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Trusting, Insular Communities:

The New York Times writes about the recent school shootings:

It is not clear what led [the shooter] to seek out a quiet country school in Lancaster County, Pa., but it is possible he chose it because he knew that it belonged to a trusting, insular community, where there would be no one to stop him from entering with a shotgun, a rifle and an automatic pistol.

What does this mean? If I'm not stopped from entering a school while heavily armed, is it likely because the community is "trusting" or "insular"? Would a more cynical community have said "Hey, wait a sec, you're carrying three guns into the school! We don't trust you!" Would a more worldly community have said "We're not like those hicks down the road -- we know that guns can actually kill people, and strangers who go heavily armed into a school are likely up to no good?"

My sense is that the only thing that could have stopped this murderer is someone else who's armed -- whether an armed security guard (something that even many non-trusting, non-insular schools don't have), an armed teacher, or someone else who had the requisite firepower (and willpower). Better yet would have been someone else who's armed but who's not in uniform, since even an armed but uniformed school guard could easily be surprised by the killer, who could murder him and then go inside with impunity. One can debate the merits of allowing teachers to be armed. But if one is going to talk about why there was "no one to stop [the killer] from entering with a shotgun, a rifle and an automatic pistol," that's the debate we should be having -- stressing the community's being "trusting" and "insular" as a possible cause seems to me a red herring.

Colin (mail):
Would a more cynical community have said "Hey, wait a sec, you're carrying three guns into the school! We don't trust you!"

Is that a trick question?
10.3.2006 3:43pm
JoshP (www):
Perhaps more trusting communities are less likely to put police officers or armed guards in schools? I don't know, it sounds like a red herring to me, too.
10.3.2006 3:48pm
Dave Griffith (mail):
It's the sort of thing reporters say when they don't want to say "stupid hicks".
10.3.2006 3:49pm
Dean Kimball (mail):
Of course, your post is completely accurate. However, I would add that an additional red herring is indignation at the notion that we, none of us, are completely safe. If someone wants to kill and is not concerned for their own safety, then they will find it very easy to do so.

The same misplaced indignation surrounds any discussion of terrorism including aiport security, the war in Iraq, etc.

Of course, all wise and reasonable precussions should be taken to provide what security we can. However, after a certain point, there are greatly diminishing returns. And, in the extreme cases such as allowing armed teachers (!!), negative returns.
10.3.2006 3:51pm
dejapooh (mail):
I teach in Los Angeles and if you wanted to get into my school, you would have to either climb a 15 foot fence or go through a security gate. In a more trusting or insular environment, we would not have these things. It would be much easier to bring in weapons.
10.3.2006 3:54pm
Hoosier:
He clearly would have known that a community of annabaptist pacifists would be an unlikely place to find an armed guard of any kind. If he'd gone into a school in South Philly, he might have encountered resistance.

I'm not even sure that my brain has a category for this sort of thing. No mental structures to process it. So no conclusions to draw.
10.3.2006 3:55pm
Sebastian (mail):
What's the negative of allowing a teacher, administrator or other school employee, who are duly licensed by the state they reside in to carry a concealed weapon, to carry it in a school? We trust them to carry in malls, parks, playgrounds, and other areas where children congregate. One may disagree with the policy of allowing ordinary people to be licensed to carry weapons, but if the state is going to allow the practice, it seems silly, and even quite counterproductive, to place time and place restrictions on where the weapons may be carried.
10.3.2006 3:55pm
Hoosier:
"anabaptist"
10.3.2006 3:56pm
CJColucci:
Got to get out more, folks. Then you might notice that, armed or not, it's a good bit harder to walk into schools without anyone noticing in some communities than it is in others. While the correlation is far from perfect, as a first approximation you're likely to find that the insular, trusting communities are more likely to have schools where it's easier to walk in. True, if push comes to shove, a determined, heavily armed potential killer will get in eventually no matter what, but it isn't hard to figure out why, for example, police response time or the number of fatalities might be different.
10.3.2006 3:59pm
arthur (mail):
There are lots of "normal" elementary schools in Lancaster County. They don't have armed guards, but they do have telephones. this schiool had no phone. In fact, having about 20 kids with one adult in an isolated building with no means of communication is extremely unusual in the United States. It's entirely plausible that the gunman--who had no accomplices--chose the school because he'd have more time there and less risk of interruption.

