Exclusive: Majority of Hoosier parents fearful of school shootings, want safety measures enacted

NOBLESVILLE, IN - MAY 25: A student and adult embrace outside Noblesville West Middle School after a shooting at the school on May 25, 2018 in Noblesville, Indiana. Kevin Moloney/Getty Images

MUNCIE, Ind. – A majority of Hoosiers are now worried about the potential of a shooting happening at their local schools, a concern that seems to have grown in the wake of a 13-year-old boy opening fire at Noblesville West Middle School earlier this year – injuring a teacher and another student.

And while adults across Indiana also want safety measures enacted to protect school children, few believe either arming teachers or banning assault-style weapons would be effective in preventing gun tragedies.

Those are among the conclusions of a new Ball State University study set to be released next week; a research summary was obtained by FOX59.com in advance of its presentation to a gathering of legal professionals on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

“There have been a number of tragic incidents nationwide, including the one in Noblesville in May, so it’s not surprising that people would be concerned,” said Charles Taylor, who directs the Bowen Center for Public Affairs at Ball State, which conducted the study.

Those concerns have also been heightened by a string of recent threats made to Central Indiana schools; there were five just this past week – and six so far this month.

Among some of the latest incidents: Cardinal Ritter High School closed Friday after a student posted a picture online in which he was holding a weapon with a threatening caption; police detained a student at Crosspointe Christian Academy on Thursday who made threats of a school shooting, and an 8-year-old at Taylorsville Elementary was suspended Thursday after showing a “hit list” and talking about a gun to another student.

The Old National Bank / Ball State University 2018 Hoosier Survey, soon to be released by Taylor, finds 56% of state residents are fearful about a school shooting happening locally. That level of concern grows even higher – to 62% – among those who live in Indiana’s urban areas.

“When you have an event close to home that raises the saliency of the issue,” Taylor explained during a phone interview with FOX59.com. “It would make sense that it would drive public opinion.”

When it comes to opinions about potential school safety measures, an overwhelming majority of Hoosiers feel dealing with mental health issues should be at the top of the agenda.

The study finds 61% believe preventing people with mental illness from purchasing guns would be “very effective” as a preventative measure, while improving mental health screening and treatment was second with 58%. Placing metal detectors in schools was third with 47% support.

“You’ll find some of the mental health approaches are viewed as fairly effective by a lot of people,” Taylor observed, noting what seems to be a consensus that cuts across all demographic groups in his research.

In Noblesville, voters on Tuesday approved a multi-million dollar school referendum to bolster safety. The district said a significant portion of the money will be spent on mental health initiatives, including hiring a mental health coordinator and 10 social workers to help screen students for signs of suicide, anger and trauma.

Two ideas that don’t fare well overall among Hoosiers are reflective of a strong partisan divide, according to Taylor.

Only 36% think banning assault-style weapons would be “very effective,” and an even smaller 30% rated arming teachers and school officials similarly. Not surprisingly for researchers, support for an assault weapons ban was strongest among Democrats – while more Republicans favored teachers carrying guns.

But in addition to the political differences, Taylor also noted a clear division between the state’s rural and urban residents on the idea of arming teachers to combat school violence. The study shows 41% of rural Hoosiers are strong proponents of guns in school, but that number drops to 29% among suburban dwellers and to just 16% among those who live in urban communities.

The non-partisan Hoosier Survey is conducted annually to provide Indiana lawmakers with insights into public opinion on the most pressing issues facing the state. This year’s telephone survey of over 600 adult Hoosiers was conducted from October 2nd through the 20th, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5%.

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