A week after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., the National Rifle Association called for immediately assigning armed police officers to every school in the country. It also called on Congress to appropriate the money to pay for doing so. Except for the cost — $10 billion or more a year probably — the proposal is a no-brainer. If trying to keep a mental case with a gun from shooting up your school is what you’re trying to accomplish, having one or more cops in the school at all times is the self-evident thing to do.
What are you supposed to do if you think a crime is under way or about to occur? Call the police, of course. What is the only better way to deter or abort a violent crime than calling the police? Having an armed police presence at the scene before the crime goes down, of course. This is particularly true in the case of multiple victim shootings, like the ones at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, which typically take the form of a sneak attack on unarmed victims. Law enforcement can’t arrive quickly enough to abort such crimes once they’ve begun, and the absence of law enforcement on the scene in advance means its deterrent effect is also absent.
Now a defining (albeit largely unspoken) principle of the gun control movement is that law enforcement should have a monopoly on protecting individual Americans from crime. This is the premise behind Rep. Claire Levy’s bill to ban concealed carry on campus, for example.
So you would think gun control advocates would be the first to agree that putting cops in the schools to prevent massacres is an obvious course of action. But you would be wrong, that’s for sure. The initial reaction of gun control freaks and progressives generally to the NRA’s proposal for police in the schools ran the gamut from disdain to ridicule.
However, a couple of weeks after the NRA made its proposal, pollsters found that a majority of Americans agreed with the NRA. A Pew Research poll found that by a two-to-one margin (64 percent to 32 percent) Americans favored “putting armed security guards or police in more schools.” A Rasmussen poll found that 54 percent of Americans “would feel safer” if their child’s school had an armed security guard. For parents with school-aged children the figure was 62 percent.
So some gun control advocates and progressives are trying a different line of attack. They’re playing the race card. They’re claiming that putting more cops in the school will discriminate against black and Hispanic students. How? Here’s how Jamelle Bouie, writing on The American Prospect website, puts it: “Schools with more police might be safer from violence, but there are also unintended consequences to exposing students to law enforcement. ‘With the increase of police in schools, we’ve seen a dramatic increase in school-based student arrests, particularly of youth of color,’ writes Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, a civil-rights group. ‘Instead of addressing infrequent, serious threats to safety, police officers in schools often respond to minor student misbehavior by handcuffing, arresting and criminalizing the very young people they are intended to protect…’”
Or, as Aaron Kupchik claimed in a Washington Post opinion piece, the presence of police officers in schools “has effects that help transform the school from an environment of academia to a site of criminal law enforcement … Minorities are especially vulnerable to the overpolicing that can take place in schools, which increases both the racial-academic divide and racially skewed arrest rates …”
In other words, if cops are put in schools to prevent massacres, which are rare, they will spend most of their time enforcing the law and keeping the peace, and the burden of law enforcement and peace-keeping will fall disproportionately on black and Hispanic students.
I suspect there is some truth in this analysis, but it still takes a lot of chutzpah for gun control advocates to argue that cops shouldn’t be put in the schools because if they are it will result in more black and Hispanic students being arrested. What in God’s name do they think will be the effect of passing tougher gun control laws on black and Hispanic communities? Black communities in places like Washington, D.C., and Chicago have horrific homicide rates, rates six or seven times higher than those in the cities’ white communities. They also have proportionately more gun crime, like armed robberies, than the white neighborhoods. Many, if not most, of the guns used in these crimes are acquired illegally, both because Washington and Chicago already have extremely restrictive gun laws, and because a disproportionate number of young, black and Hispanic men have criminal records and therefore can’t purchase guns legally. Moreover, otherwise law-abiding citizens in these cities buy guns illegally, not in order to commit crimes, but for self-defense.
Any imposition of new gun laws, or any increase in the enforcement of existing gun laws, will hit black and Hispanic men disproportionately hard. The people who are going to be screwed by a crackdown on guns are not the white males progressives love to hate; it’s young black and Hispanic men.
Gun control advocates, starting with President Obama, should have the honesty to acknowledge that.
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.