There are enough other scenarios where a telephone would be a life saver (need for an ambulance, fire etc) that legislation requiring them makes sense to me. A requirement of a second adult would also be sensible in some places, but much more expensive. It might raise RFRA issues.
10.3.2006 4:00pm
Sebastian (mail):
It's entirely plausible that the gunman--who had no accomplices--chose the school because he'd have more time there and less risk of interruption.

Probably correct here. Also, most rural Pennsylvania communities do not have police forces. The State Police cover these areas, but it can take them quite a while to get out to a call.
10.3.2006 4:03pm
steven lubet (mail):
In most schools, even with only a few dozen students, there would have been many cell phones. Released hostages could quickly call for police, who would then arrive sooner -- perhaps in time to save some lives.
10.3.2006 4:04pm
Anon1ms (mail):
By all means, let's arm the teachers, arm the adminstrtors, arm the janitors and the students, too.

But let us not question the easy availability of firearms to troubled individuals.
10.3.2006 4:06pm
Paddy O. (mail):
Well, hopefully this is settled soon. Otherwise we might even start hearing about shootings at non-rural, non-insular schools which have thus far been free of violence.
10.3.2006 4:17pm
Sebastian (mail):
By all means, let's arm the teachers, arm the adminstrtors, arm the janitors and the students, too.

But let us not question the easy availability of firearms to troubled individuals.


I don't believe in compelling anyone to be armed who doesn't want to be. That's foolish and counter productive. But a teacher who is licensed should not be restricted from carrying in a school. And what is "easy access" by troubled individuals? Anyone with a history of mental health issues is already prohibited from posession of a gun. Ditto with criminal convictions. As Eugene pointed out, unless you ban guns for everyone, which will have other bad unintended consequences, and will only have limited effect, there's no way you can stop these "troubled" individuals from aquiring firearms.
10.3.2006 4:22pm
BGates (mail) (www):
Anon, I have a question about the availability of firearms to troubled individuals. It is, "how would a gun seller have identified this man as troubled?"
10.3.2006 4:23pm
Mongoose388:
"By all means, let's arm the teachers, arm the adminstrtors, arm the janitors and the students, too.
But let us not question the easy availability of firearms to troubled individuals."

Imus joked on the radio this morning that these things don't happen in NY city because most students are armed amd would take care of the crazed killer.
Of course on the other hand the students are a bigger threat to each other than a maniacal killer...
10.3.2006 4:29pm
Mongoose388:
"Anon1ms (mail):
By all means, let's arm the teachers, arm the adminstrtors, arm the janitors and the students, too.
But let us not question the easy availability of firearms to troubled individuals."

Wasn't there a case a few years back where the killer went into a school and knifed several students. I seem to remember that it was Japan or some other country with extreme gun control laws. I guess knifes were too readily available.
10.3.2006 4:31pm
Le Messurier (mail):
In most schools, even with only a few dozen students, there would have been many cell phones.

In fact, having about 20 kids with one adult in an isolated building with no means of communication is extremely unusual in the United State

This was a school of about 20 students and cel phones are not an option for religous reasons. Most of the children would have been unlikely to have ever seen a handgun much less a cel phone.

As for adults, I have read reorts that there were several adults in the school at the time. In fact one of those shot was an aide.

Also, he could not have walked in un-noticed. It was a one room school house!

While I'm loath to agree with the NYT on most things, I think they are right that the school is in an insular community; that the community is a trusting one, and given that it was, the shooters "logical" thought process would be that there would be no one to stop him. I don't believe the NYT came even close to inferring that a more worldly school would heve been more suspicious, but only that he chose it (in part) because this one wasn't wasn't.
10.3.2006 4:32pm
Sebastian (mail):
I think maybe the New York Times would have been more accurate if they portrayed the Amish as religiously non-violent people, who would not be likely to resist an attacker. For the Amish, "insular" is accurate, but only in their relationship to the outside world. The Amish don't have any problem with calling the police. In fact, I seem to recall there was some debate in within their church about whether cell phones should be prohibited, because a lot of Amish were getting them. The Amish aren't as techno-phobic as many people think. They are permitted to have phones and what not to run their businesses, but they shy away from things which they view would debase the cohesiveness and insularity of their community. Apparently the Amish decided that roller blades were OK, and it's not uncommon to see Amish roller blading down the street in Lancaster County.

