What Can We Do to Make Schools Safer?
At a press conference on Friday, the nation learned that a mass shooter gained access to Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, when a teacher propped open a school door. That’s a fitting metaphor for school safety nationwide, where the cracks in our social fabric and lax security measures allow disturbed, disgruntled, and mentally ill people to victimize our most vulnerable citizens. But two experts in the field say that Washington’s hyper-partisan focus on passing more gun control laws will only further endanger our children, while ignoring known solutions that would improve school security.
Details continue to emerge from Uvalde, where an 18-year-old shooter claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers. The massacre claimed another victim two days after the smoke cleared: Joe Garcia, the husband of slain teacher Irma Garcia, died of a heart attack on Thursday, leaving their four children orphaned. By that time, Democrats had already leveraged the tragedy to try to restrict law-abiding citizens’ right to carry firearms.
“When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” exclaimed President Joe Biden in a national address Tuesday evening. Texas perennial candidate Beto O’Rourke interrupted a gathering of mostly Republican leaders on Wednesday, shouting, “This is on you!” While Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has warned that if Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) cannot work out a compromise gun rights restriction bill, he will hold a series of votes on more stifling gun control legislation after the Memorial Day recess.
But these actions are destined to fail — and to cost lives, experts told Family Research Council President Tony Perkins during Thursday’s episode of “Washington Watch.”
“When places adopt stricter gun control laws, there tends to be an increase in violent crime,” said gun violence scholar John Lott. His research at the Crime Prevention Research Center found that “every place in the world that’s banned, either all guns or all handguns has seen an increase in murder.” Domestically, “over 94% of the successful mass public shootings that have occurred in the United States since 1950 have taken place in areas where citizens weren’t allowed to ... have guns.”
Lott’s views that gun control laws harm the innocent has been endorsed by the mentally disturbed man who opened fire in a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, earlier this month. On page 58 of his 180-page manifesto, the shooter recommended that would-be mass murderers maximize their kill rate by attacking gun-free zones. “Attacking in a weapon-restricted area may decrease the chance of civilian backlash. Schools, courts, or areas where CCW are outlawed or prohibited may be good areas of attack,” he wrote. “Areas with strict gun laws are also great places of attack.”
Josiah O’Neil, a security expert and deputy sheriff in southern California, told Perkins on Thursday that gun control laws assume someone who is willing to commit murder would hesitate to break gun laws. “I’ve never met a criminal, whether in my local law enforcement or federal work, that respected laws. By definition, criminals don’t,” he said. Lott agreed, “to the extent that you disarm law-abiding citizens relative to criminals, you’re actually going to make it easier for criminals,” because they can target uniformed police and security guards under the assumption that they alone carry firearms. Concealed carry laws, Lott said, “actually makes it safer for the officer or the guard” on site, by introducing uncertainty — and allowing other armed people to come to his rescue.
The myopic focus on restricting the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms overlooks the common elements that link school shooters. “Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors,” noted the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center. (Emphasis in original.) “The negative home life factors experienced by the attackers included parental separation or divorce, drug use or criminal charges among family members, and domestic abuse.” Furthermore, “half of the attackers had received one or more mental health services prior to their attack.” Most also had a history of school disciplinary actions.
Protecting the innocent means more effectively offering treatment to the mentally ill, reporting warning signs, and allowing someone at the school to defend themselves before the police arrive. “More than half of the attacks ended before law enforcement responded to the scene — despite law enforcement’s often prompt response,” noted the National Institute of Justice.
Continually promoting gun confiscation laws also overlooks the hard realities of soft targets. Schools need to harden school security by adding video surveillance, metal detectors, and more secure locks, according to Illinois government officials. The government already implements many of these measures in schools run in foreign nations for the children of State Department officials. “I can tell you right now that a lot of what we implemented overseas is not being done here,” O’Neal told Perkins. “The bottom line is you fight gun violence in the same way that you fight any other type of violent crime: You have to make it risky for criminals to go and commit crimes ... with higher arrest rates, higher conviction rates, [and] longer prison sentences.”
“The bottom line is schools just aren’t doing enough right now, and we can do better,” O’Neal concluded.
Innocent lives demand that we do better. The Lord commands His followers: “Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked” (Psalm 82:4). Gun control laws, which empower politicians at the expense of the helpless, fail that test.
Ben Johnson is senior reporter and editor at The Washington Stand.