Guns in Schools:  Issues for Research

    Guns in Schools:  Issues for Research

     By:  Edith W. King

Americans were stunned by the February 2018 school shooting in a Florida high school. A former student with military-style weapons and ammunition murdered 17 students and teachers, while injuring many more.  Since that calamity news reports in the U.S. continue to recall the school shootings that occurred across the country over past years.  The media keeps reinforcing the dangers lurking in “unarmed” buildings.  Federal and state legislators bicker over how best to protect students in these times of easy access to deadly weapons.  This situation of gun possession is further roiled by the stances of pro-gun activists calling for arming teachers and school officials.  Those supporting more gun availability want to train teachers to use guns, invest in safe rooms and provide students with bullet-proof backpacks. These measures come with much expense and with questions of where are the available funds?  In opposition are countless concerned parents and students organizing protests and urging legal measures to control gun ownership in the U.S.

Other nations can only be astonished and express very low opinions of Americans bickering over what to do about school shootings and gun control.  The media in Britain has been assiduously covering the proceedings, events, discussions, and arguments, pro and con, of who can own guns in the U.S.   Those in the U.K. concerned with safety for all students might well regard this U.S. “gun talk” as untenable.

There have been demands for more and better research on who owns military-style weapons and for what ends are stocks of ammunition and guns to be employed, especially by persons in questionable mental states.  Government officials have admitted that Federal law prohibits gun violence research and privately there seems to be few funded projects on gun ownership and on legal issues of ownership, as well.  Many believe there definitely is a need to investigate and thoroughly research the gun crisis in America.  This brings me to the central purpose of my article:  to advocate for the importance and uses of research and its methods.  In an earlier article on research for Personalised Education Now, I briefly described naturalistic or “field” research using the analogy of the FIVE “W”s – What, Why, Who, Where and When.  One example of applying the 5 “W”s referred to using the “ubiquitous” backpack as the topic for a field research project.  Suddenly backpacks have been thrust into prominence.

In the publicity of the U.S. school shootings and endangered children, one suggestion for safeguarding students is to provide them with bullet-proof backpacks!  This advice was offered as it was realized that the shooter put his backpack filled with rounds of ammunition in the midst of other student packs on the school lawn as he joined them leaving the building.  Now the commonplace backpack takes on a striking new significance when “bulletproof” is added to its label.  This situation presents an opportunity for meaningful and unique field/naturalistic investigation.  With awareness of the U.S. school shooting filling mass media the naturalistic researcher can opt to answer the 5”W”s for the project as he or she chooses.  Much information is available to answer “What” and “Why.”   “Where” and “When” can depend on the location and the schedule of the investigator. “Who” are to be informants or participants in the study is up to the person to decide.

Next the researcher needs to consider how to design this study focused on the bullet-proof backpack.  Should there be research questions?  Or rather does the purpose of the project come from a careful reading of the reports and other information about the issue?  This will guide the project in naturalistic (qualitative) format.  At this point we are considering the methods or “the How” (w’s in reverse) for the project.  Methodology for research on “safe-guarding students with bullet-proof backpacks” can consist of:

  • collecting background information, documents, and data on the issue including photographs and artifacts;
  • interviewing appropriate participants, face to face, by telephone, by video or with focus groups; and
  • observing and describing the research sites and locations.

It will be important to begin with collecting background data and information specifically about the availability, use and distribution of bullet-proof backpacks.  With this information then we go on to strategies for interviewing people, such as students, parents, family members, teachers, administrators, legislators, or others who have opinions about the implications this type of backpack presents.  Those interviewed could express their attitudes about the need for the much more costlier and heavier article and what is carried in it.  The researcher can also consider using observations at schools or of various participants, such as students and teachers and their uses of different types of backpacks.  All this is up to the investigator of a naturalistic research project to determine.  Furthermore, this project planning can occur and re-occur throughout the naturalistic undertaking.  The next step is to carefully and conscientiously record the findings (not results) of the actions taken to investigate various aspects of the bullet-proof backpack.

Collection of background information should provide enough information on the necessity for protection in schools from military-style guns and why bullet-proof backpacks are suddenly being advocated.  It is ludicrous and extremely difficult to contemplate that American schools have become so dangerous that teachers must be trained to confront violent gun-toting killers capable of mass slayings.  Schools in the U.S. were once believed to be friendly and welcoming places of learning.

I hope this brief discussion on designing a naturalistic research focused on backpacks is useful for readers and you would consider undertaking this type of endeavor.   Just before the mass “walkout” carried out by American school students in March, 2018 protesting gun violence, a Denver high school teacher told his students,” I am joining you and I am armed —- with LOVE! “



Denver Post.  (March 12, 2018). “Trump Plan Includes Gun Training for Teachers.”

King, Edith W. “Everyone A Researcher” PEN News, Feb. 2, 2018 and available at

Wall Street Journal. (Feb. 15, 2018) “Teen Gunman Kills 17 at Florida School”

Wall Street Journal. (Feb. 27, 2018) “Schools Seek Shooting Defenses”

Edith W King. Emeritus Prof of Sociology. Worldmindliness Institute, Denver, Colorado, USA

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