But in any regard, firearms are definitely a no no in the Amish faith, because of its pacifist views, so even if teachers in this country were otherwise loaded for bear, the Amish would still be easy targets for nutjobs like this.
10.3.2006 4:40pm
Helen (mail):
No matter how pacifist your faith, I find it unconscionable that the adults left children behind in the presence of an armed attacker. Had they rushed him rather than complying with his order to leave, the death toll would surely have been lower.

Pacifism is not a moral choice for someone who has responsibility for others, particularly an adult with responsibility for children.

It is very discouraging to hear about this because I thought that we Americans had learned the lesson of Flight 93. Apparently, not all of us have.
10.3.2006 4:56pm
Kevin P. (mail):

But in any regard, firearms are definitely a no no in the Amish faith, because of its pacifist views

Is this true? I thought the Amish were hunters and used (at least) deer rifles. Of course, you could be a hunter and a pacifist.
10.3.2006 4:57pm
Evelyn Blaine (mail):
Le Messurier wrote:
Most of the children would have been unlikely to have ever seen a handgun much less a cel phone.
Despite not being, in general, anti-firearms, I do hope that this sentence was intended to be the other way around.
10.3.2006 5:03pm
SG:

But in any regard, firearms are definitely a no no in the Amish faith, because of its pacifist views, so even if teachers in this country were otherwise loaded for bear, the Amish would still be easy targets for nutjobs like this.


Clearly then the Amish need to be outlawed. It's the only way to protect the children.
10.3.2006 5:04pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I don't think Professor Volokh is correct that the only way to stop someone from bringing arms onto a school is having someone else armed. As some others have pointed out, there are such things as fences, security checkpoints, locked doors, metal detectors, etc. The British manage to stop many people from bringing many arms into many places using Bobbies who, for the most part, are not armed.

I do accept that having someone else armed IS one way to stop someone from doing this-- it is simply not the ONLY way, as Professor Volokh says.

To draw an analogy to the practice of law (where I am more familiar), as a result of some shootings at courthouses, most courthouses in the LA area where I practice have security checkpoints and metal detectors. Some of those courthouses DO NOT have armed Baliffs in the courtrooms.

In contrast, if you go outside the LA area, you will find courthouses WITHOUT security checkpoints and metal detectors, but WITH armed Baliffs in the courtroom. Both of these approaches are valid ways to deter people from bringing weapons into the courthouse. And bear in mind, the courthouses that are in the urban areas where this is seen to be a particular danger are the ones more likely to use the checkpoints rather than the armed Baliffs.
10.3.2006 5:05pm
Le Messurier (mail):
Evelyn Blaine


Most of the children would have been unlikely to have ever seen a handgun much less a cel phone.


...OR a cel phone.
10.3.2006 5:17pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Dilan: A security checkpoint or a metal detector with no armed guard is useless against someone who's willing to barge through armed (shooting the unarmed staff, if necessary). Likewise, fences must have doors, and some of the doors would likely not be locked all the time. One can imagine doors with electronic locks that all the students would open using keycards -- but certainly not in Amish country, and likely not in most schools; plus someone could still break any glass doors or otherwise break in. All these security tools work against armed attackers only if they are supported by armed defenders.
10.3.2006 5:23pm
Houston Lawyer:
I recall another school shooter being stopped by alert students while the shooter attempted to reload. Violent resistance will be necessary to stop a shooter. Clearly, if you are intent on mass murder, you would want to pick on pacifists.

Pacifists rely on the good will of others for their survival. Clearly the guy would have been less successful at the David Koresh compound.
10.3.2006 5:41pm
Bryan DB:
"What does this mean? If I'm not stopped from entering a school while heavily armed, is it likely because the community is "trusting" or "insular"?"

