Democratic Senators were positively “giddy,” according to the New York Times, when President Donald Trump, during a live televised meeting, declared his strong support for gun control and urged Congress to pass a comprehensive bill that would expand background checks, keep guns from mentally ill people, and raise the age limit for purchasing guns to 21.
No doubt Democratic lawmakers will seize on the president’s sudden conversion to their side and try to rush through Congress new legislation to address gun violence. But there’s a part of what the president is pushing that should caution Democrats against acting too hastily to embrace his proposals.
In addition to acting on guns, Trump also wants to “harden our schools against attack,” Education Week reports, by adding more “security” apparatus to schools and arming more school personnel, including teachers.
School security measures are all the rage with lawmakers right now because of the horrendous shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That tragic event is what has put the issue of gun control and school safety on the Beltway’s radar in the first place.
Real action on meaningful gun control should get the happy support of Congressional Democrats. But if precedent holds, the likely outcome of any “bipartisan” action on guns and school safety will be that the gun lobby will convince enough Republicans to suppress any meaningful control of firearms and ammo while legislators in both parties will let new “security” measures for schools sail through, and teachers and students will be worse off for it.
The Media’s Big Lie
The media’s big lie is that “we’ve done nothing” to address school shootings that continue to plague the nation. More accurate is to say we’ve done the wrong things.
After the appalling slaughter at Sandy Hook elementary school in 2012, Congress took up legislation to address school shootings. But nothing meaningful about gun control made it out of the Senate, while plenty of new laws got passed, in Washington and in state capitals across the country, that turned school buildings into harsher, more punitive environments – all for the sake of “security.”
Using the Sandy Hook narrative as a rationale, lawmakers proposed dozens of new bills to either allow educators to carry weapons, add armed guards to public schools, or take other steps to make it easier for school personnel to carry guns on school and college campuses.
The Obama administration helped incentivize the arms race in schools with lots of new federal grant money for school cops, commonly called “school resource officers.”
Since Sandy Hook, over 101 bills have been proposed to increase school police forces, 84 to arm school personnel, and 73 to ease restrictions on guns in schools, according to Education Week. Only 51 bills targeted gun control, and 81 addressed school climate and support.
Meanwhile, there have been 63 school shootings during the same time period, and cops now outnumber counselors in the nation’s largest school systems. Nationally, the ratio of school counselors to students is 1:491 – almost two times the recommended ratio.
Witness recent events in Florida, following the Parkland shooting, where state lawmakers voted against a bill to ban assault weapons while eagerly pushing forward a bill appropriating $67 million to arm school teachers – all done in defiance of the vehement criticism of Parkland survivors who looked on. Did these Florida officials not know Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did have a sheriff’s deputy on duty at time of the shooting, but he never discharged his weapon?
The Florida measure to arm teachers resembles a bill enacted in Texas in 2013. There have been 25 school-related shootings in the Lone Star State since then.
Research studies overwhelmingly show teachers don’t want guns in schools and the proliferation of guns correlates with increases in shootings.
Guns and Guards Don’t Help Kids
Not only has the school arms race been ineffective in addressing school shootings; but turning our institutions for teaching and learning into environments that more resemble prisons is having a severely negative impact on students and teachers.
“The most striking impact of school police officers,” the New York Times reports, “has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior …. that sends children into the criminal courts.”
“Every day in our nation’s schools, children as young as five are charged with “crimes” for everyday misbehavior: throwing a paper airplane, kicking a trashcan, and wearing sagging pants. In the 2013-14 school year, the most recent year for which statistics are available, schools reported over 223,000 referrals to law enforcement,” according to the ACLU.
The ACLU’s study found increased police presence in schools added “an atmosphere of fear and mistrust in schools, police presence often results in physical harm when children are body slammed, tased, pepper sprayed, choked, or placed in handcuffs.
“The psychological impact of school policing on children has lifelong consequences,” the ACLU stated, including increased feelings of alienation, anxiety, and rejection and a heightened perception of education institutions as negative places.
“There is no routine place for police in our public schools,” the study concluded.
Do the Right Thing
There are alternative to guards and guns. The Advancement Project, a civil rights coalition, that has proposed a “Gun Free Way to School Safety” plan for schools calling for preventing crisis situations “through creation of a positive school culture” and enacting “appropriate security measures” that don’t involve law enforcement personnel.
So yes, Democrats should embrace any efforts on meaningful gun control proposed by President Trump or any other Republicans. But let’s not make public schools, and in turn students and teachers, the sacrificial lamb continually slaughtered for the sake of saying we’re “doing something.”
[This article has been updated with additional research.]