Tag Archives: School Shootings

Isabelle Robinson Takes Us To School

Nag Nag Nag.  The kids at Parents Promise To Kids have picked up 9,725 parents and family members for their contract project as of right now.  We can do a bit better. They should break 10K today.  Take a minute to make a difference.

Reading material:

This isn’t recommended reading — it should be required reading.  Isabelle Robinson, a senior at Stoneman Douglas HS speaks to the ill informed suggestion that students are responsible for “making peers feel better,” and thus less likely to commit atrocities.  She’s right.  The “WalkUpNotOut” proposal is a distraction, and for my money a very dangerous distraction.   Let’s agree, if only for the sake of the argument, that discussions about mental health and adolescent issues are a diversion from the very real problem of access to guns.

In the aftermath of the Columbine massacre, (April 20, 1999) in which two very disturbed youngsters hauled firearms, and propane tanks, into their high school with every intention of either shooting or blowing their cohorts to bits, we discussed “bullying” ad nauseam — to the detriment of closing the gun show loophole.  No, the kids at Columbine almost twenty years ago were no more responsible for the actions of the criminals than the young people in Parkland, FL are responsible for the damage done to their lives.  Robinson puts it succinctly:

“This deeply dangerous sentiment, expressed under the #WalkUpNotOut hashtag, implies that acts of school violence can be prevented if students befriend disturbed and potentially dangerous classmates. The idea that we are to blame, even implicitly, for the murders of our friends and teachers is a slap in the face to all Stoneman Douglas victims and survivors.”

Please don’t misunderstand me, anti-bullying programs and rules are positive and useful.  However, never mistake an exercise in victim-blaming for a substantive suggestion toward solving our gun violence problems. Never mistake assigning “mental illness” as the culprit when it’s access to guns that increases the lethality of the incidents. Surely no one is suggesting that teens acquire the nuanced information in the current literature on the subject of violence and mental illness.

“Taken together with the MacArthur study, these papers have painted a more complex picture about mental illness and violence. They suggest that violence by people with mental illness — like aggression in the general population — stems from multiple overlapping factors interacting in complex ways. These include family history, personal stressors (such as divorce or bereavement), and socioeconomic factors (such as poverty and homelessness). Substance abuse is often tightly woven into this fabric, making it hard to tease apart the influence of other less obvious factors.”  [Harvard Health]

If the experts admit it is difficult to analyze and evaluate the factors — obvious and obscure — involved in mass killings, then certainly it doesn’t do to prescribe such a bromide as ‘if you’d only been nicer to  him…’ in the present instances of gun violence.

Of all the assaults on the Parkland, Washington DC, Chicago, Los Angeles (etc) students who spoke so eloquently on the subject of gun violence during the March for Our Lives rallies, none seems more insidious than to suggest that they could have ‘prevented’ the heinous crimes IF they had been proactive little saints.  They are the victims.

Has anyone suggested that the concert attendees in Las Vegas might have been more involved in the mental illness factors contributing to the slaughter on October 1, 2017?  Were the movie theater goers in any way responsible for the shooting in Aurora in July 2012?  Were the church members responsible in any way for the outrageous shooting in Sunderland Springs, TX November 5, 2017? The answer if obviously a resounding “no.”  However, too many people have expended too much wind re-litigating the diversionary arguments of Columbine.  I’d urge a careful reading of Isabelle Robinson’s essay, it’s definitely an “A” grade example of student writing. And, an “A” grade rebuttal to the distraction tactics of the radical gun lobby.

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Single Issue Voters on the Horizon

I’m old enough to have been around when Mothers Against Drunk Driving was founded on September 5, 1980.  (Actually, I’m old enough to have been around for lots of things except The F/lood)  I’m also aware of an historical point which might be of interest to current gun reform advocates.   One of the issues faced by the organization as it sought to reduce the number of vehicular accidents caused by impaired drivers was how to differentiate between (1) legislation to control drinking and driving; and (2) measures to control alcohol consumption. [PSU.edu pdf]  To exactly no one’s surprise, attempts to address the second issue faced opposition from the alcohol and “hospitality” sectors. When MADD sought to promote legislation to reduce the BAC to .08 the industries fought back saying these measures would unfairly punish “social drinkers.”  Fast forward to the gun law reform issues.

