More than two dozen states in the U.S. do not check whether security guard applicants are prohibited by court order from possessing guns.

Credit: Steven Lane/AP photo/The Columbian

This year, you can expect to see more stories about armed security guards patrolling everywhere from schools to neighborhood blocks. Here are nine facts, culled from our Hired Guns investigation, to help you determine whether armed guards improve your safety:

1. You could be banned by federal law from possessing a gun and still become a licensed armed guard. Twenty-seven states do not check whether armed guard applicants are banned from having a gun. This check is routine for anyone who purchases a firearm from a federally licensed dealer. But armed guards in more than half of the U.S. are not subjected to the same scrutiny, allowing people with restraining orders and mental health commitments to easily become gun-carrying guards.

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 training curriculum, such as when and how to use force.

3. When an armed guard shoots a gun, regulators rarely follow up. 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 or not 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.

6. Armed guards increase the risk of violence. The likelihood of violence during bank robberies tripled with an armed guard on duty, CIR found through a statistical analysis of FBI data.

7. 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 one injury per 1,000 robberies when unarmed.

8. Armed guards are more common than you might think. In Virginia, for example, armed guard licenses increased by 434 percent between 2008 and 2013.

9. 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. Retail and restaurant groups, movie studios, theme parks and stadiums have successfully fought training standards and regulations for these guards in many states.

Where do you see armed guards? Tweet at us with #hiredguns.

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Sheela Kamath.

Shoshana Walter can be reached at Follow her on Twitter: @shoeshine.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Shoshana Walter is a reporter for Reveal, covering criminal justice. She and reporter Amy Julia Harris exposed how courts across the country are sending defendants to rehabs that are little more than lucrative work camps for private industry. Their work was a finalist for the 2018 Pulitzer Prize in national reporting. It also won the Knight Award for Public Service, a Sigma Delta Chi Award for investigative reporting, and an Edward R. Murrow Award, and was a finalist for the Selden Ring, IRE and Livingston Awards. It led to numerous government investigations, two criminal probes and five federal class-action lawsuits alleging slavery, labor violations and fraud.

Walter's investigation on America's armed security guard industry revealed how armed guard licenses have been handed out to people with histories of violence, even people barred by courts from owning guns. Walter and reporter Ryan Gabrielson won the 2015 Livingston Award for Young Journalists for national reporting based on the series, which prompted new laws and an overhaul of California’s regulatory system. For her 2016 investigation about the plight of "trimmigrants," marijuana workers in California's Emerald Triangle, Walter embedded herself in illegal mountain grows and farms. There, she encountered an epidemic of sex abuse and human trafficking in the industry – and a criminal justice system focused more on the illegal drugs. The story prompted legislation, a criminal investigation and grass-roots efforts by the community, including the founding of a worker hotline and safe house.

Walter began her career as a police reporter for The Ledger in Lakeland, Florida, and previously covered violent crime and the politics of policing in Oakland, California, for The Bay Citizen. Her narrative nonfiction as a local reporter garnered a national Sigma Delta Chi Award and a Gold Medal for Public Service from the Florida Society of News Editors. A graduate of Mount Holyoke College, she has been a Dart Center Ochberg fellow for journalism and trauma at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a John Jay/Harry Frank Guggenheim fellow in criminal justice journalism. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.