And After We Get Guns Into The Schools, Let’s Train The Teachers Too.

I was going to wait until tomorrow to run this column, but it’s just too juicy to wait.  So here we have Herr Donald Trump going on and on about arming teachers and other school personnel. There isn’t a single educational organization which has expressed anything except doubts about such a crazy idea, but remember that Trump’s mission is to ‘make’ and ‘keep’ America great again, which if nothing else means jettisoning out all those stupid, wasteful and useless liberal ideas for how to run government and replace them with programs that really work!

teachers             And it just so happens that Trump has a buddy named Eric Prince who happens to be in the gun-training business – a perfect fit! Here’s Schmuck-o Trump’s tweet: “Highly trained expert teachers will be allowed to conceal carry, subject to State Law.” Catch the highly-trained bit, I’ll get back to that one in a minute. And how is Schmuck-o going to pay for this training? The same way he’s going to pay for the Wall.

Not only is Trump-o’s good buddy the head of a training company, but the good buddy happens to have a sister named Betsy DeVos. And she just happens to be the Secretary of Education and therefore in a position to help turn this crazy training idea into a law. Am I saying that the idea of arming teachers is nothing more than a blatant attempt to create a government program that will put a pile of dough into the hands of a well-placed, Presidential friend?

The last time I checked, there were some 115,000 public elementary and high schools in the United States holding somewhere around 57 million kids.  If we stuck two guards in each school and each guard paid three hundred bucks for a training course, that’s around 75 million revenue to the outfit selected to deliver the training course. That’s not exactly chump change or even Trump change for the training company which used to be known as Blackwater when Prince founded it in 1997, but then changed its name to Xe Services after four employees were convicted of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The company was acquired by an investment group in 2011, its new name is Academi, and it claims to operate the largest training facility for private, armed guards anywhere in the United States.

Trump and his DC minions are sold on the idea that if you privatize any government service, you get a better bang for your buck. The fact that the service in question is being delivered by someone who happens to be a friend isn’t considered to be a conflict by anyone in the White House at all. Unfortunately, a real conflict involving Prince may be due to the fact that a certain investigation by a guy named Mueller may have turned up evidence linking Prince to a back-channel connecting Putin to Trump.

But not to worry because even if it ends up that Prince can’t provide the ‘rigorous’ training which Trump claims the teachers will receive, there’s another private outfit ready and waiting to put together a training program that will help  America’s teachers protect the kids. And unlike Prince’s outfit which has been in the training business for only 40 years, this other company has been engaging in gun training since 1876.

Right now the boys in Fairfax are putting together a new NRA course called something like Safe Gun Use in Schools. Now the trick is to get some of their Congressional toadies to pass a law that will reimburse school districts the costs of training armed guards as long as the training curriculum is developed by the NRA.  And this will go a long way towards making up for the collapse of the vaunted Carry Guard training program which right now has exactly one single course listed in the entire USA.

Know where this whole idea to arm teachers is going to wind up?  Nowhere. And that’s because even with friends trying to help friends, the idea is simply dumb, dumber, dumbest and dumb.


Of Course We Need Guns In Schools. Of Course We Do.

Want to make it look like you’re doing something to solve a problem even if you are doing nothing?  Announce the formation of a task force.  Works every time. And now that Herr Donald is tying to pretend that he’s just another middle-of-the-road guy who wants to get input from all sides, he’s created a task force to deal with school safety, in particular making schools safe from people who might wander in to the building with a gun.

devos              Now despite claims by the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement that Trump has decided not to make any legal changes in how we regulate guns, what he has realty done is kick the veritable can down the veritable road and put Nancy DeVos in charge of the task force which will discuss ‘all options,’ including whether to raise the minimum age for buying a gun.

You may recall that DeVos is already on record as having recommended that guns be made available to school staff if and when lethal force needed to be used. During her confirmation hearing she cited as an example the fact that a grizzly bear had been wandering around outside a Wyoming school and that the decision to arm school personnel needed to reflect the concerns of the local community. By the end of this hearing, we knew that the person responsible for the Federal approach to educating our children was an idiot who didn’t know anything about either bears or schools, but since when did someone need to pass an I.Q. test to work for Donald Trump?

