In the wake of mass shootings, businesses, school districts and towns often turn to armed guards.
But armed security guards can introduce a new kind of danger. The Orlando shooter was an armed security guard, vetted by one of the largest security companies in the world, and by Florida regulators. Many states require no vetting at all.
We wanted to understand this industry better. Two years ago, we did a comprehensive examination of armed security guards nationwide. We looked at how armed guards are regulated and vetted in each state.
It turns out that armed security guards often create more violence, and there’s little oversight of guards who shoot their guns.
Here’s what we found:
1. In many states, you can be banned by federal law from buying a gun but still become an armed guard.
In more than half the country, armed guards are not required to go through a prohibited possessor check, the federal background check most people are required to go through when purchasing guns. Most states require criminal background checks, but eight states don’t require anything at all – allowing felons and substance abusers, among others, to become guards with guns.
2. Armed guards receive far less training than police officers.
In 15 states, armed guards do not have to take firearms training. In many other states, laws provide little specificity on what should be included in training curriculum, such as when and how to use force.
3. Guards often shoot their guns with impunity.
Unlike in police shootings, when an armed guard shoots a gun, regulators rarely investigate. Only 12 states have laws or rules requiring armed guards or their employers to report the use of their guns. Some of these states use the reports to investigate whether the guard acted safely and should remain licensed. But even where reports are required, many licensing agencies don’t do anything with them, allowing reckless guards to remain on the job.
4. A mental health evaluation is routine for police officers but not for armed guards.
Forty-six states do not require mental health exams for armed guard applicants.
5. Some states knowingly license corrupt former law enforcement officers as armed guards.
Most regulators don’t bother to ask. Only one state checks whether an armed guard was once a law enforcement officer with a history of abuse. But even that state, Oregon, has never rejected an applicant for bad behavior as a law enforcement officer. Like the Orlando shooter, those who fail as officers or never make it through the academy find easy second careers as armed security guards. In Florida, we found that 13 percent of disciplined armed guards were former law enforcement officers with disciplinary histories or failing grades on their law enforcement training or exams.
6. Armed guards increase the risk of violence.
The likelihood of violence during bank robberies tripled with an armed guard on duty, we found through a statistical analysis of FBI data. The job not only endangers the public, but armed guards themselves. When armed, 64 guards were hurt for every 1,000 bank robberies, compared with less than 1 injury per 1,000 robberies when unarmed.
7. There’s even an armed guard loophole.
In 31 states, armed guards hired directly by a business are not required to go through training or a background check. Known as “proprietary” guards, they work directly for businesses such as shopping malls, convenience stores or tow yards rather than for a security company. In Los Angeles, for example, a Venice Beach hotel owner hired an armed guard who authorities said was a prominent gang member and meth dealer. He is now accused of shooting and killing a homeless man outside the hotel.
See our full Hired Guns investigation here.
Shoshana Walter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.