Uvalde: The Way Forward

In light of the recent school shooting in Texas, how do we best protect children?

In the aftermath of the school shooting in Uvalde, TX, the media were filled with opinions and accusations about what was behind the tragic deaths of 19 school children and two teachers: lack of religion, fatherlessness, a mental health crisis, video games, the culture in general, the cops screwed up, etc.

While there may be some truth to all the above, there is one prevailing reason coming from the left: our gun laws need a vast overhaul and we need fewer available firearms. Not surprisingly, the teachers unions are front and center in the gun-grab crowd. The annual NRA convention, held in Houston just days after the shooting, drew national teacher union leaders and their minions like flies to a sugar bowl. While many believe that one important way to protect children is to arm teachers, the unionistas reject this idea emphatically, claiming that putting guns in teachers’ hands “makes schools more dangerous.”

On a similar note, American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, a leading Karen of the “do-something” crowd, insists that guns are the problem. She took a group and protested outside Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s office and screeched, “Schools are supposed to be safe and welcoming places. There’s no amount of hardening you’re going to be able to do if an 18-year-old comes in with an AR-15, shooting 300 bullets a minute, and is wearing body armor.”

One of the stranger do-something ideas comes to us via The Atlantic, where senior editor Gal Beckerman asserts, “Students Should Refuse to Go Back to School” until gun laws change. “He writes that families should take the summer to “organize locally, build a set of national demands, and then refuse to go back to school in the fall until Congress does something.” Whatever that “something” is, it won’t change the fact that we live in a country that – for better or worse – now has more guns than people, and criminals will always find a way to get their hands on them.

Listening to the anti-gunners’ post-tragedy comments brings to mind the century-old adage, “Truth is the first casualty in war.” There has been a pile of nonsense written since the shooting. First, Randi Weingarten’s above statement is typical of the fallacies, as the union boss seems clueless that an AR-15 is a semiautomatic gun, which requires its user to pull the trigger each time a bullet is to be discharged. Firing 300 rounds a minute? Hardly.

Worse, Education Week is reporting that there have been 27 school shootings this year. This gasp-worthy news has been picked up by NPR and other news outlets around the country. But as Reason’s Robby Soave notes, “The problem here is that three very differently defined terms are being used somewhat incautiously and interchangeably: school shooting, mass shooting, and mass school shooting. Uvalde was a mass school shooting; the 26 previous tragedies at schools this year were not.” For example, a 16-year-old student was shot and injured outside of a school after a basketball game.

Soave goes on to cite a study conducted by criminologists for Scientific American, where only incidents that resulted in at least four deaths are included. They find that there have been 13 mass school shootings taking the lives of 146 people in the U.S. since 1966.

Along the same lines, “There is not an epidemic of mass shootings,” asserts James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University who has been tracking these events for decades and helps keep the AP/USA Today/Northeastern Mass Killing database. He adds, “What’s increasing and is out of control is the epidemic of fear.”

Fox also notes that the “annual odds that an American child will die in a mass shooting at school are nearly 10 million to 1, about the odds of being killed by lightning or of dying in an earthquake.”

Also, to put things into perspective, 1,053 children 14 and younger were killed in traffic accidents in the U.S. in 2019. And, as the CDC reports, fatal drowning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death behind motor vehicle crashes for children ages 1–14.

But no matter how unlikely the odds of a school shooting, children will go to school tomorrow, and we do need to make sure they are adequately protected. There are several reasonably simple steps we can take to lower the odds of another school shooting.

First, there should be only one way to get into a school and that entry way should be kept locked at all times, as should individual classrooms. The Uvalde killer just walked into the classroom, and then he locked the door. The naysayers whine that strict locking rules are “hardening” schools. Nonsense. Just like at home, your door is locked, and only opened if you know the person who wants to enter.

Second, restore campus cops. The recent binge-faulting of school safety officers by BLMers and fellow travelers for various school issues is just plain nuts. At least one heat-carrying trained cop should be present at all times on every campus in the country.

Third, as the Heritage Foundation explains, there are innovative community programs like Behavioral Intervention Teams that identify and address bullying and other forms of conflict before they turn violent. School districts should be able to determine how to best use resources to pursue mental health policies that meet local school needs, better serve students and engage parents.

Fourth, one thing the NRA and gun control advocates agree on is stronger enforcement of “straw laws,” which make it illegal to buy a firearm on behalf of someone who is legally prohibited from purchasing one himself. For a variety of reasons, these laws are not enforced in most instances. This must change.

Fifth, red-flag laws, already on the books in 19 states and D.C., should be invoked more aggressively. These laws allow police to temporarily confiscate a person’s weapons (and bar them from purchasing any) if a judge deems them a threat to themselves or others.

Last and perhaps most importantly, we need armed teachers at every school. These volunteer educators would go through a rigorous background check and proper police-type training, and then should be allowed to anonymously carry a concealed weapon on campus. In fact, at this time, 32 states allow teachers and staff to effectively protect children by packing a firearm at school. But sadly, few teachers enroll in these programs. Even in gun friendly Texas, just 300 of the state’s 370,000 teachers have signed up to be campus “marshals.” These programs must be promoted.

To put things into perspective, the Superdome in New Orleans has a seating capacity of 73,208 people—and more than “900 public safety personnel, as reported by the invaluable Just Facts. This amounts to one security guard for every 80 people. In a school of say 600 students, seven or eight teacher carriers would be equivalent.

While the notion that schools should be “gun-free zones” sounds good, it is simple-minded. In reality, mass public shootings occur in gun-free zones 98.8% of the time. Evil-doers don’t play by the rules, and the consequences can be devastating. On airplanes, armed marshals are placed anonymously on flights to safeguard us and our children. Also, after the 9/11 attacks, willing pilots were trained by the TSA to carry weapons in the cockpits of commercial airliners. And presidents’ kids have armed secret service protection at their school. Don’t all of our children deserve the same?

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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