Getting back to the newly-minted (but not yet formed) task force whose work is supposed to be completed in a year, the problem is that if this group sits down and actually looks at the data on school violence, they will discover that there really is nothing for them to do. Why? Because public schools happen to be about the safest place for the 50.7 million students to spend their time – safer than any other public venue (shopping centers, theaters, etc.,) safer even than their homes.

Want the numbers?  You can find them in a report issued by DeVos’ own Department of Education, “’Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016.” Here’s the bottom line: Public schools are extremely safe and, believe it or not, getting safer all the time. Here are some relevant highlights from the report:

  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1,500 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States, and the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students.
  • The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year decreased from 7 percent in 2007 to 4 percent in 2015.
  • During the 2014–15 school year, there were 1.3 million reported discipline incidents in the United States for reasons related to alcohol, illicit drugs, violence, or weapons possession that resulted in a student being removed from the education setting for at least an entire school day. About 78 percent of these discipline incidents were violent incidents with or without physical injury, 15 percent were illicit drug related, 5 percent were weapons possessions, and 2 percent were alcohol related.
  • In the school year 2013-2014, the number of school homicides of persons ages 5 to 18 was 12, the second-lowest yearly total since this data started to be collected in 1992-93. That same year, 1,200 homicide deaths throughout the United States were recorded for the ages 5 – 18 population.

These numbers validate the fact that there is really no connection between what happened at Parkland and whether a school-age child faces a greater risk from gun violence during the time the child is in school. Which doesn’t mean that what happened at Parkland should ever happen anywhere else. What it does mean is that the reaction of the Trump Administration to school violence is something akin to using the elephant to swat the fly.

But why should we be surprised just because Herr Donald tries to justify a ‘new’ approach by appealing to fear?

Let’s Hear It For Those Parkland Kids.

Yesterday I wrote a column talking about how the post-Parkland gun debate is different from all previous post-shooting debates because of the spontaneous emergence of social media networks driven by high school kids. I’m not saying this is anything other than coincidence, but today’s New York Times is carrying a major article which basically says the same thing. Except that the NYT story goes beyond my basic point, describing in detail about how national gun-control organizations like Everytown have mobilized lobbyists, members and advertising to respond to the usual pro-gun defenses from the other side.

parkland4              Most of what the NYT reportage said about the new-found strength of the gun-control community is correct. But their understanding of what is really driving the dynamics of what they refer to as the ‘anti-gun’ movement misses the larger point. Obviously, having Trump in the White House, as opposed to Obama, creates a fundamental difference when it comes to the public debate about guns. And it certainly is the case that what Trump says today about gun control may be very different from what he’ll say the next day or the next.

Trump’s behavior reminds me of what Sitting Bull once said about Crazy Horse after the massacre of Custer at the Little Bighorn in 1876.  Back in 1868, both Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse agreed to a treaty which the U.S. Government broke before the ink was dry. Crazy Horse then claimed that he never signed the document, but when asked whether Crazy Horse did sign the treaty Sitting Bull replied, “Of course he signed – Crazy Horse would do anything for a free meal.”

So now we have someone sitting in the Oval Office who will say anything to grab the media spotlight, no matter whether he means it or not. Will Trump really push for increasing the minimum age for purchasing guns? Will he try to get the DOJ to figure out a legal maneuver that would ban bump stocks?  Who knows what’s on his mind, but mind or not, I can tell you this: If Hillary Clinton was the 45th President, she would have gotten on Air Force One and flown down to Florida no later than the day after the shooting, done the requisite hospital visit, then thanked the first responders, photo-ops at every stop. At some point there would have been a tearful, emotional speech and a demand that Congress do what they should have done after Sandy Hook; i.e., pass some kind of legislation to ‘end this horrifying gun violence’ or words to that effect.

