Good guys vs. bad guys, both sides armed to the teeth.
That’s how the National Rifle Association views the moral universe. Yes, the group admits, an epidemic of gun violence is plaguing our nation. The reason for it is that good people have disarmed themselves. The cure is for them — us — to rearm.
In fact, most Americans don’t want to be more awash in firepower, as is revealed in poll after poll. We want it to be harder to acquire the kinds of guns and ammunition, especially the kinds that are meant to kill a lot of people quickly.
Yet the other day the NRA, in a bid to be taken seriously after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in Connecticut, touted the recommendations of something called the National School Shield Task Force, which it sponsored and which was chaired by former Arkansas Rep. Asa Hutchinson. The task force’s report recommended that schools retain staff with concealed weapons and that state legislatures change laws to make that possible.
Evidence to the contrary, the NRA is convinced that mass shooters chose their places of mayhem not because of a previous emotional connection to the school, place of business, the intended victims or some other link, but because they are gun free zones.
So the task force’s 225-page report contains a sample bill for legislatures to expand who is legally able to pack heat in the hallways of your child’s school. That’s the NRA’s way to get around those pesky gun free zones that apply to most schools.
The report stresses that because government funding is limited, there is a need for a private, nonprofit advocacy and education organization to “advocate and support school safety.” In other words, to promote the arming of school personnel, to fund pilot programs, to mold policy and set standards, and to train the guards and other armed staff. That would be the NRA, through a surrogate organization it proposes to fund called the National School Shield.
What could possibly go wrong?
Set aside for now the potential liability issues of a lobbying group certifying school safety experts with the authority to shoot to kill. Forget the tendency of increased law enforcement presence in schools to shuttle alarming numbers of students into the juvenile justice system, when afterschool detention might have done the trick.
An overarching question is this: Can an organization that is adamantly opposed to measures to keep children safe outside of school really be trusted to ensure their safety during the school day? The answer is no.
Far more students die outside of schools every year than in mass school shootings. But the tallies are incremental, not the stuff of banner headlines coast to coast. They die by accidental death with mishandled guns, in street violence and by suicide.
As a 2012 report by the Children’s Defense Fund framed it, 5,740 — one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 55 every week for two years — died by gunfire in 2008 and 2009. That’s enough children to fill more than 229 public school classrooms of 25 students each.
The nation has vastly increased its use of school resource officers, often off-duty or retired police, in the past decades. No one argues that this is a negative thing per se. In fact, the Obama administration’s proposals on school safety ask for $150 million to target more hiring of such officers, along with other school personnel to handle mental health issues.
Of late, the NRA has learned to make the occasional rhetorical nod toward root causes of violence, such as the fractured and underfunded status of the nation’s mental health systems.
But you get the impression that this is done to deflect attention from problem-solving measures like universal background checks for gun purchases or controls on the very sort of weaponry and magazine clips that are used in mass shootings.
What the National School Shield Task Force recommendations add up to is advancing the militarization of the American school environment.
MARY SANCHEZ writes for The Kansas City Star. Her column is distributed by Tribune Media Services Inc.