In light of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the resultant response from commentators on different sides of this discussion I feel compelled to offer my response. As a discipline policy wonk and federal law enforcement officer I feel especially qualified to respond. Schools are, still, the safest place youth can be. But if we want to increase the safety of schools, and in particular increase safety from gun violence we need to look at other cases of gun violence. These “mass killings” have been perpetrated by youth and young adults that struggle with mental health issues and have access to guns. Reframing: the mentally ill are not the problem, but the mentally ill with access to guns seems to be the primary issue.
With a good policy lens we need to think about the goal; what is the desired outcome of the policy? Maintain the focus on increasing school safety by reducing the likelihood that there will be shootings at schools.
The NRA has responded to the tragedy in this press release that has a single recommendation.
John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research released a report in October of 2012 with analysis and recommendations.
The NRA recommendation is part of a meandering verbose paper filled with poorly evidenced statements with unrelated falsities. All that aside their point is easily filtered out – federal support for School Resource Officers (SRO) in every school.
I may have previously expressed my distaste for SROs, but I will again. While an officer enforcing violations of laws is one thing, in fact it is their primary job, the job of a SRO in not to enforce the law but to provide “discipline” for the school. This is not only an ineffective but often counterproductive approach to discipline. SRO and administrators often conflate school discipline and the legal code. Treating classroom disruption and disrespect as legal violations is causing significant problems for youth across the country.
In my experience and training as a Federal Law Enforcement Officer I don’t think standard operating procedure would allow a SRO to be a “hero” but instead would advise the SRO to contain the situation and wait for back up (SWAT). Although, each case maybe different and subject to officer discretion. And the likely hood of SROs actually effecting lawful arrest, deterring or stopping (killing) the offender are minuscule
-The report from the John Hopkins Center concludes with several recommendations and findings: “easy access to firearms with large-capacity magazines facilitates higher casualties in mass shootings; right-to-carry gun laws do not reduce violent crime; prohibiting high-risk groups (people with a past criminal record, perpetrators of domestic violence, people younger than age 21 years, those who misuse substances, and people with severe mental illnesses) from having guns—and closing loopholes that enable them to have guns—are integral and politically feasible steps to reduce gun violence.”
The final two finding are the most relevant to this argument. Preventing high risk populations from accessing guns through closing loopholes; and I would recommend holding licensed dealers to a higher standard can increase the safety of schools and communities. These policy solutions are nearly in place. Many of the laws are in place that define “prohibited users” but where we lack is effective background checks and other accountability measures. The major addition would be to close the person-to-person sales loophole.
School safety is a touchy subject after this tragedy and others like it, but we mustn’t confuse the policy goals. Sandy Hook ins’t a license to ban assault weapons, neither is it a opportunity to arm teachers or place police in schools. Seek to make these tragedies rarer by thinking about the problem and understanding how many different parts interact together in order to create terrible situations like Sandy Hook Elementary.