That's exactly what they mean. It might not mean that the community is completely trusting and insular; it just means that they haven't sufficiently lost their trust so that the school is on "lockdown." Even in our (relatively trusting, insular) suburb, once the kids are inside for the elementary school day, there's no getting into the school, via fence or door. All fences are gated and locked, and all doors to the school are locked and have safety glass.
My younger child's preschool doesn't have a fence (since there's no outside play area) but likewise is locked up tight once the kids are inside.
In both cases, if the people at the door don't know you, or you can't show ID that matches a name on an approved list, you're not coming in. Granted, a parent or an approved person could still cause havoc, but a random idiot with some 2x4s and a gun isn't going to walk in and kill a classroom full of kids (I hope).
If you can so easily dismiss the comment, then you need to get out more. Perhaps you'll come across similar school setups when your munchkin(s) get a little older.
10.3.2006 5:44pm
JohnV:
We live in Lancaster County and do business with Amish folk here. It is wrong to say that they are a "trusting ... community", rather it is correct that the Amish community demonstrates a strong trust in God.

By the way, the Amish eschew not only tv's radios and cell phones but also lawyers -- they won't fight civil disagreements in court.
10.3.2006 5:51pm
breen (mail):
A person set on mass murder will likely go to a place easier to execute mass murder much like a person set on burglary will likely go to a place easier to execute burglary. This isn't a difficult concept to grasp and the use of absolutes ("only another weapon will completely deter an armed intruder") only muddies a pretty simple point.
10.3.2006 5:51pm
Abandon:
Sebastian

And what is "easy access" by troubled individuals? Anyone with a history of mental health issues is already prohibited from posession of a gun. Ditto with criminal convictions.

Just as a short reminder, the shooting that occurred in Montreal in September was perpetrated by an understandably "troubled" individual (Kimveer Gill) who acquired his weapons legally with proper license. Such was also the case of Marc L├ępine, the infamous Polytechnique killer (1989, 14 victims). Both had to go through a very strict screening process in order to get their license and were clear from any psychiatric history. But they obviously were both deranged.

The reason why troubled individuals have easy access to guns is because mental health is hard to evaluate, let alone to define. Psychiatry is no pure science and there is no way to make sure an individual is fit to use weapons without being, or becoming, a risk for the community. Would the psychometric tests be made harder to trick that the NRA supporters would certainly publish leaflets explaining how to not tilt while going through the screening process. Because you are not under medication today doesn't mean a bipolar disorder is not on its way and you are not going to become a sociopath in a near future.

One way to insure greater security is to restrict access to weapons. Most current legislations only screen weapon ownership at time of purchase. But without an effective registry program, authorities could not know how many weapons (and which weapon classes) an individual may have in his possession when policemen are called to take action at his domicile or making an arrest on the road. Hence, they could not retrieve weapons from a dangerous individual if no register can inform them on your firearms possession. In other words, in many States, you may not buy further weapon if you're a nutcase, but there is close to no way to control those you may have bought before...

As to know if teacher should/could carry weapons in classrooms, well, here is one question: what are the odds your classroom will be targetted for the next killing rampage? If I believed they were high, I probably would be buying more lottery tickets. I personally think the odds point more in the other direction: accidental death, the firearm being stolen from the teacher by a disgrunted and humiliated student, etc.

Also, we can arguably expect arming teachers would increase rather than decrease the incidence of shootings such as the one that just took place in PA. Teachers are often under pressure and could go berserk too. In addition, would a killer enter a school/classroom, he would more likely shoot at the armed teacher or guard before the latter could guess something is about to happen, an go on with his killing.

Perhaps more guns is not the appropriate solution to the problem. No system, or action, will fully prevent these tragic events to ever take place in the future, accepting this fatality is not the easiest thing to do, but increasing the weapons in circulation would be a mistake, imho.
10.3.2006 6:20pm
CJColucci:
Normal security measures are "useless" unless backed up by armed guards because a determined, armed killer will, eventually, get in and start shooting whoever can be found in easily accessible parts of the building after the ruckus starts and before the police get there? That is just not serious. Small increments of time can save dozens of lives in desperate situations. Maybe that isn't obvious from an overstuffed chair in the faculty club, but it is to people who spend time in the real world.
10.3.2006 6:30pm
CLS (mail) (www):
No one had would have been armed or have rushed him. They are pacifists. And they don't own phones. They had to run to a nearby farm for a phone because they don't carry them. In rare Amish communities were phones are allowed they are required to be phone booths far from the home so they won't be convenient. I tried to cover the problems of this case here.

