By Dr. Thomas Patterson |
Americans were outraged to learn of the Nashville school shooting, where a transgender female shot and killed three children and three adults at a Christian school.
As always, a fierce political debate broke out after the murders. Gun control advocates, mostly Democrats, again made impassioned and often vitriolic pleas for more stringent gun laws.
It would be a wonderful world if there were some laws we could pass, some clever strategy to keep criminals from having guns. The big problem is that gun control laws don’t work, much as we might wish otherwise. If they did, Chicago, Baltimore, and other big cities, with their strict gun laws on the books, wouldn’t be the murderous hell-holes that they are.
It’s been pointed out many times, but it’s still true: violent criminals don’t follow the law. The victims are the law-abiding citizens who bring knives to a gun fight.
Conservative commentator Matt Vespa recently wrote a thoughtful column advocating instead for posting “resource officers” in every school. He notes that it took 14 minutes for police to arrive at the Nashville shooting, and that other killers have had even more time before facing significant deterrence.
On the other hand, there are many accounts of officers in schools who were able to prevent potential murders just by being present.
But there’s a problem. There are approximately 115,000 K-12 schools in the U.S., according to Dun and Bradstreet. If we lowball an estimate of $50,000 yearly to support an FTE, that means placing an officer in every school would, according to my back-of-the-napkin calculator, cost at least $5 and $6 billion annually.
That would be a justifiable cost if we were facing an epidemic of school killings, but the numbers tell a different story. Although the especially traumatic nature of school killings and extensive media coverage make the shootings seem commonplace, for the last 35 years, school shooting deaths have hovered around 20–30 per year, less than one for every two states.
From 2010 to 2019, there were 305 incidents involving guns and 207 deaths—or about 20 per year. Arizona, with about 2,700 schools, has had one shooting death ever, in 1987, in addition to four suicides and one accidental death.
For American schools, this computes to an annual average of one shooting death for every 4,000 schools. Full-time school resource officers would, over the course of a career, have an infinitesimal chance of preventing even one shooting.
Throwing money at a problem without a sober cost-benefit analysis, however passionately we may feel about it, seldom works out. A more practical solution would be to authorize one or more teachers per school to carry concealed weapons.
These teachers would be volunteers who are licensed carriers and would undergo additional training in the very focused area (confronting an armed criminal in a school setting) that their duty might entail. They would receive a modest stipend.
Would recruiting be a problem? I like to think there are enough teacher-heroes with a heart for their students who would be willing and up to the task if called upon. Remember, it has often been teachers who answered the call when peace officers cowered in emergency situations, as in Uvalde and Parkland.
Moreover, the deterrent effect of armed teachers would be inarguable. Schools would be changed from soft targets with idiotic “Gun Free Zone” signs into places where criminals with bad intentions would know they were risking their lives by entering.
Unfortunately, the teachers’ unions have pitched a fit. Their purported worries include the safety of their members, the qualifications of the volunteers, and the image of teachers involved with violence.
Their arguments are easily rebuffed, remembering that no solution is perfect, and the point is to pick the best available. But the unions are powerful, tough competitors in public debate, even when the facts and arguments are against them, as when the schools were shut down during COVID on their demand.
Wasting a few more billion in a nation over $30 trillion in debt may not seem like much, but we have to start somewhere. Let’s believe in our educators and look to American resilience and resourcefulness to protect our children.
Dr. Thomas Patterson, former Chairman of the Goldwater Institute, is a retired emergency physician. He served as an Arizona State senator for 10 years in the 1990s, and as Majority Leader from 93-96. He is the author of Arizona’s original charter schools bill.