How Much Would It Cost to Put Guards with Guns in Every Public School?

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The National Rifle Association ended its week-long silence following the horrifying massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and they think it shows we need more guns. At least in schools.

That was NRA Executive Vice-President Wayne LaPierre's big proposal at his press conference -- to put armed security in every public school in the country. Here are the top three facts you need to know about it.


1. Most people think it's the best approach. In the wake of the Newtown shooting, Gallup asked people what they thought were the best ways to stop school shootings in the future. Putting more police in schools topped the list, with 53 percent saying they thought it would be "very effective" at preventing these kind of tragedies. And this was unanimous across the political spectrum. Republicans, Democrats, and Independents agreed on this in almost equal measure, as you can see below.
CopsInSchools2.png
2. But studies have shown armed guards may make students feel less safe at school. As Brad Plumer of the Washington Post points out, a 2011 study found that visible safety measures in schools, like armed security, made many students feel less safe -- which can make learning harder.

3. It wouldn't be that expensive. Here's some simple math. The median salary for police officers is $55,010 and there are about 99,000 public schools in the country -- and of those, about a third already have armed guards. Putting police in the remaining schools works out to an annual cost of about $3.6 billion, which is really more like $4 billion or so when you factor in benefits as well. That's not even a rounding error when it comes to the federal budget. It's even smaller than the foreign aid budget -- a point LaPierre demagogued -- despite foreign aid making up less than 1 percent of overall spending. 

But the NRA might be putting a different price-tag on this project: zero. It named former Arkansas representative Asa Hutchinson to lead this new school safety initiative, and he said it would use armed volunteers, not cops.


In either case, it's far from clear how much it would help. It's not exactly anywhere close to conclusive, but remember that armed security didn't stop the mass shooting at Columbine back in 1998. 


There's a long list of possible actions to take in the wake of Sandy Hook, including but not limited to: banning certain types of guns; banning certain types of high-capacity magazines; increasing spending on mental health services; taxing ammunition; increasing police presences at schools, or many/all of the above. Just don't expect the NRA to endorse a solution that leads to fewer guns or ammo.
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Matthew O'Brien

Matthew O'Brien is a former senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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