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Thursday, January 17, 2013

NRA -- Let "Good Guys" Packing Heat Stand Beside Our School Kids

"State Representative Dr. Terry Johnson hosted a school safety forum last week with area officials throughout the 90th district. According to Johnson’s legislative aid Steven Alexander, the event was held to start a dialogue about the school safety issue.

“'Representative Johnson wanted to bring together his communities’ professionals, law enforcement and school superintendents to discuss ways we can look at school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings,' Alexander said. 'This is going to be a hotly contested topic. We anticipate this coming up during this general assembly. We wanted to make sure we knew how our constituents felt about it.'

“He said some of the feedback received from the event included arming teachers.

“'The school superintendents felt they needed local control. Law enforcement expressed a desire to make sure people who are carrying have the proper training,' Alexander said. He said those were some of the broad topics covered during the forum.

“'We understand there is no perfect solution, no matter what you do there is always a risk of something going wrong. We also talked about ways to make school buildings safer,' Alexander said.

'That became troublesome because no matter what they thought of, they could always think of another way someone could shoot some innocent people if they really wanted to.'

“He said, the consensus of the group seemed to be that eventually there is going to be a need to be a good guy with a gun nearby.

“Alexander said the dialog was productive and a good start for future conversations.

“'As this issue heats up, we’ll be going back to this group and saying here is the policy being discussed, what do you think?' Alexander said. 'It was a first step, rather than presenting a solution.'”

(Wayne Allen, "Johnson Hosts School Safety Forum,
" Portsmouth Daily Times, January 17 2013)

I'm delighted to hear about the recent local dialogue concerning school safety. Not only can open discussion help gauge support for legislative measures, but, more importantly, such talk facilitates input that will help public officials "iron out" problems before deciding upon solutions. I believe we have reached the time for certain measures to be enacted to insure the security of children and school personnel.

As a former teacher, I believe the need for these actions rise above politics and special interest groups. The safeguards must be taken with the best interests of school children in mind. It is no time for lobbyists to engage in selfish arguments intended to increase the power of platforms loosely related to the pertinent objective of saving the lives of those in our schools.

I wish the heated dialogue concerning the Second Amendment would cease, and, instead, people might focus all their efforts on how best to protect children in the sanctuary of our nation's schools.

Two of the statements in the Daily Times report concerned me. I believe that any decision that might lead to the reckless use of firearms, especially around our children, must be viewed with great caution. It seems as if many people see the need for guns as protection in the equation for reducing mass murder in schools. I wonder if these people have considered both the short-term and the long-term effects of firearms on campus.

* Statement One: “He (Alexander) said some of the feedback received from the event included arming teachers.”

Granted, a properly trained teacher with a firearm might be able to eliminate a deranged, potential murderer before he could harm those in school; however, arming teachers, many of whom are not intimidating physical specimens, would pose a new risk. A student (or even an angry adult on campus) could disarm a teacher.

Teachers -- who daily deal with immature youngsters and psychologically disturbed children who engage in heated arguments, fights, vandalism, bullying, and severe physical and mental abuse – have close personal contact with students who could overpower them, take their weapons, and inflict great carnage. I have broken up many high school fights, some of which involved bruisers intent on harming each other without regard for injury.

In addition, armed teachers could misuse their weapons. Just because teachers have concealed weapon permits and know how to shoot, it does not mean that they are trained to protect and discern between credible threats and false alarms.

Whereas, police officers are painstakingly educated and field trained to recognize threats and handle them without the use of force, if possible, teachers are novices with armed deadly force situations involving guns. Additionally, there are policies, laws and processes designed to protect police should something go wrong. Enforcement officials must be very versed in using legal resistance. The last thing that needs to happen is to have an unarmed teenager or child shot on school grounds by a teacher or civilian volunteer because of a perceived threat.

* Statement Two: “He (Alexander) said, the consensus of the group seemed to be that eventually there is going to be a need to be a good guy with a gun nearby.”

While it is true that we must do everything possible to have a well-trained, quick response team of enforcement officers ready to act in case of the threat of a school shooting, placing armed guards within schools can expose our children to far greater risk from gun violence than the very small risk they now face.

Statement two is the basic NRA response by Wayne LaPierre, NRA vice president. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, LaPierre told the American public:

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

I do not believe this generalization is always true, especially when dealing with students and juveniles.  And, according to LaPierre, he does not believe his own words either.