Wayne-o Lapierre talked for 37 minutes yesterday at CPAC, a speech which was the ‘official’ response to Parkland by the NRA. He started off with the usual bromides about the ‘terrible tragedy,’ this and that, but then went into a long rant about how the Democratic Party had been taken over by a European-style ‘socialist’ elite, whose headway had been briefly stopped by the election of Trump. The way Wayne-o rambled on and on about this threat, you would have thought that Barack Obama was still in the White House trying to figure out how to push the country further to the Left.

Every time there was a mass shooting since 2008, Gun-nut Nation could and did respond by attacking the guy from Kenya and turning gun control into an issue between ‘us’ – the good guys – versus ‘them.’ Which is exactly how Trump behaved throughout his entire Presidential campaign as well as his tenure in the Oval Office until February 14 when everything changed. And what changed is that, for the very first time, the public debate about a political issue is being defined by the kids. Not by the lobbyists, not by the organizations, not by the media and the editorial boards, but by the kids.

The best thing which has ever happened to the movement to end gun violence is that we no longer have a friend at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Thank God for the kids.

Why Are School Shootings Different From Other Shootings? They Aren’t.

When we say goodbye to our kids in the morning as they trundle off to school, we all hope they will spend their day in a safe and secure space. But ever since the Sandy Hook massacre near the end of 2012, the issue of school shootings and gun violence in schools is never far from our minds. And while I don’t think that the arming teachers and staff is a smart thing, I can sympathize with parents of school-age kids who fear that their school might be next.

sandy              Now we have a detailed report by a research team at Northwestern University who believe that school shootings are ‘significantly correlated’ with increased unemployment and conclude that these shootings reflect ‘increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition’ which became more problematic during the Great Recession beginning in 2008.

Not surprisingly, this effort is gaining its usual share of attention from both sides of the gun violence debate, with Gun-nut Nation claiming that the findings underscore the need to have armed guards in every K-12 school, and Gun-sense Nation of course arguing the other way.  But after reading the report closely and carefully, I’m not so sure that the correlation between rates of school shootings and indicators of economic distress are as meaningful or exact as the authors of this report would lead us to believe.

First as to the raw data on the number and trend of K-12 shootings – it’s pretty thin.  Which is not the fault of the researchers, you work with what you have. But what they have are six datasets, only one of which goes past 2012, and none of which are particularly exact or comprehensive in terms of giving us any kind of complete information on K-12 shootings, particularly over the last 5-6 years.

Despite these gaps, there are some findings of note.  When all the datasets were merged and checked for accuracy, the researchers were able to construct a list of 381 school shootings, which works out to an average of 15 shootings per year.  That works out to a rate (per 100K) of .03 shootings a year, and while the report does not quantify the deadliness of the shootings or the number of victims, if we assume a mortality rate of 50% and one victim per incident, notwithstanding the fearsome emotions precipitated by such events, K-12 schools still seem to be pretty safe places where kids can spend their days.

As to the increase in school shootings since 2008 and the onset of worsening economic trends, we can also see an increase in gun violence outside of school environments over the same period of time.  If we combine data on gun homicides and gun assaults published by the CDC, we come up with a yearly average between 2001 and 2014 of 62,316 gun injuries, an annual number that was at least 20% higher in 6 of the 7 years between 2008 and 2014.  In other words, if school shootings are on the rise, so are shootings which occur everywhere else.  And since more than 60% of all school shootings, according to the report, were attempts by an armed individual to injure a specific person who happened to be present on the property of a particular school, why should the reasons for school shootings be any different than the reasons for gun violence wherever it takes place?

If I had a nickel for everyone with a theory about why gun violence occurs I wouldn’t have to work for a living, so I’ll add my own pet theory to the mix.  I believe that every act of gun violence occurs for at least one reason, namely, the presence of a gun.  And since 2008 there are a lot more guns around.  And no matter who owns all these guns and no matter how strict the laws, more and more guns will get into the ‘wrong hands.’ Know how it used to be the economy, stupid?  Now stupid, it’s the gun.