For the same reason a family's auto insurance rates go up when a teen-ager gets a driver's license, school districts' liability insurance costs rise if they allow personnel to carry firearms in school. In both cases, insurance companies are pricing higher risks into their premiums. The Harrisburg School Board should pay attention to this price signal as it discusses improving security by bringing guns into the schools.
Insurance companies are in the business of calculating risk. If having armed personnel in school buildings reduced the chances of violence resulting in lawsuits and other covered expenses, the cost of insurance would go down.
But in Oregon and elsewhere, insurers are saying the opposite — school districts that allow, encourage or require armed personnel in schools will pay higher premiums, if they can obtain insurance at all. Setting aside all the emotional arguments, the actuaries' cold-eyed verdict is in.
Interest in giving someone — a teacher, a principal, a volunteer — the ability to respond with armed force to school violence increased sharply nationwide after last December's mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Seven states have enacted laws allowing teachers or administrators to carry guns in schools. In Oregon, Rep. Dennis Richardson, now a candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, said at least three people in every school should be trained in the use of firearms.
It's natural to believe that if one of the six school employees gunned down in Newtown had been able to shoot back, fewer than 20 children might have been killed. That belief led the National Rifle Association to propose shortly after the massacre that every school in the country should be protected by an armed security guard, police officer or staff member.
But insurance companies see it differently. They study the statistics, and find that for every successful incident of self-defense there are many more accidental shootings and suicides. Balancing the chance that someone with a gun at school might stop a killer is the chance that a student might find a gun left in a drawer that was supposed to be locked.
After Kansas passed a law permitting teachers to carry concealed handguns, the company that provides liability insurance for 90 percent of the state's school districts said it would no longer cover districts that allow their employees to be armed. An Indiana school district faced losing its workers' compensation insurance because of a plan to allow teachers to carry firearms. And the Oregon School Boards Association, which manages insurance for most of the state's districts, said it would charge an additional $2,500 for each school employee who carries a gun.
The insurance companies' verdict is not unanimous — when three community colleges in Kansas were threatened with the loss of insurance because of permissive firearms policies, they switched to another insurer and saved money. Insurance companies in Texas impose no penalty on school districts that allow armed personnel, partly because that state has strict limits on liability lawsuits.
But Harrisburg isn't in Texas. The school board should pay attention to the OSBA's insurance price signal: Firearms in school result in a net reduction in safety.