Based on the National Rifle Association's press conference today, the solution to mass shootings like the murder of 26 first graders and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, last December is simple: turn our schools into prisons, complete with perimeter fences, security cameras, armed guards, and even armed teachers. But never talk about the guns used in such attacks.
As far as the NRA is concerned, forget about universal background checks, bans on high-capacity ammunition magazines and semiautomatic military-style assault weapons, or enhanced laws to stop illegal gun trafficking. In fact, just forget about guns whenever you're talking about a mass shooting.
And who does the National Rifle Association think should be entrusted to chart the course for school safety in the wake of Newtown? The answer is as predictable as it is galling: the NRA. With this bizarrely counter-intuitive assertion as a launching point, what's next? Why not replace the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) with the NRA while we are at it? The tone and substance of the measures put forward by the NRA at their press conference today are so out-of-sync with the horror of Newtown, Aurora, Tucson -- and the many mass shootings that have preceded these tragedies, let alone the ones that are certain to come -- that anyone within earshot should be deeply offended. When the next massacre occurs at a workplace or shopping mall or other public space, will the NRA offers its self-serving solutions for security in those locations? Where exactly does this end?
In the cynical and simplistic world of NRA gun-seller-in-chief Wayne LaPierre, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Never mind that the NRA and its financial patrons in the gun industry are the very ones that help arm the "bad guys" with the most lethal weapons available and most minimal scrutiny possible. The set of recommendations to make schools "safer" unveiled today only serve to demonstrate how desperate the organization is to change the subject away from the military-style assault weapons often used in such attacks and the unregulated gun industry that manufactures them.
The most striking indictment of the NRA's plan, however, is that it has already been tried and did not work. In fact there were two armed law enforcement agents present at Columbine High School during the 1999 assault by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold that left 15 dead and 23 wounded. They twice engaged and fired at Eric Harris in an effort to stop the shooting, but were unsuccessful because they were outgunned by the assault weapons wielded by the two teens."
According to the transcript compiled by the Jefferson County, Colorado, Sheriff's Office:
[Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Neil] Gardner [the school's community resource officer], seeing Harris working with his gun, leaned over the top of the car and fired four shots. He was 60 yards from the gunman. Harris spun hard to the right and Gardner momentarily thought he had hit him. Seconds later, Harris began shooting again at the deputy. After the exchange of gunfire, Harris ran back into the building. Gardner was able to get on the police radio and called for assistance from other Sheriff's units. "Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me."
Later, another officer fired back at Harris as the student shot out of a window. Again, according to the Sheriff Department's transcript:
Harris, leaning out of a broken window on the set of double doors into the school, begins shooting a rifle. [Jefferson County Deputy Paul] Smoker fires three rounds at him and the gunman disappears from the window. Smoker continues to hear gunfire from inside the building as more students flee from the school.
Among those who oppose the NRA's plan to turned our schools into armed camps are America's largest teachers unions. On December 24, 2012, Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, which represents more than three million public school employees, wrote:
As educators whose colleagues have given their lives protecting students, we challenge America to confront the evil done by guns to our children and young people. We need focused efforts leading to deliberative action, not staggeringly misguided ideas about arming educators and a mind-boggling proposal to place armed guards at every school in the United States.
In the same online forum, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers wrote:
Schools must be safe sanctuaries, not armed fortresses. Anyone who would suggest otherwise doesn't understand that our public schools must first and foremost be places where teachers can safely educate and nurture our students.
Why do I say that? Clearly the NRA hasn't visited schools in a while. They aren't one room anymore; most have multiple doors and wings. Is the NRA proposing an armed guard at every door? Every wing? Every floor? Outside every classroom? Where does it stop?
It is our collective responsibility to keep schools safe, to enact reasonable gun-safety laws,and to ensure that mental health services are available and accessible.
Contrary to the NRA's circular self-serving logic, the only way to stop a "bad guy" with a gun isn't just a "good guy" with a gun. It's making sure that the voices of the vast majority of Americans who support effective policies to prevent gun violence are heard across the nation and on Capitol Hill.