In today's hyper-partisan, bare-knuckles, no-holds-barred political environment, any event can be used to advance a particular agenda, no matter how tragic it might be.
Consider Hurricane Katrina. If you asked most Americans, the reason that so many people died was not because of the ferocity of the storm, or because many Gulf Coast residents were unwilling or unable to evacuate. And the disaster had nothing to do with incompetent local leaders, who delayed ordering evacuations until the last moment, and failed to use available resources (remember those school buses) to move people to safety.
No, the Katrina debacle was solely the responsibility of the federal government, and more specifically, the Bush Administration. Never mind that FEMA's response--despite glaring mistakes--was within its mandated window (96 hours after the storm), or that the heroic efforts of military personnel saved the lives of thousands of coast residents. None of that matters when you're trying to score political points, and hence, Katrina became one more albatross to hang around the administration's next.
Now, one day after the massacre at Virginia Tech, I'm waiting for the first Democratic politician to announce that it's Bush's fault. The New York Times has already signaled that the issue is on the political table in today's lead editorial, calling for stronger gun control laws to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals. Appearing to remain above the fray in the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, the paper doesn't make its usual observation about the Bush Administration opposing such laws. Not that it really matters. It's just a matter of hours before some left-wing politician makes that connection, further exploiting the Virginia Tech killings for partisan political purposes.
It would be refreshing if, just for once, political leaders and public safety officials could launch a rational, informed debate about school safety. We've had opportunities before--after shootings Columbine, Paducah, Kentucky and Pearl, Mississippi. But, regrettably, those past discussions largely devolved into debates over gun laws and concerns about "troubled teens," ignoring two of the most important facts affecting those issues.
We'll begin with efforts to identify potential shooters, and prevent these killings from ever occurring. There has been a great deal of hand-wringing about our inability to spot troubled students before they open fire at school. Unfortunately, a detailed study by the U.S. Secret Service finds that there isn't a common profile for campus assassins. Academically, shooters have ranged from failing grades to honor roll students; socially, some were loners, others were popular and well-connected. The Secret Service study concluded that it is almost impossible to "profile" students who might be prone to such violent acts. There are tipoffs (in most cases), but those indicators may prove almost impossible to detect.
On the issue of guns on campus, most public schools and universities have adopted a strict, "zero" tolerance policy, with severe punishment for students caught with a weapon in their possession. Unfortunately, such policies have not prevented students from bringing guns on campus, although (in fairness) it should be noted that school shootings in America remain extremely rare, and the number has actually declined in recent years. A police presence in the school, coupled with other measures--including metal detectors--may have slightly more deterrent value, but (as illustrated by the Tech murders), their benefit may decrease on a college campus, with hundreds of buildings stretched across thousands of acres.
And that brings us to the proposal that, seemingly, no one wants to address, the idea of allowing trained teachers, administrators, staff (and even parents) to carry weapons, and use them, if necessary. Israel pioneered the concept in the 1970s, in the wake of Palestinian terrorist attacks against several schools. In Israel, parents provide much of the security presence, patrolling school grounds with automatic weapons. As NRO columnist Dave Kopel noted in 2004, the system has been extremely successful. Since the mid-1970s, there have been a no successful attacks against Israeli schools, and the few recorded attempts have failed miserably.
In May 2002, an armed Israeli teacher shot and killed a Palestinian terrorist before he could harm students at his school. In a second attack a few days later, another terrorist threw a grenade at a kindergarten and fled, realizing that the faculty and staff were likely armed and prepared to defend the school. The second terrorist was killed by another, armed Israeli citizen as he tried to attack a nearby residential area.
Kopel notes that Thailand is also allowing teachers to carry guns, in the wake of terror attacks and school shootings in that country. So far, the deterrent seems to be working in Thailand, too. We can only wonder if a single, armed professor or staff member could have made a difference in Blacksburg yesterday. Amid the shock and horror at Virginia Tech, it is now time to discuss that option for protecting our schools.