In the wake of Newtown, legislation was introduced in several states, including Georgia, authorizing school personnel to have firearms at school.
Policymakers are right to give particular attention to schools. Nobody has to go to a movie theater or a street corner meeting with a member of Congress. But school children, excepting the handful being homeschooled (2.9 percent in 2009), are not only too young to defend themselves but are required to leave home every school day and congregate in buildings that have proved sickeningly compelling targets for deranged assailants.
It’s charitable to describe some legislative initiatives meant to spare parents their worst nightmare as merely confused. For example, officials in Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Kentucky, and Oregon called for legislation permitting guns in schools, when that was already allowed in those states.
Legislators may be under the illusion that teachers and school administrators undergoing the same training as police officers will be able to protect the children in their care. But the law enforcement community isn’t under any illusions about the efficacy of that training.
Although national statistics are hard to come by, accuracy rates I’ve been able to turn up range from about 17 percent to around 35 percent. Law enforcement professionals aren’t mystified by these modest accuracy rates, attributing them to the difficulty of developing training regimens adequately simulating adrenalin-fueled real world conditions.
Another interesting statistic that I’m sure legislators and school boards will be at pains to bring to the attention of school personnel they propose to arm is that 12 percent of the police officers killed in the line of duty were killed with their own weapons.
Nor should we be under any illusions that concentrating more firepower in schools will have much deterrent value. It might if mass murderers had the normal regard for their own safety. But as those calling for greater emphasis on screening and treatment for mental illness implicitly acknowledge, people like Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, aren’t good at rational risk assessment. In fact, for those whose derangement drives them to seek “suicide by cop,” more firepower in schools may perversely make schools more, not less, eligible in their twisted minds for attacks.
Making more treatment available for the mentally ill is a good thing in any case. But we shouldn’t look to mental health professionals to tell us who’s likely to become murderously violent. They’re probably no better at that than laypeople, which is to say, not very good. Says Ron Hornberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “We’re making an assumption that violence can be predicted.”
Meanwhile Vice President Biden has undermined the rationale for gun control measures under consideration in Congress, admitting that new gun laws won’t “fundamentally alter” the likelihood of another mass shooting.
So does anybody anywhere know how to “fundamentally alter” the odds of another mass shooting?
Washington Post columnist Matt Miller proposed a seriously flawed scheme that I believe deserves rehabilitation. Looking at a successful Australian weapons buyback program, Miller proposed a variant for us.
The Australians, unconstrained by anything like our Second Amendment, outlawed certain firearms, required people to surrender them and compensated owners for their loss. Since we can’t require people to surrender their weapons, Miller thinks we could reduce the estimated 250 million privately owned guns in this country by perhaps 80 percent if the federal government borrowed, which it can do at historically low rates, $100 billion to buy back guns at a generous overpayment of $500 each. Paying sellers with prepaid credit cards good for only three months would insure that the money got spent, providing a short-term economic stimulus.
Miller’s scheme is ingenious but flawed because its central feature—inducing people to surrender their guns by overpaying for them—could just prove a windfall for gun manufacturers and dealers if people turned in their guns and spent their overpayments on newer or higher end models.
Still, Miller may be onto something. Instead of $100 billion to buy guns, President Obama should instruct the appropriate cabinet officer to assemble a commission composed of the nation’s best security experts to carry out a rigorous analysis of school shootings over, say, the last twenty years. Their analysis would be the basis for a package of modifications to existing schools and recommendations for new school construction designed to make them as nearly impenetrable by armed intruders as possible. Metal detectors are obviously not enough, as the recent incident at Price Middle School, where the detectors weren’t working, showed.
Adapting the Miller template in this way would substitute real security for the illusory security of heat-packing, even if trained, kindergarten teachers. With that urgent need met, we’d have the luxury of woolgathering at our leisure about the “root causes” of gun violence.
And since there are 99,000 public and 33,000 private schools in the country, just hardening existing buildings would provide a measure of economic stimulus, which mainstream economists have been urging for months.
Not least, this initiative would spare a painfully vulnerable population from becoming collateral damage in the surreal combat between Second Amendment fundamentalists and the rest of us. On even the most fanciful interpretation, no one’s Second Amendment rights would be impaired by more secure schools.
There will, of course, be those who object to the cost of such a massive project. They may know what a defenseless child’s life is worth. But I’m not that gifted.