I think Eugene is right. Schools get attacked disproportionately because they are gun free zones telling such suicidal killers that they will probably be able to carry out their plan more easily here.
10.3.2006 6:44pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
CJColucci: Let's set aside the personal snipes, and focus on the substantive issue. Say that there is, for instance, an unarmed security guard manning a metal detector. The killer shoots the guard and goes through the metal detector. Even if someone hears this initial shooting and calls the police (assume a non-Amish schoolhouse in which there are indeed telephones) when the guard is shot, rather than when the children start being shot, the murderer would still have time to kill plenty of people before the police arrive.

If some barrier could keep the killer at bay for the time it takes for the police to arrive -- or even for a large portion of the time -- that would of course be good. But none of the proposals I've heard mentioned would do that. The killer would still have many minutes as the only armed person in the schoolhouse, a schoolhouse with lots of targets in easy range. So that's why I think the security mechanisms that I heard suggested would do no good against the multiple murderers.
10.3.2006 6:52pm
Aultimer:

Schools get attacked disproportionately because they are gun free zones telling such suicidal killers that they will probably be able to carry out their plan more easily here.

There's nothing to indicate that causation chain in the majority of school shootings. The presence of school-aged children is much more clearly indicated. The Lancaster sicko was looking for little girls to attack. Columbine shooters were specifically looking for their schoolmates, and so on.
10.3.2006 6:57pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Yeah, I don't know that schools are attacked disproportionately. I'd have said 7-Elevens.
10.3.2006 7:10pm
Skepticul:
The likelihood of this ever happening again in an Amish school is vanishingly small, so there's really no point in discussing protective measures. For religious reasons, the Amish are unlikely to concede to even having phones, no less arming the teachers with weapons. No way were a bunch of Amish women and young boys going to rush a man armed with all sorts of weapons. Anyone who proposes this is completely ignorant of Amish culture and religion.

All the deterrent methods are only window dressing against a crazed killer who is determined to kill and die and who is armed with the element of surprise . We could re-create the whole TSA apparatus in every school and it would be another enormous waste of money (remembering that such a crazed killer may approach the average school maybe once every few centuries - there have been what - maybe a dozen such killers in the last century vs tens of thousands of schools) without changing the outcome at all on the rare occasions when such a killer arrives. Armed guards and teachers can be shot. Locked doors can be bypassed by rushing the door when it is opened to another or taking someone with a key card hostage. Even if you hardened the elementary schools, what about school buses? Sunday schools, playgrounds, pediatrician's offices, soccer games, ballet schools, theaters, anyplace where groups of children may be found? It's true that, just as with burglary, to the extent you harden your school you'll push the problem elsewhere, but for the society as a whole this doesn't help at all.

I'm not sure in this case that even if the police had been called instantly with a panic alarm that it would have made any difference. Apparently the killer fired rapidly the instant the police came into sight. He had apparently anticipated a longer seige and possibly one last binge of child molestation, bringing all sorts of supplies (change of clothing, toilet paper, KY Jelly) but must have panicked when he saw the cops. Possibly he realized he was vulnerable to sniper fire, given that Amish school houses have lots of windows on all sides (and probably no window shades on the north side) - there is no electric light.

An attempt probably should have been made to approach the school without alerting the hostage taker in order to take him out by sniper fire. But you won't always have a clear shot (if there are drawn shades or a windowless room) and the usual tactic is to get the hostage taker talking - in this case even the first attempt to get him to talk spooked him into shooting. In retrospect (and in future cases) no attempt at communication should have been made until an alternate plan (e.g. shooter in sniper's crosshairs, police poised to burst in) was in place because you really don't know what will set the shooter off.
10.3.2006 7:11pm
Sebastian (mail):
Abandon:

These are certainly arguments used by people who are uncomfortable with people who are not police carrying weapons around, but they could apply universally, and none of the complications you point out have turned out to be an issue in states that have liberal laws about carrying of weapons.