Insert “law abiding gun owners” for “social drinkers” and we can see the problems faced by reformers taking on the NRA/gun manufacturers.  In actuality there are multiple facets of the gun issue which present hurdles for reformers. However, there is much room for hope.  For starters, the youngsters participating in Walk Outs, and who will presumably be the leaders in March For Our Lives, have already put a face on the problems.

Statistics are useful, but too often insufficient to move public sentiment — we know that on an average day in the United States of America 96 people will be killed by guns; that about 13,000 people per year will die by firearm; and, sadly each day an average of 7 children and teens will be killed by a gun. [ETres] Broadcasters have contributed by keeping the photographs of the deceased on air after mass shootings, but other victims of gunfire are relegated to the obituary pages, to be forgotten almost before the funeral services are completed.  More silence comes as part of the reaction to the fact that 62% of gun deaths in this country are suicides. [ETres]

Further progress may hinge upon how reformers cope with the “social drinker” analogy.  A social drinker is a social drinker until he gets behind the wheel of a 4,000 pound sedan and hits another human being causing injury or death.  A law abiding gun owner is a person who owns firearms, until he pulls out the gun and shoots another human being — or beings.

For all the possible factors leading to an increase in public awareness of impaired driving, and a reduction of impaired driving from a 1973 rate of 36.1% to a 25.9% rate in 1986, [PSU.edu pdf] it isn’t too difficult to infer a correlation to MADD publicity and awareness campaigns, leading in turn to the enaction of stronger statutes to curb drunk driving in the 1980s.  Similarly, continued publicity of gun violence should lead to consideration and eventual enaction of laws to reduce the lethality of gun incidents.  What is needed is organizational structure to capture and extend the energy demonstrated by young people who are quite evidently fed up with being educated behind “secure” walls and being shot at — either in their schools or on their streets. There are several organizations already in place to accomplish this.  [Everytown, the Brady Campaign, Moms Demand Action, Giffords.Org, Giffords Law Center, and an umbrella group Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.] Unlike the original MADD efforts, the organizational structures are already in place.  This situation should present an advantage for gun law reform advocates.

One of the most impressive portions of the young people’s efforts is their focus on political action, specifically getting young people registered to vote.  For those not yet eligible to vote, students are encouraging other students to write and call their governmental representatives.  This activity is a proven way to get people involved and to keep them activated.  Student action in concert with the existing organizations’ efforts presents a strong start for reform efforts.

The strong start doesn’t mean there aren’t significant obstacles to effective reforms.  The first tactic of the NRA is nearly always a stall game.  While the clichéd line “It’s too early to talk about this…” has been swatted down by the Parkland, FL students, that doesn’t mean there won’t be suggestions to “study the problem via the good offices of a commission.”  Paralysis by analysis is a standard NRA tactic to avoid action.

The second tactic is diversion.  It really isn’t Guns, it’s mental illness, it’s violent video games, it’s some elusive factor which is the “root cause.”  The argument goes that if we don’t address the “root cause” then we will not really “solve the problem.”  The problem is simply that too many people have access to entirely too much firepower, and some of these people kill other people.

The third prominent tactic is the snail paced regulatory and subsequent litigation route. For example, instead of outlawing the sale of bump stocks the White House has opted to advise departmental creation of rules under the rubric current Federal legislation.  The development of rules is time consuming, and is often followed by even more time consuming litigation.  This shirt-tail cousin of paralysis by analysis is an effective way for politicians to posture in support of gun regulation without actually doing anything.

