In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters suggested to WCPO TV that teachers “trained to handle a weapon” should be armed.
The idea isn’t surprising coming from the Republican county prosecutor. In the onset of tragedies like the one in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., conservatives tend to counter liberal cries for more gun control by saying the United States actually needs more guns. They argue an armed society deters and is more effective in stopping criminals.
The problem is the idea contradicts broader scientific research. Following the attack at Tucson, Ariz., that nearly killed former U.S. representative Gabrielle Giffords, economist Richard Florida looked state-by-state into what factors correlate with gun violence. He found no correlation between gun violence and mental illness, higher stress levels, neurotic personalities, higher unemployment or inequality. However, his research did find that the places with the most gun control tend to have less gun violence.
Researchers at Harvard Injury Control Research Center found another correlation: Whether looking at countries or states, more guns means more homicides. More specifically, men and women in places with more firearms are at a larger risk for gun-related homicide.
The University of Pennsylvania tackled the issue from a different angle in 2009: The researchers looked at gun assault cases to see if gun owners were more or less likely to be shot.
In 2009, ABC News ran a 20/20 special that used a simulation to gauge whether armed civilians can stop attacks. The simulation placed trained and armed students into a classroom, where they thought they would be getting additional firearms training. In the middle of the lecture, an armed gunman broke into the classroom and began shooting the teacher and students with fake rounds. In all the examples shown, none of the students were able to stop the gunman before taking shots that would have been deadly in a real scenario. Essentially, being trained in the use of a firearm was not enough to prepare someone for the high levels of distorting stress experienced in a real crisis.
In their defense, conservatives typically point to a few stories, including one in which a gun-toting Florida senior stopped an armed robbery at an Internet cafe. But are a few feel-good stories enough to trump scientific research? After all, one of the main purposes of the social sciences is to sort through outliers and find real tends with strong evidence.
Looking at the facts and research available, perhaps it’s better to focus on mental health services and gun control than it is to arm school teachers and staff, as suggested in CityBeat’s Dec. 19 news commentary.
CityBeat could not immediately reach the prosecutor’s office for comments through phone or email. This story will be updated if comments become available.