What particularly about the school environment, other than the emotional reaction to teachers or administrators with guns, makes it so special that teachers who have chosen to be trained and properly licensed to be armed in public, should be forbidden from doing so in schools? I would imagine most people would have little trouble with an armed security guard, but what makes that person different? Consider that most security guards have very little actual firearms training or knowledge, and often take the jobs because it's just a job, and presumably would be just as likely to make these stupid mistakes you mention, or go crazy as any other citizen. To me if you're OK with police and security guards being in a school with a gun, a teacher or administrator shouldn't be any more frightening.
10.3.2006 7:13pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'll ask explicitly what others have questioned at least implicitly. Re this:

"Schools get attacked disproportionately because they are gun free zones telling such suicidal killers that they will probably be able to carry out their plan more easily here."

Even before we get to the purported explanation, what is the factual evidence supporting the claim that "schools get attacked disproportionately"?
10.3.2006 7:22pm
Sebastian (mail):
Even before we get to the purported explanation, what is the factual evidence supporting the claim that "schools get attacked disproportionately"?

I'm not sure I can offer any good statistical evidence here, but in this particular case at least, it appears the attacker did consider the vulnerability of the school and the likelihood of not encountering any resistance from the typically pacifist Amish. It's not unreasonable to conclude that other mass shooters consider possibile resistence to carrying out their plans in choosing their venue.
10.3.2006 7:27pm
Scenescent (mail):
Anyone who takes these attacks as a refutation of the Amish belief in nonresistance is either dramatically underestimating them, or at least overlooking their history - Amish, and prior Mennonite lore is full of tales of worse killings, which are considered inspirational and frequently retold. It's not that they don't value survival, it's that they have a conception of holiness that sometimes conflicts with the imperative of survival, and of the two, holiness is valued higher.

The Amish make much of the example of Jesus submitting to death at the hands of his enemies when he could have easily magicked his way out of it, or pulled an Abraham-and-Isaac, or let Peter and the other disciples fight off the posse that came to arrest him. Instead, he let it happen to demonstrate God's love, and in so doing set an example eminently worthy of emulation. If the coverage of this shooting inspires a single person to a fuller understanding of God, it would be considered a triumph, rather than a failure, of nonresistance.
10.3.2006 7:29pm
Mark Field (mail):

If some barrier could keep the killer at bay for the time it takes for the police to arrive -- or even for a large portion of the time -- that would of course be good. But none of the proposals I've heard mentioned would do that.


Hm. The general view here and elsewhere seems to be that this school was particularly vulnerable for a number of reasons. This implies that there ARE "barriers" which keep killers out. Metal detectors, even unsupported by armed guards, may add enough extra to deter a crime.

Ultimately, of course, there is no security system which will keep out someone truly determined. It's just like with our houses -- we lock the doors not because we think that will actually deter a burglar but because it makes breaking in more difficult. It's that cost-benefit tradeoff which we really have to face; we shouldn't be looking for ideal solutions, just pragmatic ones.
10.3.2006 7:49pm
Floridan (mail):
In fact, as the linked website shows, homicide of students in schools is exceedingly rare, considering the number of schools and student population.

Youth Violence Project

Statistically, students are safer from serious violent crime in school that they are out of school.
10.3.2006 7:55pm
Helen (mail):
Scenescent:

The viewpoint you outline is espoused by some other Christians in addition to the Amish and Mennonites. My point is that a competent adult can make that choice for himself, but that it is not moral to choose not to protect innocent persons -- persons that you are responsible for, such as your own children or your students -- because of such beliefs.
10.3.2006 8:01pm
martyB:
Which are attacked more "disproportionately", schools or 7-11s?

Well, one thing we know: It's not police departments. Or National Guard armories- even though those institutions seem much more likely than most to engender hatred from the violently inclined and the severely alienated. It's not gun shops.

Remember when Florida started letting Floridians be armed, and there was a rash of carjackings and other crimes aimed at autos with rental stickers in the windows? It was reported that Europeans travelling to FL were advised by travel agents to put NRA stickers in their car windows.

It seems to me that if someone feels a compulsion to strangle small animals, even if he is a complete madman, he will likely choose rabbits instead of porcupines.

