Saturday, October 07, 2006

What Do We Do About School Violence?

The recent rash of school violence has everybody upset, and with good reason. Some have commented, in fact, that this type of violence is growing in frequency. When you have three of them in a week, it is easy to accept that assumption. However, I heard a little piece of an interview with an expert on domestic violence this morning (didn’t hear the entire piece, and did not get her name) and she said that actually we are not seeing an increase in violence in schools.

Data show that from school year 99-00 through 05-06 there have been 212 violent deaths in the nations schools, ranging from a low of 16 in one year to a high of 49 in another. That averages about 30 a year. This year so far, 13 of our children have died violent deaths at school, and that includes the most recent tragedy in Nickel Mines, PA. A previous seven-year period averaged nearly 39 deaths per year, which indicates a significant decrease. Nevertheless, there are far too many instances of violent deaths in our schools.

There are various proposals to stem school violence running from posting armed guards in schools and arming school personnel to tighter gun control.

Clearly, something should be done, but what?

What at first blush seems like a sure-fire solution, gun control, isn’t the answer for a couple of reasons, first and foremost because when our forefathers worked out the compromises on the Constitution way back in the 18th Century that inserted the first ten Amendments—the Bill of Rights—into the Constitution, they did so for very practical reasons. In those days nearly everyone owned and often carried guns. They used guns to hunt for food, and they used guns for protection. The colonists could not foresee how times would change, but they assumed that Americans should always have the right to keep and bear arms for their own defense, and they put special language in the Bill of Rights, the Second Amendment, to see that the right to keep and bear arms would forever be guaranteed.

The second reason is that the problem isn’t guns; the problem is people who want to harm other people. The solution, then, is to stop people from wanting to harm others, and if that isn’t possible, to find ways to stop the people trying to harm others before they can do it.

Gary Kleck is a Professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, and is a member of the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International USA, Independent Action, Democrats 2000, and Common Cause, among other politically liberal organizations. He is a lifelong registered Democrat, as well as a contributor to liberal Democratic candidates. He is not now, nor has he ever been, a member of, or contributor to, the National Rifle Association, Handgun Control, Inc. nor any other advocacy organization, nor has he received funding for research from any such organization.

A Web site entitled “Guns and Self-Defense by Dr. Kleck has some very interesting information, including this:

“The National Self-Defense Survey indicated that there were 2.5 million incidents of defensive gun use per year in the U.S. during the 1988-1993 period. To disarm noncriminals in the hope that this might indirectly help reduce access to guns among criminals is a very high-stakes gamble, and the risks will not be reduced by pretending that crime victims rarely use guns for self-defense.

“Serious predatory criminals perceive a risk from victim gun use that is roughly comparable to that of criminal-justice-system actions, and this perception may influence their criminal behavior in socially desirable ways.”

I don’t favor turning our schools into armed camps or fortresses. However, one way to dissuade some nut from walking into a school and holding a classroom of kids hostage at gun point and killing some of them is to have an environment where everyone knows that they will encounter armed individuals if they bring a weapon—any weapon—into a school with the intent to hurt or kill people. Most of these predators don’t expect to leave the school alive after they have committed their mayhem, but they also don’t expect to encounter resistance before they are able to do their evil deed, because they never have encountered armed resistance.

So, yes, let’s put armed guards in our schools, or let’s train and arm some or most school personnel. The knowledge that if you go down to the local middle school with the intent of killing people you probably won’t get far beyond the front door before somebody stops you or takes you out might give these nuts reason to reconsider their plans.

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