K-12 schools.
Introduced by Republican Rep. Mike Regan, Senate Bill 907 would require school districts to have one armed security guard on duty at each school building during the day, beginning in the 2024-2025 school year. While this would be mandated by law, it would be up to school boards to decide whether or not to have armed security personnel on duty during after-school activities.
Regan, who represents York and Cumberland counties, claims the mandate “would ensure schools, teachers, and students are less vulnerable to an attack,” adding that the government has a responsibility to protect schools. While he touts the bill’s firearm training and certification requirements, describing the security officers as “armed, trained, and vetted,” research has shown that the presence of armed guards in schools do not prevent gun violence or mass shootings.
“We’ve seen this in real world examples with Uvalde, with Parkland, where there were armed security on the scene, and you still had a mass shooting tragedy,” Sarah Jones, CeaseFirePA’s Bucks County and Montgomery County organizer, told the Bucks County Beacon. “In fact, the presence of armed security guards, studies have found, actually increases the number of fatalities.”
A JAMA Network Open study examining school shootings in the U.S. found that fatalities were nearly three times higher in schools with armed security guards than those without. “When there are firearms in the situation, there’s always room for error, even when there are highly trained officers,” Jones said.
Having armed guards in schools can also worsen educational environments for students, she says, making school feel more like a prison than a place of learning. Another study published in the journal Youth Society found that the presence of armed security made students feel less safe and secure at school, which could affect academic achievement, as well.
As a result, Jones says that there are “a lot more effective” policies to help make students safer. Instead of adding more guns into the mix, however, “evidence-backed solutions” aim to prevent gun violence and mass shootings from occuring in the first place. “When we’re talking about solutions to gun violence, we really want to get at the root cause,” she said.
For example, an Extreme Risk Protection Order bill before the PA Senate Judiciary Committee would “make sure that if someone shouldn’t have guns, we’re removing guns from them and giving them the time to get the help they need.” According to Everytown Research and Policy, Extreme Risk laws allow family, friends, and community members to intervene and petition a court to prevent a person from having access to firearms if they pose a serious risk to themselves or others. Since this is a civil procedure, there are no criminal charges associated with these laws, and the ERPO itself is temporary.
Jones says that universal background checks can also help prevent people who shouldn’t have firearms from accessing them. While federal law currently requires background checks for anyone purchasing guns at federally-licensed dealers, private sales for AR-15s – the weapon used most commonly by mass shooters – do not require background checks in Pennsylvania. “It’s a pretty critical loophole that can lead to access to these highly, highly dangerous weapons that have been making mass shootings, school shootings so much more dangerous,” she said.
In addition, a child access prevention bill introduced in the PA House by Democratic Rep. Tim Briggs would require gun owners to securely store their firearms in homes where children might be present. In general, child access prevention laws hold individuals liable if they fail to securely store their guns in the presence of minors.
Safe storage laws, however, are less narrow, imposing penalties on gun owners if anyone gains access to their weapons when they’re not in possession of them. This means making sure firearms are unloaded and locked away, storing ammunition separately. In nearly 75% school shooting incidents, the gun used was obtained from the homes of the shooter’s parents, relatives, or friends. Keeping guns locked away in the home can help reduce the likelihood of these tragedies.
“Living a life free from gun violence, to me, really means you can go out in the world normally,” Jones said. “It doesn’t mean going to a school with an armed security guard, where you’re walking through a metal detector and you have to do regulated drills because someone might come and shoot you.”