Thursday, April 24, 2014
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Five Concerns About Armed Guards in Schools

Congress should "act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation." -Wayne LaPierre, CEO, National Rifle Association (NRA)

Shootings in our schools are tragic, and each of us has the urge to "do something," but I have major concerns about placing armed guards in our schools.

1 -- Armed Guards Not Likely to Prevent All Attacks -- It's difficult to find examples where armed guards prevented a mass shooting. For example, at the Columbine and Virginia Tech school shootings, there were armed guards, but they weren't able to prevent those tragedies. Remember: The shooter will pick the time and place of attack, and would surely attempt to avoid striking when (and the specific locations where) armed guards are patrolling.

2 -- Even if Armed Guards Are Present in All Schools and Completely Effective, the Cure Might be Worse than the Disease -- The U.S. has about 100,000 schools, so we're discussing on the order of 150,000 armed guards (some schools would be large enough to warrant several guards), for 75 million students, about 200 days a year. There would be lots of opportunities for deadly incidents: Armed guards misreading student behavior (e.g., a student mistakenly shot while playing with a toy gun); Student fights where a student grabs the guard's gun; A mass shooting scenario where students are killed in crossfire; or, a nightmare scenario where a psychotic guard massacres students.

Although mass school shootings (with the loss of innocent young lives) are tragic, recall that the U.S. averaged 10 student deaths per year in mass school shootings over the past 10 years. With 150,000 armed guards, in contact with about 75 million students 200 days/year, it won't take many incidents for more than 10 students per year to be killed in armed guard-related situations. Perhaps I'm overly pessimistic, but this risk should be seriously considered.

3 -- Our Children Are Priceless, But There Are More Efficient Ways to Save Young Lives -- In round numbers, 150,000 guards at a cost of $100,000/guard (that's fully loaded costs, including benefits, costs of training and whatever management infrastructure is needed) would require $15 billion/year. Assuming the armed guards are completely effective and we have no guard-related incidents, based on past trends we'll save about 10 young lives per year, at a cost of $1.5 billion/life. (As a side point, schools are one of the safest places for children. For ages 5-18, about 20 students total are killed in schools each year, out of a total of 55 million students in this age group.)

Consider that about 4,600 young people (between the ages of 10 and 24) commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and about 2,000 of these suicides involve firearms. Another 5,000 young people (again, between the ages of 10 and 24) are murdered, and (as noted above) very few of these murders happen in schools. And don't forget the 1,700 young people (between the ages of 0 and 17) who die each year from neglect or abuse (80 percent of these are under 4 years of age). It doesn't take a major leap of faith to believe that investing $15 billion in comprehensive youth suicide, murder and neglect prevention programs (instead of armed guards) would save hundreds of young lives instead of about 10 lives per year.

4 -- Arming Custodians, Teachers and Volunteers -- While less costly, this approach deepens my concern that the cure might be worse than the disease. Armed custodians, teachers and volunteers will have less vetting and training than a professional security force, and would likely increase the risk of deadly incidents. America has about 7 million teachers. If even a small percentage arm themselves, it wouldn't take many incidents to exceed the current death toll from mass school shootings.

5 -- It's Not Clear Why Armed Guards in Local Schools Should be a Federal Responsibility -- It's ironic that the NRA board -- dominated by the GOP/Tea Party's conservative "small government" wing (e.g., Grover Norquist) which normally insists the Federal government can't do anything right -- is demanding a new "big government" Federal program.

Police, schooling and related activities have typically been within the domain of local government. If Boston wants armed guards in its schools, but Houston believes they're unnecessary, the Federal government shouldn't impose its will on local governments about this issue. The local community is in the best position to consider the potential risks, benefits and costs of its approach.

I doubt that armed guards in schools are the approach we should take. But I recognize that others may feel differently. Some people, for example, may believe worse incidents (than have already occurred) lie ahead and armed guards would prevent future tragedies. I urge everyone to seriously consider my concerns outlined above, before making rash decisions affecting the lives of our young people.

America has a real problem with gun violence. About 30,000 Americans die each year from firearm-related injuries (and, about 60 percent of this total are suicides). School deaths from mass shootings are a very small part of this problem. I urge all Americans to join New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, 800 other mayors (Democratic and Republican), and almost 1 million fellow Americans in Demanding a Plan from Congress and President Obama to reduce gun deaths.

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