Security Theater and School Shootings

Note: This story originally appeared on matthewoneil.org on March 5, 2018

Yesterday morning, while watching Face the Nation on CBS, the father of one of the students who died in the Parkland, Florida, school shooting was interviewed. In said interview, he advocated that any new gun laws were not going to solve the problem and didn’t address the real issue (I’m paraphrasing, of course).

What he did suggest, as he has in the past, is that we need to make schools “safer.” Part of that is arming teachers, apparently. If you don’t like it, put your kids in a “gun-free school zone.” I’m not sure what school is not designated as “gun free,” but I suppose that’s a separate issue. In terms of the “freedom of choice” that he advocates for in the same argument, I will offer this. My children go to a school that is a few miles away. There is a school that is only a few yards from our home that we know has better autism services than the one they’re presently enrolled in. If we transferred them to that school, let alone any other in our county, the tuition rate is anywhere from 10,500–14,000 USD. Per year. My family isn’t poor, but we can’t afford 10k+ per year in tuition.

But the question with that concern is will giving guns to school officials, teachers or marshalls, make our schools safer? Well, Marjory Stoneman Douglas had an armed officer at the school. Whatever the reason, he did not use the firearm to disable the shooter. Let’s not kid ourselves and pretend he was evenly matched either. And the shooter knew about the armed guard. More than that, there were several people with weapons near by who did not go into the school to stop the shooting. There were also armed guards at Columbine in the 1999. With a heavy increase in school security, school shootings have remained constant over the last 20–30 years.

Looking at bank robberies for a moment, in a recent year where there was almost 4,000 bank robberies, about 200 of those had armed guards on duty. Statistics have also found, not only do armed guards not deter robberies, they actually are more likely to happen in situations where guards with guns are present and cause more severe harm. As opposed to the 4% likelihood of an injury during a robbery with no armed guard, the rate went up to almost 13% with an armed guard.

In intense situations, a gun in the hand of a civilian (teacher and/or student) can be more dangerous than helpful. Law enforcement discourages the idea because, not only is there an increased risk the person wielding the gun can be mistaken for the actual perpetrator and shot as a result, but nervous hands can drop the weapon. It can fall out of a holster and shoot someone. Or, as in the recent case in Georgia, a teacher might also be a little on edge and fire the gun when there is no threat.

Multiple studies, including a recent one at Stanford University, demonstrate that the “good guy with a gun” theory the NRA constantly touts is inaccurate. In fact, having people respond to gun violence with a weapon increases harm and death by 13–15%. Also, the “good guy” could turn into a bad guy pretty easily and create a hostile situation when it isn’t necessary.

Want proof? George Zimmerman.

In a 2014 study of 160 incidents, armed “good guys” exchanged fire with gunmen to stop the violence successfully (either by wounding, killing, or forcing the shooter to take his own life). Meanwhile, in 21 situations, unarmed citizens used aggressive force to stop the shooter successfully.

People with guns, studies have found, are more likely to freeze and not act than to act against the shooter. In 2017, at a Fort Lauderdale airport, several armed officers did not fire back against a shooter. At the Las Vegas concert massacre, the shooter was unchallenged until police attempted to break into his hotel room…10 minutes after the shooting started. And in November of last year, a “good guy” with a gun didn’t respond to an incident until after the shooter had left, leaving 26 people dead in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

Oh, and metal detectors won’t deter school shootings. It’ll actually keep the guns out of the hands of the people entering the school, who may have it to protect themselves in school shooting situations, or in an attempt to protect themselves from bullying. People coming in to schools to fire on others aren’t going to disarm themselves at the door because of a metal detector. It will not only cost thousands of dollars per metal detector to place in schools, but do nothing more than create an illusion of safety. Meanwhile, teachers will not receive fair compensation and be given a heavier burden of feeling responsible for their student’s safety. Also, there is no evidence to support the idea that metal detectors will prevent, or lessen, the risk of gun violence in the schools.

Let’s look at another system in our country where we amped up security once unimaginable tragedy struck. We are certainly safer from attacks similar to the kind that happened on September 11, 2001. However, there are still significant gaps in our security that allow for other types of attacks that we are not prepared for. Like in July of last year, when a member of ISIS attempted to sneak a bomb onto a plane with a carry-on bag. It also led to an increase in prejudicial behavior towards people of Middle Eastern descent, including assaults while incarcerated. All things considered, reports shw that increased airport security, or the TSA, have not been successful in stopping terrorist attacks, let alone detecting them.

This is security theater, both in the instance of airport security and the idea of heightened security at schools. It is an attempt to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in feeling secure while doing nothing to prevent the actual cause of the violence, or even targeting useful preventative measures.

Sure, raising the minimum buying age might be a good stepping stone. But perhaps we need to make a stronger effort towards making it harder for people to obtain certain firearms. Stronger background checks? Count me in (something I agree on with Pollack). Mental health checks? You got it. But we need to strongly consider banning assault rifles of any kind.

Gun violence experts have been pushing for a return of the assault weapon ban. This is because, and hear me out here, gun violence dropped significantly while the ban was in effect!

Want to know what happened in 2004? The ban was lifted. Bans fell 37%, deaths by 43%, during the ban. After it ended? 183% increase in incidents, with a 239% increase in deaths. As I pointed out in my AR-15 post, a return to the ban won’t stop these incidents, but they sure as hell will make them less frequent and far safer.

MA Theology, BA Music. Author of “What Happens After Life?”. Mental health advocate with PTSD