A Brief Discussion on Arming Teachers

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visits Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivor Maddy Wilford on February 16. (Public domain White House photo by Shealah Whitehead.)

In the wake of an unfortunately increasing number of mass shootings, the policy debate over gun control and reform tends to dominate public discourse. When the shootings occur at schools the discussions often suggest arming teachers as a possible preventative measure. Recently even President Trump proposed a gun reform bill that would include incentives for arming teachers.

In order to evaluate the effectivity of this measure it is necessary to analyze insight provided by John Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws. To academically accept that arming teachers would reduce that the occurrence of school shootings would decrease, it is necessary that the presence of guns deters crime.

Lott’s book provided a statistical basis to suggest violent crime at least could be deterred by more limited gun control laws.

The key argument in suggesting that more guns would deter crime hinges upon an idea that Lott stated in an interview with the University of Chicago in 1998, in which he said, “Criminals are deterred by higher penalties. Just as higher arrest and conviction rates deter crime, so does the risk that someone committing a crime will confront someone able to defend him or herself.”

Lott contests that if a criminal thinks that he or she is more likely to get shot when attempting to commit a violent crime, they will rationally be less likely to commit the violent crime.

To any proponent of increased gun control Lott’s idea should be ludicrous. While to any proponent of decreased gun control, any advance to further deregulating the ability to purchase and maintain firearms this should come across as relatively obvious and self-confirming. Which side should we believe, can more guns cause there to be less crime?

Twenty years have passed since Lott published his book and proposed such a controversial line of reasoning. No doubt various attempts to substantiate and discredit Lott’s logic have dominated the discussion of gun ownership.

I found Nobel Prize winner, Richard Thaler, to have provided interesting insight. Thaler’s discussion raises a particularly interesting point in noting that increased gun ownership is correlated with increased suicide rates- a statistic that is important to keep in mind when evaluating whether it is beneficial to provide the pathway to arming teachers.

In fact, Thaler, who was a colleague of Lott, goes as far to claim that some of the data to promote some more salubrious takes concerning the increased prevalence of guns was made up. Although Thaler does not offer counter-data to undermine Lott’s original presentation- it is hard to accept such a possibly flawed premise.

There is not much popular discussion surrounding the potentially flawed data in Lott’s policy discussion, however academic circles have consistently noted that some of Lott’s data is non-existent. Perhaps this discrediting is more driven by partisan motives than it is by anything else.

Regardless of which viewpoint is “right”, the key takeaway from all debate involving gun regulation is that the discussion is more moral than it is statistical. Abstracting lives lost as simply numbers is morally challenging and hard to do objectively.

The decision whether to arm teachers or not will be done through the analytical lens of an expected net benefit- congress will have to decide whether arming teachers will save more individuals than it will harm. No matter how many regulations there are or there are not, people will continue to mistreat others- the onus lays with every individual to act in the best interest of preserving the longevity of themselves and those around them.

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