Saturday, December 22, 2012

Friends like these...

Wayne LaPierre, spokesman for maker of poor quality first person shooter games the National Rifle Association, articulated something yesterday that is similar to what I've been analyzing here in suggesting that the solution to school shootings is putting an armed, trained security officer in every school. Said LaPierre: “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

The media was quick to point out, contra a claim I came across, that armed security personnel don't exactly have a perfect track record in stopping school shootings. As the Huffington Post notes, an armed security officer, Neil Gardner, was present at Columbine in 1999. HuffPo quotes from from the police report noting that
Gardner, seeing Harris working with his gun, leaned over the top of the car and fired four shots. He was 60 yards from the gunman. Harris spun hard to the right and Gardner momentarily thought he had hit him. Seconds later, Harris began shooting again at the deputy. 
After the exchange of gunfire, Harris ran back into the building. Gardner was able to get on the police radio and called for assistance from other Sheriff’s units. "Shots in the building. I need someone in the south lot with me."
Some reactions:

First, as I noted in a Facebook comment
back at the time of Columbine, most police departments (including Littleton), officers and security personnel were trained to handle mass shootings in progress like hostage situations: establish a perimeter, help the innocent and wounded and wait for the SWAT team to show up. That changed post Columbine to what's called the 'Active Shooter Protocol' in which any law enforcement or security personnel on the scene immediately converge on the location of the shooter and attempt to neutralize him. There is strong evidence from many subsequent mass shootings that mass shooters -- unlike say terrorists or hostage takers -- tend to surrender or take their own lives when confronted by law enforcement. That was the case in Newtown, for example.
I suspect the author of the HuffPo article and others know this, and not including that relevant fact in the reporting is disingenuous. Doing that does not contribute to an informed debate on the issue. Even if you think the police in schools thing is a bad idea, and even if Wayne LaPierre is an odious human being, omitting relevant facts so you can more easily dismiss what might be a reasonable position out of hand is a poor and dishonest rhetorical technique. Also, even if the track record of police in schools on stopping mass shootings isn't perfect, that isn't the right thing to consider. The right things to consider are 1) if having police in schools is better on whole than not having police in schools and 2) if it is, is it a good thing to implement as a matter of policy?

Secondly, as I noted in a subsequent comment
Also, hitting a target at 60 yards with a hand gun while taking fire isn't a sure thing by any means. All of... [the above] helps contextualize why the officer in the story fell back and called for backup and why neither he nor [an]other officer who was close by pursued the shooters into the building. That's exactly what they would have been trained to do at the time and would never happen today.
Well, would never happen today if it was a trained law enforcement officer.... seems more likely that it would still happen today if it was -- and I'm just speculating here at random -- a schoolteacher or an everyday citizen with a gun as opposed to someone with modern police training.
In other words, at Columbine, the trained security officers acted in a manner consistent with their training, even if the methods of training have now changed. The best methods the professionals currently have call for the good guys to rapidly converge on the shooter, at great personnel risk, and try to stop him, possibly in the face of superior firepower. That's an extraordinarily brave and difficult thing to muster the courage to do and I'm sure to actually do successfully. It strikes me as quite a big thing to ask of school personnel or the general public, and so I'm skeptical of that as matter of security policy and would reject it if put forth as the sole or ideal solution. I'm not about to ask a teacher to risk her life like that, nor would I be comfortable staking my child's (or any child's) life on her ability to do it successfully, even if there are some who are willing to try, as the heroic and unarmed principal at Sandy Hook did.

To be fair, Mr. LaPierre is not calling for that. He's calling for trained professionals. Police officers not only train and practice frequently to handle these situations, they have also accepted the professional responsibility for defending the general public and the risk of harm or death that comes with it. However, even if the police are willing and able to face those situations bravely and with full knowledge of the risks, that doesn't mean it's a good thing if they actually have to. I don't want cops being shot at by bad guys if it can be avoided and I don't take the prospect of a police officer losing his life while protecting me (or my child) against a bad guy with a gun lightly.

If Mr. LaPierre is right that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, that seems like a persuasive argument for asking the question of how to prevent bad guys from using guns against good people in the first place. Newark Mayor Cory Booker articulates some 'common sense' gun control measures that mostly seem to me to be reasonable, prudent and respectful of the general right to gun ownership framework I talk about here. He also claims they are supported by the overwhelming majority of the public and NRA members. He is quick to point out that none of those measures would likely have prevented a mass shooting like Sandy Hook, but I think most of us would prefer that criminals shoot less innocent people in general.

It is my opinion that common sense gun control is good but not sufficient and that the deeper roots of the gun violence -- particularly mass shootings -- are cultural and require long term cultural change and solutions, as well as an honest examination by gun owners and non-gun owners of the risks and drawbacks of gun ownership in individual cases within a framework of protecting the right to bear arms. If Mr. LaPierre is going to repeat the tenuous claim that a cultural fixation on violent videogames contributes to actual gun violence, I have a hard time understanding why a cultural fixation on the actual guns isn't an appropriate candidate for examination.

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