Aurora, Colorado. Newtown, Connecticut. Taft, California.
These are just some of the names of towns that have recently become synonymous with horrific tragedies, the scenes of innocent adults and children’s lives being brought to a cruel, sudden end at the hands of a heartless, often deranged, gunman.
Across America, shooting attacks are, unfortunately, frequent events, but it was the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown on December 14, 2012 which took the lives of 20 young children and six adults, that has set off furious national discussion over the place of guns in schools and in our society.
Two polar opposite reactions have surfaced in the wake of the unspeakable tragedy. On one extreme, anti-gun groups are pushing for tougher legislation on gun-control laws, whereas on the other hand, pro-gun groups vehemently object to the curtailing of their 2nd Amendment Rights, and are advocating for more protection for citizenry. One side sees guns as instruments of destruction and terror, while the other says that guns keep us free and keep us protected.
Representatives of the different camps were quick to make their recommendations after the Sandy Hook shooting. New York governor Andrew Cuomo stated his intentions to tighten gun laws, whereas the National Rifle Association (NRA) suggested putting armed guards in every school in America. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” famously stated its spokesman, Wayne LaPierre. Texas Governor Rick Perry encouraged passing nationwide bills allowing teachers to carry firearms to work, and U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has argued in favor of armed security for schools. At the opposite end of the spectrum, in Connecticut, Greenwich Selectman Drew Marzullo publicly wrote to oppose armed guards in schools, calling them “a needlessly reactionary response to a horrific crime [that] does not make our town or our schoolchildren any safer.” Marzullo argued that a weapon in the hands of a non-law enforcement officer could result in even more violence, adding that a guard cannot be in all places at all times, and thus “preventing a mass shooting [is] infinitely slim.” Instead, he recommended assigning a police car to park in front of the school for a short time to give a “police presence” which would deter gunmen.
ARMED SCHOOL GUARDS
Officials in Fontana, California, however, reached a much different conclusion. After consulting with top safety experts, officials in the Los Angeles-area city determined that their students would be better protected with armed officers, whereupon the
Fontana Unified School District police purchased 14 Colt rifles. The high-powered weapons were distributed among 14 school policemen, who received 40 hours of training how to use them. The firearms are kept in a fireproof safe in the police station, and the officers must sign them out during each shift. In many instances these guards also pack sidearms. Ironically, the rifles were delivered just a week before the Newtown shootings,
One high-ranking officer conceded to the media that the plan is far from foolproof, noting that the police split their time among 44 schools. Still, authorities say that these armed school guards could prevent a massacre.
Fontana isn’t alone. Armed school security personnel have been employed in other California districts for many years, and similar plans are in place in other states. A Michigan law is working its way through the state legislature to permit Concealed Pistol License (CPL) holders to bring guns into schools, with the proviso that they receive appropriate training. In mid-March, officials in Georgia ended bans on guns in bars, churches, and college classrooms, and South Dakota responded to the Newtown killings by passing the first law in the United States specifically intended to permit school districts to arm teachers. Teachers in Utah and Texas are already permitted to carry guns, and, in fact, the Utah Shooting Sports Council recently organized a free instructional event in which 200 Utah teachers learned how to safely handle firearms. In Texas, the $85 fee for the Concealed Handgun License course was recently waived for 400 teachers.
Teachers and other adults are allowed to carry guns to school in 18 states, though in most instances some kind of advanced authorization is required (see sidebar).
According to the latest Department of Education survey, nearly a third of America’s 23,000 schools already have armed guards. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that more than twice as many Americans are in favor of armed security guards in schools, than not.
OUR STUDENTS, OUR COMMUNITY
Turning our attention to our own backyard, what can be done to protect students in our community?
Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind feels that the answer is tighter security measures, which will discourage potential intruders from infiltrating a school or synagogue. “Many public schools have security guards,” Hikind says, “[and] many are armed. You can’t just go walking around in the school; it’s difficult to do that. Sometimes it’s an officer, sometimes it’s a security person. Sometimes you have to pass through a person standing at a locked door.” Unfortunately, he laments, our community is wanting in security apparatuses, leaving hazardous security gaps that desperately need addressing.
On Feb. 5, Hikind met representatives of the Agudath Israel of America, along with representatives of several boroughs and local communities, to discuss ways to improve security for our schools, and to secure more funding for this purpose.
“We’re getting more cameras for the Boro Park community,” the Assemblyman reports, “and a lot of those will be in the vicinity of schools. There’s no reason why the issue of fair funding for schools should not apply to security, especially in the Jewish community where there’s always a threat. Thank Gd, nothing’s happened yet, but we have a need …. I hate to say this, and this doesn’t sound so good, but most yeshivas do not have any
As for the call from many lobbies and advocates for stricter firearm laws, Hikind is adamant that such moves will do little to stem shooting attacks.
“If you’re asking me whether more gun control is the answer, whether we need more gun laws, I’ll tell you flat out, quite simply, absolutely not,” he said. “All the rhetoric that’s going on nationally, if you’re asking me: ‘Boy, a ban on assault rifles is going to end violence’ – I’d say no. But we can ensure that guns – legal guns – are obtained legally. I’m not interested in saying, ‘Let’s just ban guns, and that’ll solve all of the problems.’ That I don’t think is the answer. “No one at my office had received a call yet and said, ‘You’ve got to control guns.’ The bad guys got a hold of a weapon and… they find a way to use it.”
