As we near the end of 2012, gun control legislation is rapidly emerging as the hot button issue of the year. Devastating shootings across America have provided the impetus to begin a much-needed dialogue and bring gun control into the national spotlight. From the Wisconsin temple shooting to Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut — the NRA and its spokesperson, Wayne LaPierre — is portrayed as the thorn that hinders progress or the last bastion upholding the Second Amendment, depending on your view.
Wayne LaPierre appeared on Sunday’s Meet the Press to reiterate the organization’s stance on guns advocacy and stated, to the dismay of many, that the Newtown shooting could have been prevented had armed security guards been placed in schools against the ‘monsters’ that are lurking everywhere. This is a simplistic view.
First, he argues that ‘the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’. There’s something to be said on relying on a gun for protection. But, LaPierre is advocating the use of guns as a pre-defensive measure to prevent any kind of interactions against the mentally challenged. This is not the OK Corral. You just can't shoot your way out, as you would in a video game.
As a non-gun owner, I feel that our gun culture fails to acknowledge that guns make it incredibly easy to react to hostile situations. Failure to manage our feelings gives way to guns. Individuals may see guns as a way out of their predicament and reach for them as an easy solution.
During the interview, LaPierre cites a Secret Service report (1999) which claims police officials were only able to stop shooters 25% of the time. But there’s also no concrete evidence that armed guards will be able to get to the shooter in time. This report tries to craft together a broader view of targeted school violence that occurred between 1974-2000.
Lapierre cites his fear and paranoia over the ‘monsters out there every day, and we need to do something to stop them.’ Not only is this statement totally offensive, but the survey highlights a general finding: in most of the cases profiled, the behavior of the attackers attracted the attention of those closest to them. In some cases, these may be a teacher, school counselor, or friends. A student’s fascination with guns and violence may be a budding interest, and a teacher who is in tune with a student’s personality may alert the authorities should this interest be hurtful to others. In other cases, attackers may enlist the help of friend. LaPierre gives an overly broad description of the attackers as monsters, as if this was some kind of video game.
Another disturbing finding has to do with the individual characteristic of the attacker. Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. In one instance, one attacker had sought retribution when he was layed off from his job for failing to disclose that he lacked a high school diploma. To get revenge, he went back to his old high school, shot the teacher that failed him in his senior year, as well as two students, and held 60 students hostage for 10 hours. This event underscores the need for people to take personal responsibility for their actions and the incredible difficulty that people have in resolving issues on their own.
In making the case that armed guards are the only path to protecting our kids in schools, LaPierre bases his argument on the critical personnel that depend on this service, such as the President as well as the guarding of federal buildings (which were made possible via federal legislation by the way). He then extends the same reasoning to apply to school children. This is flawed since the Federal Protective Service (FPS) — the federal law enforcement arm under the Department of Homeland Security, responsible for providing security to personnel — have much more stringent requirements. In a 2009 Congressional Research Service report on the Federal Protective Service and Contract Security Guards, a few problems emerge: 1) The budget to provide security and law enforcement is quite costly. In fiscal year 2006, contract guard service “represented the single largest item in the FPS operated budget of $487 million.” 2) Because contracts with private security firms have increased, and FPS personnel decreased, it led to contract violations such as unarmed guards working at armed posts, guards without required security clearances employed by a contractor, as well as employed guards having been convicted of felonies. This shows that armed security guards have their limits too.
It is important to remember that schools are still safe places. Mass shootings involving elementary school aged children occur much less frequently than those involving high schools. However, the training process to potential armed guards appears to be minimal at best, and compensation is low. Are we putting the safety of our kids in the hands of guards for $11.72/hr? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this was the 2010 national average pay. Oddly, I just performed a Google search for ‘armed security guard,’ and a Craiglist ad in Los Angeles came up. Pay was for $13.75 in Hollywood. Nevertheless, these measures have not deterred a New Jersey township from implementing a 3-month trial period during which, armed guards for the district’s nine schools will be implemented starting January 2, 2013.
As a nation, we’re dispatching guards to act as the “eyes and ears” to protect society and deter criminals, but they receive minimal training and poor compensation. New York for example, requires that guards complete an eight-hour “pre-assignment” training course and then follow up with an additional 47-hour firearm training course. On the other hand, states such as Massachusetts and Nebraska do not have any requirements in place for potential applicants, at least on a statewide-level.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need guns and our kids would be safe havens for learning and acquiring knowledge. I do think that there needs to be an honest dialogue on guns and protective measures in this country because gun ownership is an enormous responsibility to uphold.