Buzzword of the Week: ‘School Safety’
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Buzzword of the Week: ‘School Safety’

Gun Nuts Envision One Million Armed Teachers—What Could Go Wrong?


If the word of the week last week was “unwittingly” to explain away any misdoings involving the Trump campaign in Russian influence-meddling, the word for this week has become “school safety.”

Instead of phrases like “too many guns?” or “the need for assault-style rifles,” officialdom is quickly moving the conversation away from gun control issues to a list of others to blame by changing the language.

So, “school safety” is this week’s restatement of “the need for a good guy with a gun to stop a bad guy with a gun.” The school safety banner is a cover for arming and granting bonuses to selected teachers and other school personnel with concealed handguns (at someone’s expense yet to be determined). School safety is an excuse to chuck civil rights for early pre-crime confinement of potential shooting suspects. School safety is a phrase to cover some amorphous blame on “mental health,” “media,” “Hollywood” and other institutions seen as contributing to an aura of acceptable violence.

Listen and you’ll hear it. Each time “school safety” comes up, it means “don’t look at guns” as a source of the extent of fatalities in last week’s fatal Parkland high school students and teachers.

As regrettably expected, as has now become custom in all debates of substance, the discussion about what to do now is anything but a reasoned set of problem-solving arguments. The parties, from student victims to teachers and unions to Trump and lawmakers to the National Rifle Association all see the problem differently.

Frankly, that we cannot talk to each other is disgusting and explains only why little, if anything, is going to change anytime soon.

From the president, we’ve heard that he is listening (so long as he checks his written instructions to make empathetic noises from time to time), but his Twitter fingers are alive. He is the chief “school safety” banner-carrier, but in his mind, hardening schools means arming between 20% and 40% of the nation’s 3.5 million public school teachers with concealed weapons (so handguns) to thwart attacks by sneaky individuals who are carrying semi-automated weapons.

To his credit, Trump also is pushing for strengthening the information fueling background checks, he wants “mental health” changes that would allow for the confinement of troubled individuals before any crime might occur and he wants to consider raising the age of would-be purchasers of assault-style rifles. None of this is spelled out, and Trump is using admonitions of “school safety” to forestall any important follow-up questions.

From lawmakers, there’s a mixed bag, but mostly silence. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was called out by a high school student over his continuing support for NRA positions, and under televised lights, wavered in his positions. But most congressional offices are simply standing silent on the issues.

Of course, that CNN televised town hall on guns was roundly criticized for an abundance of disdain over any useful gathering of ideas or possible solutions. Catcalls for the NRA representative were neither persuasive nor helpful in changing minds; a dismissal of student victim concerns over youthful exuberance was irrelevant and offensive.

Then yesterday morning, using voices dripping in drop-dead sarcasm, the NRA leadership came out hard-charging at the Conservative PAC conference, blaming media, Hollywood, the FBI and porous systems that encourage “crazies” to commit mass shootings. Their foes, they said, want to restrict not only assault-style weapons but all liberties for individuals across the board. For the NRA, the discussion is about anything but the guns. As someone who was just listening to hear the shape of effective solutions to a growing, pernicious problem, the speeches yesterday made me want to retch at the state of what passes as public discourse.

Look, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that having another near-million concealed weapons out on the street on the hips of teachers does not sound like it is an effective deterrent. Even in police shootings, the majority of bullets don’t hit the suspect, because suspects tend to move about. The idea that selected teachers with military experience will be able to immediately hit a shooter on campus seems, well, less effective than barring sales of AR-15 rifles. Missing from the discussion was what happens in an actual firefight, where bullets are flying in all directions at once, increasing the chances of harm, and what happens if the teacher-good guy actually hits someone who was not the actual suspect. Last week, at least one student who was not the suspect was thrown to the ground by sheriffs.

Indeed, the resignation of a Broward County deputy sheriff for failing to leap into the actual assault at the Parkland high school mass shooting should be lesson enough that arming a good guy doesn’t effectively put the good guy into the fight.

But it is exactly the kind of proposal that can make its author feel better. The idea of “hardening” schools by deterring would-be shooters might work, but like most deterrents, probably not for suspects who may have a little trouble doing detailed reasoning. The real effect is to kill the shooter once he has attacked.

The idea of your music teacher—I talked with one last night—being able to whip out a handgun and shoot the right suspect holding a semi-automatic rifle at exactly the right moment motionless across the room seems a bit more wishful thinking than my sense of effectiveness would support. Still, in one Ohio town, apparently, there were dozens of immediate volunteers.

I’ll admit there is nothing simple here, politically or even in terms of effectiveness. But name-calling and relying on a bogus “school safety” motto isn’t going to get the job done.

Featured image: A Facebook meme of an iconic Norman Rockwell painting updated.

February 23, 2018