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Rosen: The stark realities of school shootings

There isn’t much that Americans agree about these days. The closest we come to unity is our moral outrage at the murder of defenseless children by homicidal maniacs in schools and our heartfelt sympathy for their families and classmates.

The response to last week’s shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch was all too familiar. The instinctive reaction to yet another attack on a school in Colorado is shock, followed by mourning, anger, frustration and cries of “Enough!” and “Never again!” But the public consensus breaks down over what to do about it.

Inflamed emotions are understandable but they don’t trump reason and reality, and they’re often a poor foundation for effective public policy. It may feel empowering and gratifying for someone to demand that another school shooting “must never be allowed to happen again,” but that’s just a prayer masquerading as a remedy. That goal won’t be achieved through toughened anti-gun laws which will be ignored by committed lunatics, who can also resort to other means like explosives, arson or chemical and biological agents. It’s all about on-site security.

Allowing willing and capable teachers to be armed as a last tactical line of defense in their classrooms would be helpful but only marginally. The ultimate solution is a radical one. Fortify every school in the country with a permanent security force of armed, highly-trained paramilitary specialists (not mall cops) on duty to patrol and respond instantaneously to any attack. Every point of entry would be guarded and equipped with TSA-like electronic screening devices. With about 130,000 K-12 schools this would be massively expensive. If we’re willing, that’s what it would take to fully meet the demands of those who shout “Never again!” This may not happen but anything less would merely minimize the risk. And some educators have already opposed far less aggressive security measures as psychologically intimidating to schoolchildren.

Certainly, one school shooting is one too many but exaggerating their frequency and declaring this an “epidemic” doesn’t help. Bloomberg’s “Everytown USA” and other anti-gun activists do just that. For instance, they claim there were 37 schools shootings in 2018. To get to that inflated number, they include incidents that take place on school grounds even when schools are closed and no students are involved. More accurately, in 2018 there were just 6 incidents, nationally, of someone actually bringing a gun into a K-12 school and firing it at a student or teacher.

It may not be an epidemic but it’s terrifying, nonetheless. Some parents ask what they can tell their children who live in constant fear of a school shooting. Perhaps they can make this a teaching moment about mathematical probability. In our 130,000 K-12 schools, those 6 incidents in 2018 represent five one-thousandths of one percent. In other words, 99.995% of school children weren’t involved in a school shooting. That might calm your child’s fear.

One sanctimonious, simplistic anti-gunner was moved to proclaim that “we are avoiding the hard truth about the root cause of a chronic, pernicious illness in this country. We love our guns more than we love our children.” What irrational blather. This is a false dichotomy. Gun owners can both love their children and also defend the Constitutional right to possess a firearm, which can be used to protect their children from a home invader (or from shooters in schools). And the use of the personal pronoun “we” in this emotional rant is presumptuous. “We” aren’t the “root cause” of school shootings and our entire society isn’t sick. An infinitesimal fraction within it are sociopaths who shoot up schools. It’s “they,” who are sick.

Of course school shooters are mentally ill; mentally healthy people don’t do that. But there’s no practical way to administer universal mental-health screening as a condition of gun ownership. Would you require everyone to undergo a psychiatric evaluation each year (you might be sane now, but demented next year) and what would be the criteria? Where would we get enough psychiatrists to do this and what would it cost?

The so-called ‘Red Flag’ law that passed in this year’s legislative session allows a court to confiscate a man’s gun on the basis of a claim that he’s mentally unfit. And the gun can be confiscated as a precaution until the accused proves he isn’t unfit. This is a fundamental violation of due process and the presumption of innocence. The end can’t justify the means. Fanciful, impractical and unconstitutional solutions to school shootings aren’t a solution.

Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com. 

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