Imagine arriving at the airport to find that you now have a choice between two flights traveling to the same destination with the same estimated time of departure and arrival. The first flight will require you to pass through airport security and be screened by TSA agents. Upon boarding the plane, you see a prominent sign indicating that an armed undercover air marshal will be on the flight. The second flight will have no security screening for you or your fellow passengers, and you will proceed directly to boarding where you encounter a sign that reads, “This is a gun-free travel zone.”
Now, here are two rhetorical questions for you.
Which flight do you choose?
Why do we treat our school children differently than commercial air travelers?
With the horrific news coming out of Uvalde, Texas where 19 students and 2 teachers were fatally shot, the nation and its elected representatives have once again embarked on debating measures that would ostensibly make our nation—and especially our children—safer. Invariably the discussions center around additional gun laws ranging from the types of weapons and ammunition allowed to be legally purchased by the public, to enhanced background checks, to age requirements, to mandatory training, to “red flag laws” that would allow government officials to confiscate weapons without hearings for those thought to be a danger to themselves or others.
The history here is particularly dismal. Over the last twenty or so years there have been several school campuses where the carnage from mass shootings has been unfathomable. Places like Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA (my alma mater), Oikos University in Oakland, CA, Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, CT, UC-Santa Barbara, Rancho Tehama Elementary in Reserve, CA, and Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL are just a few of the locations that are permanently etched in our memories for the devastating loss of lives at the hands of crazed gunmen.
And after each of these nightmarish events, the reactions begin with immeasurable shock, which leads to “thoughts and prayers” to anger and frustration, to a call to action. Invariably that call to action is to seek out new gun laws. That has been no different with the most recent shooting in Uvalde.
Within days of the Uvalde shooting, Congress—as they are wont to do—–held hearings that included heart-wrenching testimony from parents and young survivors of the massacre. Soon after, the House of Representatives passed the Protect Our Kids Act on a mostly party line vote. The Act included such things as raising the minimum age to 21 to purchase certain weapons—including the one used in the Uvalde shootings. It also restricted the availability and use of large capacity ammunition feeding devices, and addressed safe storage of firearms. Finally, the Act bolstered measures combating illegal arms trafficking and making all weapons traceable. The Act is likely to fail in the U.S. Senate.
Once again, it is time to pose a few questions.
Why are we proposing legislation when there is essentially no chance of it becoming law?
Why are we passing new gun control laws when existing laws are not being enforced?
The answer to the first query is of course—Politics. In this case, Democrats can show they are heeding their constituents’ clarion call for “meaningful gun control” while at the same time scoring political points against those that stand in their way—mostly Republicans.
A definitive answer to the second question is a bit more problematic.
Perhaps the easiest type of gun crime to address is the one that occurs during the mandatory background check (yes, we already have them) prior to a legal gun purchase. Those seeking to purchase a firearm must submit Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) Form 4473. The background check is meant to weed out those not eligible to legally purchase a firearm. They include convicted felons, subjects of protective orders, and those convicted of disqualifying domestic-violence misdemeanors. To lie on this form is indeed a felony with the threat of prison time. And while the background check has prevented many ineligibles to legally purchase a gun, violating the law has gone essentially unprosecuted and unpunished. In fact, an audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 2017 showed that while there were well over 112,000 instances of ineligible applicants feloniously attesting to fraudulent information on their Form 4473, only 12,000 were actually investigated, and most astonishingly, only twelve prosecutions took place.
With the Justice Department reporting that nearly a third of those failing firearm background checks are arrested for other crimes withing five years, you would think that these are precisely the people we should be targeting for prosecution and incarceration if we are going to be serious on gun crimes.
And if we are truly interested in Protecting Our Kids, as the recent House of Representatives bill portrays itself in doing, why not actually protect them? Let’s be honest here. We can pass and amend all kinds of laws that limit the types of firearms available to be acquired legally and at what ages they should be allowed to be purchased. Yet, no matter what laws are enacted—and even enforced—the guns are already out there. Those twisted pieces of human detritus hell bent on outright slaughter of our precious children are going to find weapons—any weapons—and perpetrate their evil goals until someone physically stops them—or at least prominently threatens to do so.
Instead of the purely symbolic “Gun Free School Zone” signs that do nothing more than paint a bullseye on our vulnerable school campuses, it would be refreshing if not comforting to see a sign that reads,
“Within this school building there is at least one armed and trained staff member willing and able to protect the students and staff within”
In California, we had an initiative in that very direction. In 2018, District 3 California Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) introduced AB-2607 which called for an armed school resource officer on every elementary, middle and high school campus in the state. The cost of implementing such a program was reported to be measured in the hundreds of millions of dollars. And in the Golden State, where taxpayer funds are spent like the proverbial inebriated seafarer, can we seriously be concerned about any kind of spending that could thwart attempts on the lives of our children?
Predictably, AB-2607 was opposed by the California ACLU and by editorial boards such as the LA Times. The Bill died in the California Assembly.
The Los Angeles School district, which is the second largest in the nation, did have a program in place for armed police patrolling its public schools, but that program was drastically cut as the school board voted to slash school police funding by 35% and instead directed more funding to campus climate counselors and Black student achievement initiatives. The teachers’ union supported this cut in funding. The Oakland School District in addition to several others across the nation similarly reduced programs that had school resource officers on school campuses.
California Globe reported on Governor Newsom’s Thursday announcement that $156 million in grant money would be going to gun violence prevention programs across the state. It is apparent that none of those programs support security officers for our schools.
But just this weekend, an announcement came from the U.S. Senate that a bi-partisan framework has arisen that would include provisions centered around extra scrutiny for gun buyers under the age of 21, grants to states to implement aforementioned red flag laws and new spending on mental health treatment and school security. Whether spending on school security translates into actual funding to support armed officers to protect our children remains to be seen. With the evident support of at least ten GOP senators, this framework has a much higher chance of becoming law than what recently emerged from the House of Representatives.
We can continue to pass feel good marginally effective gun laws to temporarily placate a justifiably angry, frustrated, and frightened public. But until we also get serious about actually protecting our children, it is just a matter of time before we are once again armed with nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.”
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