While most adult Americans do not want teachers to carry guns in school, a robust 45 percent said they would favor arming teachers as a safety strategy in a new poll from PDK International.
Around 80 percent of the 1,008 adults surveyed from June 17 through June 25 also said they “strongly/somewhat support” armed police in schools, metal detectors, and mental health screenings of students as school safety measures, according to the data released Thursday by the professional association for educators.
Arming teachers is an unpopular strategy among educators themselves, according to a July American Federation of Teachers survey, which showed that 75 percent of pre-K-12 AFT members oppose arming teachers. As for other options, a June EdWeek Research Center poll showed that 72 percent of teachers support mental health services.
“The people who are in classrooms every day—teachers, school staff, and students—don’t want more guns in schools,” AFT President Randi Weingarten said in a statement about both polls. “The answer to gun violence is not more guns; guns are the problem, not the solution.”
Overall, the PDK data suggest that adults want to see an array of solutions to school safety problems, said Teresa Preston, director of publications for PDK. Many of the solutions, such as increased funding for mental health services, have been included in federal efforts to address gun violence and mass shootings.
The fact that mental health screenings, armed officers, and metal detectors in schools “were supported by a majority of respondents shows that they see that keeping students safe requires a multifaceted strategy,” she said.
The desire for school safety solutions hasn’t changed since Parkland
The association conducted the poll in the aftermath of the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers. While those responding to the poll likely had the shooting fresh on their minds, the results weren’t far different than previous polls, Preston said.
In 2018, PDK asked the same questions of public school parents following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. At the time, 80 percent of parents said they supported armed police in schools, 76 percent supported mental health screenings, and 74 percent said they supported metal detectors at school entrances. A smaller share of parents—37 percent—said they supported armed teachers in 2018.
“It would be interesting to know six months from now how people feel,” Preston said. “But I think [the new poll] just shows that all of the things that people thought needed to be done after Parkland they still think are the same things that need to be done.”
However, the data does not show whether adults feel that the strategies listed are already happening at their schools so it’s hard to say whether the various strategies have become more popular in the years following Parkland, Preston said.
Divisions along political and parental lines
While the poll showed a consensus on school safety issues among American adults, respondents were more divided when separated by political ideology and parental status.
For example, the poll showed that 58 percent of public school parents surveyed “strongly supported” armed police in schools while only 49 percent of the entire adult group “strongly supported” the strategy. The strategy of arming school resource officers has gained attention in recent weeks with school districts opting to store assault rifles in SRO offices. But other districts in recent years have scaled back or completely removed funding for SROs over worries they lead to profiling and mistreatment of students of color and students with disabilities.
“[The poll results] might speak to the idea that, for parents, the stakes are even higher so they might be open to more possibilities perhaps,” Preston said.
The poll also revealed stark division among Republicans, Democrats, and Independents when it comes to arming teachers. While 45 percent of the total population “strongly/somewhat support” armed teachers, 72 percent of Republicans strongly or somewhat support the strategy. Only 24 percent of Democrats strongly or somewhat support armed teachers, and 42 percent of Independents strongly or somewhat support the idea.
People who identified themselves as liberal were also less likely to support armed teachers with 16 percent saying they strongly or somewhat support the strategy while 66 percent of self-identified conservative said they strongly or somewhat support it. Forty-five percent of people who identified as moderate were in favor of arming teachers. The political results indicate “the debate about guns is also touching on debates about schools,” Preston said.
Education groups were already using the results of the PDK poll as an opportunity to call for improved school safety and to push against efforts to put more guns in schools.
“We cannot make our schools armed fortresses,” said Daniel Domenech, executive director of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. “Whether to bring police officers into schools should be decided on a school-by-school basis. We oppose efforts to bring more guns into our schools by teachers and administrators.”
Thursday’s poll results were a preliminary release ahead of the Aug. 29 release of PDK’s annual poll of the public’s attitude toward public schools, which will include detailed information on how the public views their own schools compared to the nation as a whole.