After making the plea for armed guards in schools, LaPierre made a brief criticism that the nation did not register people with mental health problems, and he pointed the finger at violent video games, the news media and lax law enforcement -- not guns -- as culprits in the recent rash of mass shootings.

If guns are not to blame for the mass shootings in schools, why would LaPierre believe that placing guards with guns in our nation's schools would stop “the bad guys with guns”? Usually, unlike the Sandy Hook shootings, the perpetrators are students enrolled in their schools. They are already "inside" the institutions and are often unidentifiable as murderers.

LaPierre, himself, pushes tightening certain controls and Constitutional rights. So, to solve the problem of gun violence, he advocates the great need of going after the manufacturers of violent video games, film companies that glamorize gore, the news media that promotes aggression, and inefficient law enforcement. I tend to agree that all of these things contribute to the attitude about violence, but I also think the young, assault gun mentality contributes its fair share to the killing fields.

Ironically, most of these freedoms LaPierre talks about infringing have deep roots in an amendment – the First, not the Second that the NRA holds most dearly. Of course, the NRA came out against taking any measures to restrict gun sales or gun licensing. The organization also made it clear it would not support such measures should they be brought to Congress. Such resistance is common for the group.

While officials in some particularly concerned American school districts already use armed security officers, these schools stress that it was only part of a broader strategy aimed at reducing the risk of violence. Ask Ben Kiser, superintendent of schools in Gloucester County, Virginia, where his district already has four paid police officers assigned to patrol schools. Kiser said it was just as important to provide mental health services to help struggling children and families.

“What I’m afraid of,” said Mr. Kiser, who is also president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, “is that we’re often quick to find that one perceived panacea and that’s where we spend our focus.”

Besides, armed guards will not prevent all violent mass attacks. D.C. School Chancellor Kaya Henderson voiced her opposition against such plans pointing out that they had armed guards at Columbine (and Virginia Tech) when that shooting happened.

“Every day all kinds of tense and crazy things happen, but we equip them with tools to manage those issues,” Henderson said to The Washington Post. “And I just think the more guns there are, the more opportunities there are for unintended things to happen.” Consider just two terrible possibilities -- psychotic guards killing students and friendly casualties resulting from crossfire in gun battles,

If the main focus is on putting an armed guard in every school in America, the immediate concerns become who these people will be and the method in which they will they be employed. Will these guards be community volunteers, ex-military personnel, security cops, or enforcement people? Will they be employed and paid by the federal government, the state, or the school district? Who will pay for their very intense and specified training?

Dennis van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, told NBC News the idea “that there be a policeman in every building” deserves to be part of a wide-ranging discussion about how to protect schoolchildren from bullets, but he scoffed at LaPierre’s call for volunteers packing heat.

“We have 90,000 [school] buildings in America, and you want to have volunteers to come and have a gun at the school?” he said, noting that many schools already have armed safety officers. Van Roekel continued, “When somebody has an assault rifle and blows out a window with it, you can’t stop that.”

And is the armed guard plan cost effective considering other pro-active security measures? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average pay for a police officer is $55,010 per annum. In that case, a crude estimate for the overall bill for the placing of an armed guard in every US school could be as much as $7.2bn. If the government only had to cover public schools, the total could be a minimum of $5.4bn. That is a cost for the first year, a cost that would be incurred every year.

I don't think that the solution to school safety is putting an armed guard in every school because for guards to be truly effective, schools would have to have an armed guard at every classroom door. If you just have one armed guard at the front entry, wouldn't perpetrators use side doors or other means of entry? And, how about recesses and extracurricular activities? Should we have a guard everywhere children may be vulnerable to attack? Maybe people prefer a 24/7 lock down mentality from our schools. I doubt that.

It seems to me that the right course of action to keep children safe at school would be to put more money into increasing police presence both at schools and in the surrounding areas. This would increase response time should anything occur.

Additionally, in almost every school shooting, the shooter was deeply disturbed and suffering from mental health issues. The government should funnel more money into school counseling and psychology programs to better identify and help those who are struggling with these issues before they lash out. School counselors these days barely have time to deal with standardized testing and grades. 

We hate to think about sobering facts, but the truth is fewer students die each year from mass shootings than from suicide by firearms.

“Although mass school shootings (with the loss of innocent young lives) are tragic, recall that the U.S. averaged 10 student deaths per year in mass school shootings over the past 10 years. With 150,000 armed guards, in contact with about 75 million students 200 days/year, it won't take many incidents for more than 10 students per year to be killed in armed guard-related situations...

