This week, the Arkansas Legislature returned to Little Rock for a special session. Among other issues, they approved $50 million in funding for a school safety grant. The decision follows the release of the Arkansas School Safety Commission Interim Report last week and comes as conversations surrounding school safety have been reignited around the country following the tragic shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
While the $50 million will be set aside broadly for school safety, there is a lack of clarity around how the grant program will actually be implemented and what the funding will go towards. While implementation will largely be shaped by recommendations from the School Safety Commission, Arkansas lawmakers must prioritize using this funding to support evidence-based policies that can help keep guns out of schools.
So far this year, there have been at least 95 instances of gunfire on school grounds across the country. Witnessing shootings — in or out of schools — can have a devastating impact on children and teens. As back-to-school season approaches and policymakers consider measures to keep both students and staff safe, they must prioritize effective policies to stop guns from being easily accessed by people at risk of committing harm, rather than focusing on militarizing school resource officers or putting more guns in schools.
While every community and every district has individualized needs when it comes to keeping schools safe, research shows that the best way to protect children and teens from accessing guns is to implement secure firearm storage practices. An estimated 54 percent of gun owners don’t lock all of their guns securely and at least 4.6 million children in 2021 live in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm. In incidents of gunfire on school grounds, up to 80 percent of shooters under the age of 18 obtained the gun they used from their home or the homes of relatives or friends.
In 2021 and 2022, there have been at least eight incidents of gunfire on school grounds in Arkansas. Guns are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the state. Arkansas has some of the weakest gun laws and highest gun violence rates in the country. More information about gun violence in Arkansas is available here.