The kids have it right:  The only way to avoid paralysis by analysis, “root cause” distractions, and regulation/litigation is at the ballot box.  Candidates for public offices can ignore, dismiss, or diminish their appeals, but will do so at their electoral peril.

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Trump’s Next Stupid Idea: Arms Adept Teachers

The flow continues. One idiotic idea after another. Flowing freely from the Oval Office, billowing forth from the West Wing. The next evermore moronic than its predecessor.  And now — armed teachers. Yes, we’re back to the old NRA recipe for carnage:  Expand the number of guns in public spaces.  Churches, concerts, schools, streets…

Bring In The Cavalry?

The occupant of the Oval Office appears to believe that the teaching ranks are filled with military veterans, and further that these veterans want to have guns in their classrooms.  First off, there aren’t that many.  In a 2013 USA Today article we find that Teach for America, which prioritized recruiting teachers from the ranks of military veterans had a “cadre of 100” veterans.  The number may now be approximately 320. [Vox]  Thus far it’s been difficult to find statistics tracking the number of military veterans who are currently teaching in our public and private schools.  The US has about 14,000 school districts. [Census]

Secondly, the argument assumes that veterans advocate having firearms in their classrooms.  This premise is also questionable.  Three veterans spoke to this issue in this Esquire article.  None seemed to see the proposal in a positive light, and their insights into situations, training, and human reactions are enlightening. Veterans interviewed by Buzzfeed described the idea as a tactical disaster.  The “tactical disaster” argument is further buttressed by the combat veteran who spoke with Charlotte 5.   There seems to be a vast gap between the advocates of the armaments escalation and the veterans with actual combat experience.  I’m betting the combat veterans can provide more practical guidance on this issue.

Comic Book Characters

The notion that some Hero-Teacher armed with a Glock will leap from the shadows of a chaotic hall way and mow down an intruder firing an AR-15 is straight out of some comic book/Hollywood rendition of fantasy fiction.  As the veterans cited above remark, there is no way to predict with 100% certainty how anyone will react under fire, and this is with 52 week per year training.  At this point our Comic Book Hero has to embody the Hollywood concept that the hero always hits the target, and the villain always misses.

Even the US military doesn’t require that standard.   We should remember that in Phase One of military weapons training the trainee doesn’t even fire the weapon, it’s all understanding the mechanical and operational characteristics of the gun.  It isn’t until Phase Two that the trainee pulls the trigger.  Qualification is another matter:  “In order to qualify, you must hit at least 23 out of 40 pop-up targets at ranges varying from 5 meters to 300 meters (approximately 80 to 327 yards).”  That calculates to a 57.5% accuracy rate.

Speed and accuracy are not a good mix.  The speed of firing reduces the accuracy.  The classic study done by the RAND Corporation in 2008 for the New York City Police Department should be consulted for additional information and for the conclusions it drew which remain valid.

“The NYPD reports hit-rate statistics both for officers involved in a gunfight and for officers who shoot at subjects who do not return fire. Between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate was 18 percent for gunfights. Between 1998 and 2006, the average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was 30 percent. 

Accuracy improves at close range, with officers hitting their targets 37 percent of the time at distances of seven yards or less; at longer ranges, hit rates fall off sharply, to 23 percent.  [AJC]

Only by assuming the Comic Book Hero with a Hollywood Level of Fictional Accuracy, can a person argue that arming civilians is a viable option for protecting children.

What Should Be The Last Word

From a combat veteran:

My goal here is to bring the reality of the situation to the forefront. Politicians who are blasé about the complexity and rigorous training required for these types of engagements and who underestimate the physical, physiological and psychological toll a combat environment brings to those involved, should be forced to place themselves in these types of simulations.

Ultimately, I’m saddened by the fact that we’ve reached a point where people in this country want teachers to arm themselves as moonlight deputies. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m confident that arming teachers isn’t the answer—now or ever.


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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?

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Enough Said, It’s Time To DO Something

There’s been enough said already.

Heller Yellow Stripe

and so did:

S 649 Background Check Bill

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