“Lockdown High”: Brought to You by the NRA

Yesterday, the “National School Shield Task Force,” a 12-member study group commissioned by the National Rifle Association, released its recommendations [.pdf] for heightened school security in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings. The Washington Post’s coverage quotes the head of Children’s Defense Fund, who accuses the NRA of “prey[ing] on America’s fears” and trying to turn the nation’s schools “into armed fortresses.” 

Not long ago, I’d have been shocked to find myself agreeing with Marian Wright Edelman over Wayne LaPierre, but in this case, the lady has a point. Since  last December, the NRA leader has outdone left-leaning “children’s advocates” in fomenting legislative hysteria “for the children.” As I noted in Tuesday’s Washington Examiner:  

The NRA head opposes new gun laws, but he’s otherwise been [President Obama’s] partner in panic, breathlessly demanding an “armed good guy” in every school—a federally funded expansion of “America’s police force.” 

The Post notes that the National School Shield Task Force is “ostensibly independent” of NRA direction, and for what it’s worth, the report’s tone is less hysterical, the recommendations somewhat less sweeping, than LaPierre’s. But, like LaPierre’s public statements, it lacks any intelligent assessment of relative risks, instead making the very possibility of harm to children a rallying cry for opening the checkbook and summoning the security consultants. The entire project seems designed to enhance the paramilitarization of public institutions, allowing the Homeland Security mentality of institutionalized overreaction free rein in American schools.

Five of the twelve task-force members work for “Phoenix RBT Solutions,” a security consulting firm that “offer[s] schools vulnerability assessments, innovative security solutions, and reality-based training for security personnel”–and so just might have some skin in the game.  

Among the remaining members are a former Secret Service director, a former top military security official, a Department of Homeland Security veteran, and, for good measure, a “Former Assistant Administrator of U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA).”  Woe betide the poor parent who just wants to drop off her kid’s lunch. 

“Prior to the Sandy Hook incident,” the National School Shield Report chides, “most schools took the view that ‘it probably won’t happen here.’”  “Most schools” is too broad a generalization, given that, as documented in Annette Fuentes’ excellent Lockdown High, the trend toward the TSA-ification of American schools long predated the Newtown massacre.  

Still, for any particular school, “it probably won’t happen here” is an accurate assessment of the risk. One estimate, published in the journal Educational Researcher (“What Can Be Done About School Shootings?” January 2010), is that any given school in the United States can expect a school shooting every 6,000 years.  

To put “armed police officers in every school,” as LaPierre has frantically demanded that Congress do, would require hiring over 100,000 new cops. But if your goal is to prevent kids from getting murdered, the schools are about the last place you’d put new police, since 98 percent of youth homicides occur off school grounds.

 

[Source: “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011,” National Center for Education Statistics.]

Rough estimates of what LaPierre’s proposal would cost range from $5.5 billion to $34 billion a year. How can we justify that sort of expense in what’s supposed to be an era of belt-tightening? “You justify it because it’s necessary,” says Asa Hutchinson, the former DEA chief and Homeland Security official who’s heading up the NRA’s school safety initiative. But it’s not necessary, and it’s not wise.

The National School Shield Task Force is less bullish on federal funding than is NRA’s leadership (in December LaPierre called on Congress “to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary … and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place.” Though the NSS Report calls for making federal Homeland Security grants available for school security programs, it states that “federal funding has proved unreliable as a long-term solution to the school safety and security needs of our nation” and concedes that “Local school authorities are in the best position” to determine “whether an armed security guard is necessary.”

That’s an improvement over what NRA’s leadership has recommended. Unfortunately, as I’ll discuss in a separate post, I can’t say the same for what the rest of the report has to say about school safety.