In American political culture, we prove we’re concerned about something by spending money on it. Americans are obviously concerned about protecting schools from more mass shootings after Newtown. But in this case, the best response may not be the most expensive.
It’s not clear why Newtown would be seen as a mandate to devote more resources to crime prevention. Yes, it was an horrific act. Our hearts went out to the young victims and their families.
Yet violent crimes have fallen in America over past years. There has been no uptick in gun violence and the incidence of mass shootings is stable. Still, the debate over guns and school safety has dominated our political discourse for over a month now.
As always, the assumption is that it’s going to take some money. “The responsibility of the Legislature is now clear: fully fund school safety” said one public commentator, evidently speaking for many.
But more government money doesn’t always solve problems. Sure, we went to the moon, we discovered how to treat AIDS and we ameliorated the misery of old age. Yet we spent trillions trying to eradicate poverty and all we have to show for it is a permanent, dependent underclass. We shoveled money by the boatload into dysfunctional schools but achievement levels haven’t budged. We’ve pumped billions into politically popular green energy schemes that seem no closerthan before to supplying real energy needs.
Have we learned from our misspending? State Senate Minority Leader Chad Campbell has stepped up with a plan to spend a lot more on school safety. His $261 million Arizona Safer Schools, Safer Communities Plan would include more money for “school resource officers”, more money for video equipment and security gates and even more money for counselors.
That seems like a lot to prevent school mass shootings, since statistically they don’t exist in our state. A more sensible solution would be to permit each principal to authorize one (or two) school employees with a concealed carry permit to bring firearms to school, a variation on AG Tom Horne’s idea. They would be trained, of course, and anonymous.
It’s at least arguable that this plan would be a more effective deterrent to mass shooters then an identifiable guard. Shooters know that once they have neutralized the guard, they are effectively back in their desired “gun free zone”. But an unidentified, invisible heat packer or two would be harder to account for.
The cost would be modest. Concealed carry permit holders would probably provide this public service for minimal reimbursement, since most of the weapons carriers would never bring out their firearm in the course of a career.
Ironically some of the criticism of Horne’s idea is that it doesn’t cost enough money. “We can’t protect our children on the cheap”, you know.
Others argue that it’s too risky to add more guns to our school environment. But the record of concealed carry holders has been remarkably positive. They tend to be stable individuals with strong feelings about using guns responsibly. They virtually never use their weapons in road rage situations or nonviolent personal disputes. On the contrary, the strong statistical evidence is that crime rates fall when there are more carriers around.
But can armed citizens stop mass shootings? Like most questions around gun-control, both sides claim mounds of statistics support their position. Ed Schultz of MSNBC recently reported that “we’ve never had a civilian stop a mass shooting”.
It’s a little more complicated. His definition of a mass shooting is four or more deaths. But there are scores of incidents where armed citizens have stopped shootings in theaters, restaurants, churches and schools before four people were killed – two in last December alone. The take-home is that our children would be safer with a trained, armed adult on the premises.
Obviously, we want our to be as safe as possible at school, but our efforts to prevent mass shootings should be appropriate and, yes, cost-effective. We’re in a lot of trouble now from our habit of spending public money as if it were limitless. It just doesn’t make sense to spend hundreds of millions so politicians can appear to be doing something.
• East Valley resident Tom Patterson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired physician and former state senator.