The National Rifle Association rolled out its hired gun, former Arkansas Congressman Asa Hutchinson, last week to present a $1 million study done in the wake of the December grade school massacre at Newtown, Conn. To no one’s surprise, the study said we need to have more guns in schools to prevent similar tragedies.
The best recommendation in the study says that schools should use more school resource officers — sworn police officers — to improve school safety. Several Jonesboro area schools have used SROs, in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, since the 1998 shooting at Westside Middle School, one of the first of many such tragedies.
The weakness of the study, titled "The National School Shield," could be attributed, in part, to the fact that not a single member of the 12-man task force (yes, all men) that produced it is an educator. Several educators, as well as the Los Angeles School District and the National Association of School Resource Officers, are listed as contributors.
SROs do much more than guard against outsiders trying to wreak havoc in our schools. On a daily basis they get to know the students, build relationships that lead to better understanding of law enforcement and deal with violence and other crimes within the schools.
We’d do well to put an SRO in every school. Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen because we’re reluctant to pay the costs.
As pointed out in the NRA study, the Clinton administration created the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) in 1994, partly in reaction to school violence. A key program in the initiative was called Cops in Schools (CIS), which beginning in 1999 helped place more than 6,500 specially trained police officers in schools around the country.
That program worked well, but the Bush administration had other priorities, and funding was cut in 2006. While we were cutting taxes and fighting two wars in foreign countries, our schools were left to seek funding for maintaining their SROs. Some, including Jonesboro, were able to work something out; others didn’t.
CIS needed to be expanded. Instead it was reduced.
The Newtown Middle School had an SRO on duty on Dec. 14, and he was one of the first three police officers to reach the scene of the massacre. If Sandy Hook Elementary School had had an SRO, maybe some of the 20 first graders and six adults would be alive today.
But the NRA offers no help for funding more SRO positions, instead simply acknowledging some efforts to obtain local funding.
Instead, "The National School Shield" offers 10 findings as the basis for eight specific recommendations for schools and school districts to take action on their own, most of which are not new.
One finding, the study asserts, is that school staff members can be allowed to carry firearms "in order to provide an additional level of protection for the students and staff in the event of a violent incident on school property.
Even that suggestion sounds rather lukewarm: "The school staff generally receives authorization from law enforcement as a reserve deputy or authorized security officer, event though the training is inconsistent and often inadequate." The study offers a model state law to provide for the arming of school staff members.
Of course, the ideal law would require training such personnel and conducting background checks before entrusting them with guns on campus. At least the NRA task force backed off NRA Executive Director Wayne LaPierre’s ridiculous suggestion that parents and other volunteers might serve as school guards.
However, as Hutchinson knows well, our national system of background checks is woefully inadequate. It does not require checks to be done when gun purchases are completed at gun shows or through the media. Worse, the FBI system does not even include data about people judged as mentally ill in 10 states, including Arkansas, and such information from other states is often slow and incomplete.
In other words, someone like Adam Lanza might have passed a background check to become an armed school guard.
Yet the NRA opposes expanding our national system of background checks for gun purchases. Even the NRA’s hired gun knows that’s a hypocritical stand. In an interview with CNN after presenting the study, Hutchinson said in answer to a question, "Yes. Absolutely. I’m open to expanding background checks."
If you can’t be sure the people you’re arming on a school campus are neither criminals nor insane, you’re not providing a solution but rather a recipe for disaster.
And even if the school guard is properly trained and screened, you’re still offering a half-baked security measure. The person you’re arming, whether a teacher, administrator or janitor, is going to have other duties that may interfere with carrying a gun, even a small handgun, or more than a minimum supply of ammunition. That’s some protection, but not much.
Most of the school shooters have been well armed, much better than a school guard would be, and they operate with the advantage of surprise on their side.
A much better idea is to find the funding to expand greatly the number of school resource officers. Is there a better use of our taxpayer dollars than to protect our children and grandchildren?
Note: The full NRA study can be found at www.nra.org.
Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.