Remember Joe da Plumber? Actually, his name is Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher, and he became a right-wing media icon during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when he asked Barack a question during a campaign stop. Joe claimed that he wanted to buy a plumbing business, but the proposed Obama tax program would have screwed up the whole deal, which immediately got Joe linked to the McCain campaign as representing the ‘average American’ who McCain was going to help.
Now the fact that Joe da Plumber wasn’t actually a licensed plumber; the fact that McCain got involved with Charlie Keating, the banker who rooked tens of thousands of ‘average’ Americans out of their life savings; oh well, oh well. But until and even after the 2016 election, Joe da (unlicensed) Plumber made a nice few bucks shooting his mouth off on Fox News.
Joe then got a job with Chrysler, but now he’s started a new gig involving school security products, which is clearly a growth field. Joe’s hawking something called Swiftshield, a device that locks school or office doors against anyone trying to break in; the website claims that for $139.99 you get a product that is ‘virtually indestructible’ and ensures ‘peace of mind.’
For all the talk by Republicans about the virtues of the free market, it’s amazing how they have no trouble cozying up to the ‘deep state’ when there’s money involved. The latest giveaway is $350 million that schools can use to ‘harden’ their entrances, but this dough is a drop in the bucket compared to what would have to be spent to protect all our school kids. The group which lobbies for the security manufacturers, the Security Industry Association, says that a comprehensive, nationwide security plan for all schools would run about $11 billion.
No wonder school systems have either implemented or are considering programs to arm classroom teachers. After all, a Glock only costs around $600, and I’ll sell you my used Model 19 right for $400 bucks. The fact that being trained to respond to lethal force with lethal force is something that even most cops don’t do very well shouldn’t stand in the way of sticking guns in every teacher’s desk, and more than 200 school districts around the country evidently agree.
Now what I am about to say should not in any way be considered as diminishing the pain, tragedy and community trauma which follows from a mass shooting within a school building (e.g., Sandy Hook, Parkland, etc.) But notwithstanding those horrific events, the fact is that public K-12 schools happen to be very, very safe environments, and the safety level has been remarkably stable for the past 25 years.
The data for the graph comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, which just happens to be a branch of the Department of Education:
These numbers, incidentally, include not only students who die from violence within a school building, but also going to and from school, as well as going to school events at some other location. In 2015, there were roughly 51 million children enrolled in public K-12 schools. Which means that the national violent death rate was less than 1 percent, and even though homicide is the second leading cause of death for the age cohorts 5 – 18, less than 2% of those 2015 deaths occurred within an educational environment. The bottom line is that schools are often much safer environments for children than the neighborhoods in which schools are located.
The takeaway from this data is very simple, namely, that once again a terrible but relatively rare event, like a mass school shooting, creates an atmosphere of fear and exaggerated concern which leads to solutions that simply don’t fit the problem at hand. But why should we be surprised? After all, with guys like Joe da Plumber leading the conversation, why should we expect anything less?