A newly released poll found 69% of Pennsylvania voters favor requiring school districts to put an armed officer in every school, with 73% of voters believing it would make schools safer.
By Jan Murphy Source pennlive.com
Placing an armed security officer in every public school enjoys support from a strong majority of Pennsylvanians, according to a new Franklin & Marshall College Poll.
The poll, released Thursday morning, found 69% of voters favor requiring school districts to put an armed officer in every school. Additionally, 73% say they believe it would make schools safer.
This result comes just two days after the Senate Education Committee put its stamp of approval on legislation that would mandate a trained, armed school police, school resource or school security officer to be in every school building during school hours. It would leave it up to the school’s discretion whether that extends to extra-curricular activities.
Sen. Mike Regan, R-Cumberland/York counties, who sponsored the bill, said the poll findings tell him he is on the right track with this legislation that drew opposition from Democrats on the committee as well as advocates for public school and gun control organizations.
“I’m anxious for my colleagues to see the results of that poll because I don’t think they realize how important it is to the families of Pennsylvania,” Regan said.
Despite the poll’s findings, Sen. Lindsey Williams of Allegheny County, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, stands by her position that bringing guns into schools isn’t the answer to making students safer. She points to research on gun violence in schools that indicates armed security in schools do not prevent school shootings.
“In fact, guns in schools are shown to make school shootings nearly three times more lethal,” she said. “Research shows that what does make kids and educators safer is more mental health supports such as school counselors and social workers. More caring adults in every school building is what students, parents, and educators ask me for every day. Not a single organization has come out in support of requiring guns in every school building and there are good reasons why.”
The same poll also found 58% of the 873 of the respondents favored more gun regulations while 41% oppose it. The poll conducted Oct. 11 to 22 had a plus or minus 4.1% margin of error.
Berwood Yost, director of F&M’s Center for Opinion Research, said seeing a majority of people favoring more gun regulation at the same time they favor having armed security in school caught him by surprise.
Trying to reconcile those results, Yost said he thinks people look at the two issues through different lenses. The armed school security is about keeping kids safe and secure in school while the gun regulation is about guns and gun safety.
Williams said, “I understand why a simple solution to a complex problem could be seen favorably, especially since many people are looking for common sense gun safety legislation such as safe storage and reporting lost/stolen firearms. “
At the Senate committee hearing, Democrats raised concerns about having a firearm in school as well as the cost of implementing the initiative. Regan estimates the cost up to $250 million, while Democrats say a stakeholder group suggests it could $1 billion or more. The Democratic senators also questioned whether the state would pick up that tab or whether schools would have to divert funding for textbooks or educators to pay for the security personnel.
Regan said schools have been provided $800 million since 2018 for school security measures and districts are sitting on $3.2 billion in their unassigned fund balance.
He acknowledged schools already have the option of employing a school security officer but he is proposing to mandate they do so because roughly only half of the 500 school districts employed at least one.
As a former U.S. marshal, Regan finds that frustrating. He points out the Capitol spends $25.1 million to provide security for the people who choose to work and visit the building while children who are mandated to be in school sit in buildings that are far less secure.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said.
Hearing school boards and school officials openly discuss security plans signals to him that leaving those decisions in the hands of educators is wrongheaded.
He said, “This is a complex issue and having administrators with little or no training in this field are making decision that are going to impact on kids’ safety when they’re really not qualified to do so.”
Reagan’s bill now awaits consideration by the full Senate.