A majority of parents don’t think teachers should carry guns as a security response to mass school shootings, according to a new national poll. But the controversial practice, comparisons show, does appear to have gained additional support in recent years.
Just 43% of parents with children in public schools are in favor of teachers and other school staff carrying guns on campus, according to a new poll from PDK International conducted in response to the May 24 mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. That’s an uptick from 2018, when 36% of parents supported the measure in the aftermath of the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, where a gunman killed 17 people.
Among all poll respondents, including those without school-aged children, 45% opposed arming teachers. That’s a sharp contrast from other school security measures, like metal detectors and armed police, which have wide support among the general public. Broadly speaking, the public’s opinion on school safety efforts have remained stable over the last four years despite an increase in spending on campus security after the Parkland and Uvalde tragedies. Following the Uvalde shooting, President Joe Biden signed a law that included new gun control measures and an infusion of federal money for student mental health care and campus security.
On the question of arming teachers, respondents’ perspectives varied widely based on their political affiliation, noted Teresa Preston, PDK’s director of publications. Efforts to put more guns in schools mirrors broader partisanship around gun control, she said. While three-fourths of Republicans support arming teachers, just a quarter of Democrats agree.
“Some of it has to do with how the divisions in our country about the presence of guns in public spaces has sort of continued to inform peoples’ opinions about the presence of guns in schools,” Preston said. “If they are inclined to be against more gun control measures they might be more inclined to say ‘Well yes, I support having guns in public spaces.”
More than half of states allow schools to arm teachers or staff in at least some circumstances, according to a tally by the RAND Corporation. In Ohio, a law approved this year made it easier for educators to carry guns in their classrooms by requiring just 24 hours of training. Meanwhile in North Carolina, a school district made headlines this month for a decision to equip campuses with AR-15 rifles for school-based police to use in the event of an active shooting.
Arming teachers is even less popular among educators themselves, according to a recent survey by the American Federation of Teachers. Among union members, 75% of respondents said they oppose arming teachers. In a press release, union President Randi Weingarten said “the answer to gun violence is not more guns.”
“Educators, parents, administrators, counselors and students want teachers to teach, not engage in a shootout with AR-15s,” Weingarten said. “Especially now, as kids are headed back to school with more stress and trauma, and teachers are facing interference from politicians trying to ban books and single out certain students — we want to be focused on solutions, not sharpshooting. Arm us with books and resources, not guns.”
Yet the AFT poll also showed high support for armed police in schools — putting educators on the same page as the general public. Despite police failures in Uvalde, and an ongoing debate about their ability to keep kids safe from mass school shootings, the PDK poll found an overwhelming 80% of people support school resource officers, including 94% of Republicans and 70% of Democrats.
Preston said she was surprised to see such high support for school-based police among Democrats. After George Floyd was murdered by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020, leading Democratic lawmakers embraced calls for police-free schools and some school districts removed officers from their campuses.
“Perhaps it has to do with people being willing to try anything, being willing to be open to lots of different possibilities,” she said.
Similarly, 78% of people said they support metal detectors in schools and 80% said they support mental health screenings for students. School-hardening efforts like metal detectors and armed teachers saw markedly higher support among less-educated Americans compared to those with college degrees. Compared to postgraduates, those without college degrees were 29 percentage points more likely to have strong support for metal detectors and 12 percentage points more likely to strongly support armed teachers.
Despite the overall support for school security efforts, the results suggest that the public does not see the measures as a panacea, with a minority of respondents expressing strong support for each of the measures. Just 21% of respondents said they “strongly support” armed teachers and 45% said they “strongly support” armed police on campus. This dynamic suggests that people are generally interested in a range of strategies that could keep kids safe at school “but they’re not necessarily passionately committed to them.”
The poll, which has a margin of error of 3.3 percentage points, was conducted June 17-25 and includes a national random sample of 1,008 adults. PDK plans to release additional poll results on Americans’ attitudes toward public schools on Aug 29.