Militarized Middle Schools?

M16 Perhaps someone can explain to me why the Washoe County School District (Reno/Sparks, NV) needs eight M16 semi-automatic rifles? [RGJ]  I’d prefer an explanation which does not incorporate references to the tragic October 21, 2013 shooting at Sparks Middle School.  A middle school teacher lost his life, and another student was injured when a disturbed 12 year old brought a gun to school, fired shots on the playground, and then turned the gun on himself.  Adding more semi-automatic fire to the semi-automatic fire coming from the shooter doesn’t seem like a productive strategy for minimizing casualties.

And, that’s the point – isn’t it? To minimize casualties in school shootings. The M16, as I understand it, is designed for either single shot or three round bursts, and has a maximum effective range of 550 meters.  The rifle uses 5.56x45mm ammunition, and is capable of a sustained rate of fire of  12-15 rounds per minute; the magazine capacity is 30 rounds.  That seems to be a rather remarkable amount of fire power for a school setting.

But, but, but What If The Shooter Has An AR 15???  Yes.  And, then what if the shooter has an Anzio 20mm sniper cannon? The possibilities for escalation are endless in this illogical loop.  Keep this up long enough and we’re talking about calling in aerial bombardment and a unit from Special Forces.

But, but, but most members of the Armed Forces are trained to use some version of the M16, and if the school district officer is a veteran he’d be trained with this weapon?  Yes, again. But the question still remains, under what protocol would be weapon be used?  Does it really require an M16 to stop a shooter?  And, if the school district officer isn’t a veteran?

But, but, but we want schools to be safe, and why not equip our school police with the necessary weapons?  Yes, safety is part of the mission statement of the Washoe County school police force:

“The Mission of the Washoe County School District Police Department is to provide a safe and secure learning environment, which promotes an atmosphere of trust between the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community and the police department. Working hand in hand with local, county, state and federal agencies, the Washoe County School District Police Department is committed to minimizing its schools from violence, weapons, substance abuse, vandalism, and other hazards.”

Does is really engender “trust” when students witness school police armed with M-16’s? What does that say to members of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural school community?  There already seem to have been some trust issues leading to litigation, and the firing of a former School Police Chief. [2News]  Is there some basis for fearing the Washoe County School District might be called upon to assert the force of an M-16 to combat crime?

If we take 100 as the ‘national average rate’ and compare the rates for neighborhoods in the WCSD, the area looks reasonably safe.  The total crime risk is reported at 75, well below the national average. Personal crime risk is 83, murder at 95, rape at 78, robbery at 81, assault at 91, property crime at 78, larceny risk at 89, auto theft at 98, indeed the only risk rate higher than the national average is burglary at 101. [P2Homes]

The homes from which the students come seem to be in a region not known for advanced levels of violent crime, so what about the infractions which lead to suspensions or expulsions in the school district? The last accountability report (pdf) from the District show 1,302 incidents to ‘violence to students’ (read fight), 25 violence to staff, 78 weapons infractions (type not specified), 19 incidents of distributing controlled substances, 392 incidents of possession of controlled substances, 134 alcohol related incidents, and 188 infractions related to bullying, intimidation, or harassment.  If fighting on school grounds is the number one way to get sent home, possessing contraband drugs is number two, bullying etc. is number three, and possession or use of alcohol is number four, then why would the school district need eight M-16 rifles to keep order?

Granted one might break up a playground fight quickly with a few rounds from an M-16, but there are other time tested ways to do this without armament.

However, in the Power Up atmosphere of law (and now school policy) enforcement school districts are collecting military gear, and its not just Washoe County – which at least didn’t ask for an MRAP as did the LA Unified District.  [AP]  The atmosphere in question is on display in the comments from a Florida school district:

“In Florida, Rick Stelljes, the chief of Pinellas County schools police, said Wednesday that the county has 28 semi-automatic M16 rifles. They have never been used, and he hopes they are never needed. But, he said, they are “something we need given the current situation we face in our nation. This is about preparing for the worst-case scenario.” [AP]

Given WHAT current situation we face in our nation? There are some in the Wet-Pants Crowd who perceive threats constantly – ISIS is coming! The New World Order is Coming… with Blue Helmets and Black Helicopters! The Feds are Coming!  Most citizens recognize these threats for what they are… fear mongering and conspiracy shilling.  And, there’s the parent’s nightmare of a mass school shooting amid the mix.  Numbers offer some solace.  As of 2011 there were 98,817 public schools in this country, to which we can add another 33,366 private ones [DoEd] for a total of 132,183 elementary and secondary schools nationwide.

If we look at the number of school shootings from 2013 to 2014 there are 35 incidents in which students in public or private schools were involved.  Of those 35 incidents 5 were single victim suicides.  Only one, the August 20, 2013 incident at the Ronald McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Georgia, resembled the horror of Newtown, CT.  During that confrontation unarmed school employee Antoinette Tuff called authorities and talked the gunman down.

For some perspective, consider that there were 35 incidents during 2013-2014  (or 30 if we exclude the single victim suicides) in 132,183 schools nationwide.  A total of 16 individuals, adults and children, lost their lives in 2013-14 school shootings, and one more of those must be classed as a suicide.  32 people, children and adults, have been injured.  As of the Fall 2013 there were 15,874,000 youngsters enrolled in public and private schools in this country.   Pull out the handy plastic brains, divide 30 by 132,183 and watch the exponent laden result: 2.2695e-4.  A similar thing happens when we take the number of fatalities (16) and divide by the number of students (15,874,000) and the result is 1.0079e-6.  Those numbers suggest that the odds of being involved in a lethal incident in a public or private school in the U.S. are really rather small.

Somehow these numbers, with their attendant scientific notation,  don’t offer much substance to the argument that in “these troubled times” school districts need MRAP vehicles and M-16 rifles.

Instead of arming school district police to the teeth, perhaps we could better focus our attention and resources on (1) removing guns from places where youngsters can get easy access? Or, (2) redoubling our efforts to reduce gang membership? Or, (3) provide adequate counseling services for troubled students? Or, (4) improving communication about the health and safety risks associated with gun ownership?  The Washoe County School District shows no inclination to return the 8 M-16s, and it assuredly doesn’t want to use them,  but if the actual risks are so small and the damage to the district’s image in the community could be so large – why did they participate in the militarization of their own school police force?

Comments Off on Militarized Middle Schools?

Filed under education, Gun Issues

Comments are closed.