Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Guns and Schools

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.


RussInSoCal said...

I agree with the idea of training Profs and arming them. But with the leftist, pacifist, anti-gun mentality adopted by 99% of academia, the idea would be rejected out of hand.

Far more convenient to simply blame Bush/America and calculate how this massacre can best serve the Democrat political agenda.

Sassenach said...

I find it interesting that the professor who actively resisted and saved the lives of his students was both a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli (he moved to the US 20 years ago).

In those few seconds he had between the first inkling of trouble and the opportunity to react, there must have been no time wasted on disbelief or considering submission.

amr said...

I agree with you. The shooting death of the mayor in Japan, an island country that has very stringent gun control laws, amply demonstrates that it is very difficult to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. So, as you say, put firearms in the hands of teachers and administrators (citizens too). But that goes against the UN and just about every country’s movement on personal firearms in the world, and of course our Left. I have a permit to carry exactly because no one can protect me. The police can react, but in general not protect. We saw that during Katrina and the government there took away weapons from those who stayed to protect their property.

Now I will admit that not everyone who can pass the background check for a CCW is necessarily one who should have a concealed weapon permit. But the statistics show that few if any CCW holders have been convicted of using their weapon illegally. I do find it interesting that while the US leads in murder stats, it is safer in the US in terms of total violent acts than Europe. I have also noticed that because I do have a weapon, it is easier to walk away from a confrontation since I don’t what it to escalate to where I may believe I need to use my weapon. I am very conscious that I don’t want my ability to defend myself to the extreme to overcome my normal societal civility. I find it is interesting that I and others I know of are more aware of and take more seriously our responsibilities as citizens when we have this right to carry privilege.

Unknown said...

Interesting points, all, and let me add another example: the city of Kennesaw, GA (near Atlanta) REQUIRES ownership of a firearm and ammunition. The law has been on the books for 20 years, and it has been declared constitutional by the GA Supreme Court.

Since passing this "unique" gun law, crime in Kennesaw is down 89%. Wonder why. Criminals, terrorists and nut-job campus shooters want a soft target, one that is (preferably) undefended. It's no accident that Charles Whitman and that Korean punk at VT didn't storm the campus police station--those people have guns.

There is a clear correlation between concealed carry permits and a reduction in crime. Gun free zones don't work, as evidenced by the massacre at Virginia Tech.

Dr. Thomas M. Box said...

There is little doubt that many in the educational field would oppose (on principal) armed teachers and professors. However, there are some in the educational field like me who are former Marines and soldiers.

We have been well-trained. We know how to protect our students. Why not give us a chance to prove it?