“Consider that about 4.600 young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and about 2,000 of these suicides involve firearms. Another 5,000 young people (again, between the ages of 10 and 24) are murdered, and (as noted above) very few of these murders happen in schools. And don't forget the 1,700 young people (between the ages of 0 and 17) who die each year from neglect or abuse (80 percent of these are under 4 years of age). It doesn't take a major leap of faith to believe that investing billions in comprehensive youth suicide, murder and neglect prevention programs (instead of armed guards) would save hundreds of young lives instead of about 10 lives per year.”
(Steven Strauss, “Five Concerns About Armed Guards in Schools,”
Huffington Post, January 13 2013)

The 2002 Safe School Initiative report, by the Secret Service and the Department of Education, looked at 41 attackers across 37 incidents from 1974 to 2000. It concluded that only 17 percent “had been diagnosed with mental health or behavior disorder prior to the attack.” Most had never had a mental health evaluation. However, 78 percent “exhibited a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.”

Mass murderers may have various diagnoses (the other Columbine shooter has been called a depressive), but they are usually seen as being fueled by anger and vengeance.

Also, I believe each school must enact its own security plan in case a shooter appears on campus. Everyone – administration, teachers, support staff, students – must be trained to react properly in case of an emergency. Tighter access rules and restrictions on leaving during the school day could also help. I, for one, don't see why entry doors would be glass. Shouldn't they be double-entry doors constructed of metal, preferably bullet proof material?

Why couldn't schools create their own emergency response teams comprised of teachers and administrators dressed in ultimate protective gear and armed with the latest non-lethal equipment. Two brave women were killed at Sandy Hook as they confronted the gunman. They had no protection at all. Perhaps, schools need a group equipped with the best available protection. I believe enough teachers would volunteer to be on a team of school responders.

Think for a minute about a prison emergency response team. They are highly trained teams suited in Kevlar or Lexan full body armor, carrying shields, and armed with guns that fire rubber bullets, pepper spray, short batons, and tasers. Maybe the U.S. Army could suggest acoustic weapons that may also be an option. These teams could deploy methods to subdue, or at least delay, an attacker to give law enforcement enough time to respond in force.

How about a trained, police guard dog in schools? The expense for the dog would certainly be more reasonable than the salary for a trained human counterpart.

My Concerns About Guns On Campus

What would be the long-term effects of guns on school campuses as they relate to the maturation of children? I hope schools don't become armed camps for kids. That is not a positive example to pass onto youth. Surely, many other ways to protect them can be successfully employed. Taking the “guns conquer other guns” mentality too far could easily strip children of the idea that schools are a place of sanctuary.

If we truly need “a good guy with a gun nearby,” we must hire more law enforcement officials, increase their training, and improve their procedures, not place a “good guy” with a bigger weapon in schools to combat the “bad guy” with an assault rifle holding a massive clip of deadly bullets.

Aaron Kupchik, associate professor of sociology and criminal justice at the University of Delaware and the author of Homeroom Security: School Discipline In an Age of Fear wrote an article titled “Don’t Put Armed Guards in Schools.” (Aaron Kupchik, “Don’t Put Armed Guards in Schools,” The Telegraph, January 6 2013)

In the article, Kupchik sited a 2011 study published in the Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations, conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida and Loyola University in New Orleans with data from the National Center for Education Statistics. The researchers found that schools with security guards and guards who bear firearms have higher rates of serious violent crime than do similar schools without them.

Kupchik offered the following insights:
Issues that might otherwise be seen as mental health or social problems can become policing matters once an officer is stationed in a school.
Arrests for minor infractions, such as fistfights in which there are no injuries, go up. as the 2011 books Punished and Police in the Hallways have found – among other research – officers can start to see youths as thugs and criminals and begin treating them with hostility and sometimes even abusively.
Research has repeatedly shown that schools can prevent student misbehavior by establishing positive social climates. Students do better when they feel respected and listened to, like a valued part of the school, and when they view school regulations and actions, including security, as fair.
Introducing more police into schools can undo these efforts, making what had been an encouraging learning environment, where students are partners in an educational effort, into more of a place where students are subjects of school rules.

"The gun lobby finds waiting periods inconvenient. You have only to ask
 my husband how inconvenient
he finds his wheelchair from time to time."

~ Sarah Brady (her husband was shot during the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.)
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