Pressed for a solution to mass shootings, President Donald Trump has said he’d like to see armed teachers in our schools.
Which is kind of dumb.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against guns in schools. Making our nation’s K-12 schools and campuses “gun free zones” don’t make them safer. They make them targets. I’d allow concealed carry on school property. I’m also not against local legislatures and school districts deciding they might want some personnel – teachers, administrators, staff, etc. – to go armed.
That should be a local decision, however. Not all school personnel are going to want the responsibility of being armed. Not all parents are going to be comfortable with armed janitors or principals. In some districts officials may be able to provide the funding for full-time security guards or police officers anyway.
To the extent that guns in schools should be a national, or even statewide, debate it should focus on allowing those decisions to be made locally. It should be an option for schools, not an imposition.
In the wake of tragedies such as the mass shooting in Florida we need to be careful not to overreact. The media like to make a spectacle out of these things – the CNN town hall last night featuring survivors from Parkland High was utter garbage – which has ugly two-pronged consequences for American society.
The intense coverage of mass shootings likely inspires more mass shootings.
The intense coverage also creates a false perception of danger among Americans.
Ask citizens on the street about violent in America, particularly gun violence, and they’d probably tell you it’s rising. The truth is we’re at the bottom of a generational decline in violent crime including crime committed with guns.
Most people who use a gun to hurt someone in America use it to hurt themselves. And while thousands of Americans are killed each year in non-suicide gun violence, only a tiny fraction of that total are people killed in mass shootings. Most of those deaths result from things like gang violence or plain old homicide.
My point is that I don’t want to make our schools feel like prisons, I don’t want to turn our society into a paranoid police state, because a series of tragic but still relatively rare incidents.
In 2007 author David Foster Wallace asked a provocative question in a column for The Atlantic which I think is relevant in this debate (though Wallace was writing about terrorism). “[W]hat if we chose to accept the fact that every few years, despite all reasonable precautions, some hundreds or thousands of us may die in the sort of ghastly terrorist attack that a democratic republic cannot 100-percent protect itself from without subverting the very principles that make it worth protecting?”
I thought of that quote yesterday when I saw the latest cartoon from the excellent XKCD web comic about self-driving cars:
We often think of ourselves as protected by laws and law enforcement. The truth is that the police aren’t omnipresent, and laws only work on people willing to follow them. What really keeps us safe in society is the fact that most of us are good people not inclined to hurt or murder or steal from one another.
We can always pass more laws, and pay for more law enforcement, but we will never be 100 percent safe from random monsters bent on mayhem.