Andrew Lawton, who has written on the gun controversy for the popular Huffington Post blog, stands by the notion that armed guards at schools or shuls can only benefit the community. “If there was one person with a gun at Sandy Hook, or at Virginia Tech – one well-trained person with a firearm to defend against criminals – there might not have been these tragedies,” said the television and radio pundit, who has also appeared in international media. “Otherwise, the children were defenseless.”
Advocates for armed guards often cite, like Lawton did, the gunman of the 2007 Virginia Polytechnic Institute massacre, who killed 32 and injured 17. And many note the contrast between this outcome and that of the shooting perpetrated by Charles Whitman in 1966, who fired from an observation tower at University of Texas, killing 17. A police officer shot and killed him, sparing further lives.
Looking across the ocean, most Israeli schools and preschools are protected by guards. And the terrorist who shot at students at Merkav Harav yeshiva in 2008 was stopped by somebody shooting back. Lawton says that Israel’s system of a armed guards in schools and plazas is “a classic example” of taking necessary precautions, adding, “I’m not sure that volume is necessary in America. But I don’t think guards are a bad idea.”
Of course, not everyone is pleased with the prospect of guns in the schoolyard – even in the hands of a trained officer. Many groups are lobbying for stricter gun laws overall in order to prevent violence. In their view, the best strategy is to make it impossible for potential shooters to obtain weapons, so armed guards become unnecessary.
The mission of New Yorkers against Gun Violence (NYAGV), says its website, is “to reduce gun violence through legislative advocacy and education…” The group was established in 1993 by Brooklyn mothers who wanted to take a stand after the shooting death of a teacher in Prospect Park.
“When felons, the adjudicated mentally ill, domestic violence criminals and other prohibited people have such easy access to firearms, something is terribly wrong,”
Americans are murdered with guns at the rate of 32 people a day, according to NYAGV, and they note that state and federal politicians have become deaf to the call of “suffering
of thousands of families.”
In 2008, more than 350,000 people were victims of gun violence across the United States and 9,484 people were murdered, they quote. Also in their arsenal of statistics is that guns kept in the home for self-protection are “twenty-two times more likely to be used to kill someone you know than in self-defense against intruders,” according to a 1998 study by the New England Journal of Medicine. They write, “Guns drastically increase the likelihood of accidental death and injury to children and other family members.”
On the flip side, various studies show or imply that increased gun ownership – or gun permissiveness – is correlated to drops in crime.
In a comprehensive study on firearm ownership, professors and legal scholars John R. Lott Jr. and David B. Mustard of the University of Chicago analyzed FBI crime data for each of the nation’s 3,045 counties from 1977-1994. Their report, The Right-to-Carry Concealed Guns and the Importance of Deterrence, concluded, “Non-discretionary concealed handgun laws are the most effective means of reducing crime.” When state concealed handgun laws went into effect, murder went down nearly
nine percent, and all other violent crimes were
And on December 31, 1995, the New York Times reported that the lowering crime rate at that time was being credited not to tougher gun laws, but rather to creative policing strategies.
The number of states with Right-To-Carry laws has more than doubled – from 17 to 37 states in the past two decades. And it is perhaps no coincidence that, according to Denver-based author, lecturer and researcher Gregg Jackson, total violent crime has decreased by 35 percent, dropping each year. Nationwide murder, assault, and armed robbery have all seen double-digit percentage drops in
The biggest problem, according to many pro-gun advocates, isn’t the 99.9 percent of law-abiding gun owners, but rather the lawlessness of those who acquire weapons through
In his book Guns in America: A Reader By Robert M. Muth (1999), J. Neil Schulman, a graduate of police training, says nearly three quarters of guns are obtained via the black market, based on a Bureau of Alcohol, Firearm and Tobacco study called “Protecting America, yes.” There are already 20,000 existing federal gun laws, and Schulman reckons that passing additional gun laws will not curtail lawlessness. Instead, it will make it tougher for lawful people to stop gun violence.
Andrew Lawton adds, “There’s no way possible you can reduce the number of shootings to zero, whether you have restrictive gun laws or not. You can’t eliminate that drive to inflict harm on other people. Guards are there because shootings exist, because there are evil people. The law cannot stop a criminal – someone who has already shown disdain for the law – but an armed guard can.”
There are currently 18 states that allow adults to carry loaded weapons onto school grounds with few or minor conditions:
Alabama (which bans possessing a weapon on school grounds only if the carrier has “intent to do bodily harm”)
California (with approval of the superintendent)
Connecticut (with approval of “school officials”)
Hawaii (no specific law)
Idaho (with school trustees’ approval)
Iowa (with “authorization”)
Kentucky (with school board approval)
Massachusetts (with approval of the school board or principal)
Mississippi (with school board approval)
Montana (with school trustees’ permission)
New Hampshire (ban applies only to pupils, not adults)
New Jersey (with approval from the school’s “governing officer”)
New York (with the school’s approval)
Oregon (with school board approval)
Rhode Island (with a state concealed
Texas (with the school’s permission)
Utah (with approval of the “responsible school administrator”)
Wyoming (as long as it is not concealed