Try going to Google News and entering “armed guards in schools” and you will gain access to hundreds of articles about school districts nationwide taking additional security measures for the upcoming academic year. Most often mentioned is the posting of armed guards—usually one per school, but bringing guns into schools is not the only step school districts are taking to attempt to prevent a mass murder at their facilities. Across the country, local and national news media are reporting an increase in locked doors, buzz-in systems for visitors, hand-held metal detectors, active shooter lockdown drills and staff training. Districts are mandating the use of clear backpacks, increasing student mental health services and doing random searches.
Except for expanding mental health services and placing armed guards in schools, all of these changes involve restricting the freedom of individuals. Students and visitors will have to go through security. Others will be forced to buy new backpacks or have to undergo random searches of their lockers and backpacks. It’s indeed ironic how easily American legislators are to restrict individual freedoms, except the freedom to own guns. By contrast, our leaders fear any and all restrictions on corporations, even those that protect the health and safety of individuals.
My first emotion in perusing article after article about new security measures mixes amusement with anger. I’m amused in an ironic way that school boards can so quickly find money to increase security after years of claiming poverty, but angry that the same money—and more—has not been made available for decades to improve education. The frown gets the best of the chuckle when I consider that some if not most education systems may be paying for the new guards by cutting teachers or postponing purchases of new computers or textbooks. For decades, state and federal governments have been shaving public school budgets or letting money be reallocated to the failed educational experiment called “charter schools.” We have slowly tried to starve public education, so it’s particularly unfortunate that we feel obliged to spend money on addressing a safety problem in the schools that is of our own making.
Keep in mind that it’s possible that the districts spending the most on added security are the wealthy ones that can afford it, those that haven’t seen enrichment programs and small class sizes go by the wayside in the wake of shrinking budgets. That wealthy kids enjoy both better education and better protection merely reinforces the inequity of income, wealth and opportunity that is destroying the American dream and the dreams of most Americans.
The big question is will the added security measures work? The answer will depend on how we define success. If we look just at school shootings, it’s anyone’s guess, because the various factors interact in complex ways. Which of these measures really help and which only make us feel good? How effective will the authorities be in addressing the sickos whom enhanced mental health counseling identifies? Will the primarily white Christian terrorists who commit these acts figure out ways to get around the new security measures? Can a security guard deal effectively with a crazed killer brandishing one or more AR-15s who has no fear of his own death?
The only prediction I will offer is that the sooner or later an African-American father trying to visit a guidance counselor at a primarily white school will be shot down by a security guard.
If we, however, don’t limit ourselves to schools, but ask a broader question, Will new security measures lead to an overall reduction in gun violence?, the answer is clear. No way. Because so many schools are bringing guns onto campus, the number of guns in circulation in the country will increase. An increase in the number of guns will lead to an increase in gun violence and gun deaths. Every shred of research done on the topic in the United States and across the world has always come to the same conclusion: The more guns in a society, the greater the gun violence, the fewer guns, the less gun violence. The unintended consequence of placing more armed guards at any public location has to by definition be an increase in gun violence, even if that increase doesn’t come where the guards are posted.
Thus, arming school personnel will contribute to a reduction of gun violence and deaths if and only if we take measures to reduce the number of guns elsewhere in society. I’m fairly certain that a comprehensive package of federal gun control laws would do more to make our children safe in schools—and elsewhere—than the best efforts of all the school boards across the country to “harden” the campus with guards, buzzers, drills and searches.
I’m the left-wing nut who wants to outlaw all private ownership of firearms and make hunters and recreational target shooters rent or store their guns at hunting lodges, gun clubs and shooting ranges. But even my radical eyes can see that there are a number of actions we can take that allow individuals the privilege of owning firearms yet keep people safe, including:
- Ban private ownership of all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and require those who currently own such weapons to sell them to the government or face still jail time.
- Improve the gun national registry and increase participation by the states.
- Increase to seven days the waiting period to purchase guns and extend the waiting requirement to all gun purchases, even those at gun shows and on the internet.
- Require all individuals to pass a rigorous written and operational test before being allowed to buy or own a gun, similar to a driver’s test, and retest every 5-10 years.
- Require all gun owners to carry firearms insurance.
- Ban open and closed carry at all schools, universities, downtowns, malls, theatres and other public places.
- End all “stand your ground” laws.
I have expressed the radical form of virtually all these ideas to limit and control guns in United States. More moderate versions in all cases are approved by large majorities of Americans, including majorities of gun owner. Both surveys and my extensive anecdotal evidence find that virtually all gun owners would have no problem with longer waiting times. Most don’t see any reason for anyone to own an AR-15. Most would be happy to keep guns away from known bad actors, those with ties to terrorist organizations, domestic abusers and the mentally ill.
The only impediment in the way of reducing gun violence are our elected officials who are too frightened to oppose the National Rifle Association (NRA) or depend on NRA largess for their election. Pundits assume that Russia funneled tens of millions of dollars to the NRA to help elect the Republican candidate for president in 2016. But think about it. By fostering greater ownership of firearms and therefore greater gun violence, the NRA weakens the United States, with or without the excesses of Donald Trump.