Don’t Worry About School Security. Joe Da Plumber Will Keep Your Kids Safe.

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.

joe            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?

 

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Tom Gabor – Focus on School Security Is Myopic.

While Floridians are understandably focused on the mass shooting in Parkland, American schools now experience one intentional shooting a week on school grounds.  Among G7 countries, the US has experienced 288 school shootings since 2009, whereas none of the other six nations has experienced more than two of these incidents.

santa feWhile enhancing school security is a legitimate short-term measure in keeping students safe, it falls seriously short of a comprehensive approach to the problem.  School attacks were exceedingly rare prior to 1992 and armed security, active shooter drills, and lockdown procedures, routine in public schools today, were unheard of prior to the 1990s. Thus, security vulnerabilities alone cannot account for the surge in school shootings, as schools now adopt far more security measures than in the past.

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has shown that 18-29 year-olds are becoming more disengaged from community life.  Their church attendance, involvement in public meetings and political activities have all declined sharply from the 1970s.  Young people spend more time alone than they did decades ago and more time using electronic devices than they do with family and peers.  Those experiencing some form of crisis are less likely to lean on the family, place of worship, or social organizations as their ties to these institutions are weaker.  Depression among the young has increased dramatically and there has been a 50 percent increase in suicide among 15-24 year-olds from 1999-2014.  This is the age group most at risk to commit school attacks.  There is a significant pool of alienated and depressed young people who may experience despair and act out violently following a precipitating event, such as expulsion from school, loss of a relationship, ostracism by peers, or bullying.

Coinciding with this trend toward increasing social isolation, has been increasing access to weapons designed for combat that can fire highly lethal, high velocity bullets rapidly and that, when equipped with high capacity magazines, can allow a shooter to discharge up to 100 rounds without reloading.  The Parkland (Fla.) shooter obtained his AR-15 legally when he was 18, despite numerous disturbing actions and calls to law enforcement.

The combination of a large pool of at-risk youth and easy access to highly lethal weapons is a recipe for the mass casualty shootings we have seen.  Yet legislators, driven by short-term considerations, are often indifferent to the social factors driving this trend and unwilling to risk the political consequences associated with confronting an intransigent gun lobby that resists even the most popular and modest attempts at gun regulation.  Following Parkland, Floridians are primarily offered enhanced school security on a low budget, along with the option of armed school personnel.

There are numerous “soft” targets for shooters, apart from schools, including theaters, shopping malls, clubs, airports, and stadiums.  Thus, hardening schools alone fails to address the risks to which other citizens are exposed and may place other targets at increased risk as perpetrators seek less fortified  targets.  Many schools around the country already have adopted some basic security measures.  In Florida, after the Parkland mass shooting, just $100 million has been allocated for school security, or about $25,000 per public school–enough to install about a dozen security doors in classrooms.

A serious effort to enhance school security involves access control protocols (screening all who enter a school), surveillance through monitored cameras and patrols, adequate perimeter security, intrusion detection systems, security doors and bullet-resistant windows, adequately trained and properly armed security personnel; emergency communications, and lockdown procedures.  Turning schools into prison-like facilities is prohibitively expensive, creates more fear and disruption for students and teachers, and fundamentally alters the learning environment.

In the unlikely event we went down this path, we would only mitigate risk of one type of soft target–schools.  Until we address the factors that drive school shooters and the easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the promise of a safer society will be unfulfilled.

Thomas Gabor is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This article was originally published in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel

 

Doesn’t Matter Whether It’s An A-Bomb Or A Glock – Get Your Hands On It And It’s Going To Go Off.

Sunday morning I watched the Trumpster being interviewed by Chris Wallace, and if it were not for the fact that he was talking about nuclear weapons, I found his comments so stupid that they were actually entertaining and fun. And what they brought back to me was a memory from the fourth or fifth grade when every month or so we would be told to get out of our seats and huddle under our desks to protect ourselves from an A-Bomb blast, which was over when the teacher yelled ‘all clear.’

trump2              While my mind was reliving those ridiculous drills, a public notice flickered on the television screen that the high school in Yonkers was going to conduct an ‘active shooter’ drill, an exercise that the Yonkers PD has done several previous times beginning in 2014.  What is referred to in the industry as ‘Active Shooter and Intruder Response Training’ has become a big business since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012, and just to make sure that such training is as relevant as possible, a training outfit called Strategos International offers training specifically designed for schools, hospitals and faith-based organizations too.

Of course if it were up to the NRA, all you need to do to protect any workplace, school or other facility that might be a target is to make sure that every adult on the premises is walking around armed.  This was basically the organization’s initial response to Sandy Hook, but when the public response to Wayne-o’s loony “good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns” speech was not overwhelmingly positive, the NRA then issued a report called ‘National School Shield,’ which recommended 40-60 hours of firearm training for school employees who could then carry around guns.

How often does a gun go off at an educational institution?  Nobody has a comprehensive answer, but the research group at Everytown calculates that it has happened more than once a week since the beginning of 2013, of which roughly half of these 174 shootings took place in K-12 schools. And I’m not about to get into the stupid argument over whether a ‘school shooting’ is really a ‘school shooting’ if it takes place in the school playground rather than in a school building itself.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, roughly 90% of all K-12 schools control physical building access, which is always the best way to monitor threats to safety, and 28% of all schools are patrolled by security personnel carrying guns, in the case of high schools, professional security personnel are present 63% of the time.  The percentage of police in schools has been fairly constant since 2005, which certainly predates all the hue and cry about school security post-Sandy Hook.

The biggest problem in dealing with school shootings is not how to secure the building, but identifying who among the current or former student body might be capable of carrying out such a violent act.  Because a school shooting, like all school violence, is usually precipitated by someone who is either a student at the time of the incident, or was a student at that school and returns with a gun intending to right some past wrong.

Crouching under a wooden desk is about as much of a positive response to nuclear attack as giving someone a week-long course in armed force and then have them walking through a school hallway looking for a kid with a gun.  The whole point of nuclear non-proliferation is the recognition that once the weapon is out there, the chances of it being used go way up. Trump seems to be unaware that this is why a basic consensus exists that the world needs to be a nuclear-free zone.

The same argument can be made about gun-free zones which, despite the nonsense peddled by the NRA, make every place safer if guns aren’t allowed.  And it’s no violation of anyone’s 2nd Amendment rights to leave the gun at home.