News coverage of the Littleton shootings has revealed that an armed guard patrolling the high school exchanged fire with the two assailants. It is no surprise that a single guard, outgunned and surprised, was unable to stop the two heavily armed youths. But it is rather surprising that an affluent, suburban high school would employ an armed guard in the first place. How common is this?
According to the most recent data from the Department of Education, 19 percent of public high schools are patrolled by law enforcement officers during normal school hours. An additional 8 percent are patrolled part of the time. Among middle schools, 10 percent are guarded during normal school hours, and eight percent are guarded part time.
Among schools with enrollment of over 1,000 students--and this includes elementary schools, though there are probably few of this size--a whopping 39 percent of schools are guarded full-time (an additional 12 percent part-time).
And what about other security measures? A few schools have installed metal detectors. Only 2 percent of high schools have them at the door, and an additional 9 percent use them to randomly check students. Forty-five percent of high schools conduct drug sweeps.
These figures are from 1996, and are probably too low.
One person caught unawares by the popularity of armed guards in high schools was Charlton Heston. Heston, the NRA president, told reporters just after the shooting that the presence of "even one armed guard in the school" could have averted tragedy. (For a Swiftian take on Heston's comments, click here.)