More guns are not the solution to mass shootings in our schools
“This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.” — President Barack Obama
State Sen. Steve King of Grand Junction wasted no time getting behind the NRA-backed cry for more firepower following the tragic killing of 20 young children and six of their teachers in Newtown, Conn.
Even before the new session was gaveled to order, King told The Daily Sentinel, “The magnitude of the crime that happened in Newtown, Conn., last week calls for realistic, proactive measures that will truly be effective in preventing such nightmares from taking place in our kids’ schools. Last week’s tragic events reinforce the need for a state-wide School Resource Officer Program.”
King released his statement on the same day NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre delivered his now-infamous declaration, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
To make sure armed “good guys” are ready at hand, LaPierre called on Congress immediately “to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation.”
King promises his bill will offer some state financial support for School Resource Officer Programs, but passes the major part of the budget to local school districts.
Armed guards in the schools is not a new idea. For the last couple of decades, schools nationwide have been transformed into armed bastions against the outside world.
As Aaron Kupchik, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware, explains, “Since the mid-1990s, schools across the United States have hired security guards, many of whom are armed, and stationed police officers in their buildings full time.”
Beyond pointing out the obvious arguments that two school officers failed to stop the Columbine massacre, and an entire campus police force couldn’t stop the slaughter at Virginia Tech, Kupchik examines the effect of an armed police presence in schools.
Along with a number of other researchers, he considers both the effects and the effectiveness of police in the hallways of academe.
Rather than leaping, as King does, into a repeat of the NRA mantra, our legislators should consider the available research to determine if the gain in safety is worth the cost — not just financially, but in education and socialization of our children.
Kupchik argues that it is not. Although he praises school officers for their dedication, their status as positive role models and sincere efforts to mentor kids, he nevertheless finds, “their presence has effects that help transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement.”
For example, arrests for minor infractions like schoolyard fistfights go up with police in the schools. This can lead, researchers find, to officers seeing “youths as thugs and criminals and begin treating them with hostility and sometimes even abusively.”
A university study based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics found that “schools with security guards and guards who bear firearms have higher rates of serious violent crime than do similar schools that lack such personnel.”
GOP star and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said, “I don’t think that (officers in schools) would be right or cost-effective ... Most importantly, I don’t think that would help the learning process.”
Even more bluntly, Philadelphia’s Democratic Mayor Michael Nutter called the NRA proposal “a completely dumbass idea.”
At best. the NRA plan only obscures the daily American tragedy of guns and children outside the schools. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, “In 2008, 2,947 children and teens died from guns in the United States and 2,793 died in 2009 for a total of 5,740 — one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years.”
Until King and his NRA card-carrying colleagues show they are serious about curtailing those tragic deaths, it is difficult to see his impassioned call for arming the schools as anything more than political grandstanding to advance the NRA agenda.
Colorado school children deserve protection, but they also deserve a school atmosphere conducive to learning. That balance will not be struck by an NRA-inspired bill designed to stimulate gun sales rather than to open minds.