Personally, FWIW, I am uncomfortable with the idea of arming schoolteachers as a matter of policy. I think (feel, actually) that we will have lost something important if we do that. If I ran a school I would strongly discourage it. But, I would permit it- if the teacher felt strongly about it and could convince me of his/her levelheadedness and competence.

Gun laws have virtually nothing to do with the level of violence in society anyway. (IMO) They are more an effect than a cause of lawlessness. IMO, of course.
10.3.2006 8:27pm
Anonymo:
What particularly about the school environment, other than the emotional reaction to teachers or administrators with guns, makes it so special that teachers who have chosen to be trained and properly licensed to be armed in public, should be forbidden from doing so in schools?

I can think of a couple of reasons why arming classroom teachers is a bad idea. Most importantly, like someone said above, it seems like the risk of random maniac shootings is genuinely too low to outweigh the risks of disgruntled students gaining control of the gun. The teachers who would gain the most value from the gun (those who might be otherwise incapable of disarming or disabling an armed assailant) are the same teachers who would be most at risk of being overpowered by a student who could take the gun, or the key to its storage place, from the teacher's person.

Second, no school wants to say, "Send Your Kids Here: We're Strapped!" It's just bad marketing. You can call that putting your head in the sand about a real problem, but the idea is simply too... twistable? in perception that it seems unlikely to be palatable to most people. That's not necessarily a reason why it shouldn't happen, but I think it's a strong reason why it won't happen. A corrolary: having guns in the classroom, even if they're not always visible, might simply scare the kids, particularly younger ones. You can argue that children should be taught an understanding of guns as powerful but controllable objects rather than evil talismans and I'd agree, but that's not currently the situation, as with the above.

Now, a form in which I, and I think a lot of people, could support this: arming one or few highly trusted, properly trained administrators, preferably physically large and strong, level-headed and courageous, whose job duties put them primarily in a central office where they're not immediately accesible to the students or public.
10.3.2006 9:08pm
Waldensian (mail):

Guns don't kill people. Guns shoot you in the face if you don't believe in god, and you deserve what you get:

Interestingly, I think that kid in the little video on the right is aiming with the wrong eye. Common beginner mistake.
10.3.2006 9:10pm
geekWithA.45 (mail) (www):
Actually, the kid in the video is doing it correctly.

Some people's dominant eye isn't the same as their dominant hand. The correct technique is to cant your sidearm slightly towards your dominant eye, as the kid did, no more the 15 degrees. (Any more than that, and the ballistics of the round will diverge too far from the regulation of the sights for the sights to be of any use.)

But I digress.

Schools are simply one of those well known, vulnerable places, and our choices are pretty limited.

We can do nothing, continuing to trust in the paper protection of calling them "safe zones" by virtue of decree, and trust to chance.

We can turn them into airplanes, complete with x-rays, metal detectors, dogs and undercover school marshalls, something that strikes me as even less American than what we've done to airplanes,

Or we can take an intelligent, flexible approach, which would involve a number of thrusts. Some of the most immediate and cheapest to implement would be to remove the prohibition of the implements of self defense. There are many teachers who are responsibly armed citizens who are compelled to leave their sidearms at home, either by law, by school policy, or both. In several cases, they've stopped school attacks, although they were required to run to their trunks and back to fetch their guns. We also need to have smarter school defense plans, which involves a coherent professional quick reaction force, and arguably a better plan for the students than "hide in the classroom and hope they don't know how to break down a door". The people who survived Beslan where those who ran fast, and ran first, before the terrorists were able to consolodate their power.
10.3.2006 9:40pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
As a newspaperman, I tend to agree with Professor Volokh that the Times' statement is the kind of ill-thought-out blather that we reporters often put into stories. Lucky for me, I have good editors who take my blather back out, except when I'm writing for VC.

On the other hand, the idea that openly or secretly armed citizens deter crime is a fantasy. I've been a newspaperman for 42 years, and I can tell exactly how many stories the papers I have worked on have run about local heroes pullin' out their shootin' irons and preventing a crime: 0

It happens, about as often as Amish schools get shot up. I recall that one of the San Francisco DiMaggios (Joe's cousin, I believe) shot and killed 3 alleged would-be robbers of his shop on 3 occasions. Not only did the possibility that he had a heater under the counter not deter criminals, but his neighborhood fame as a deadeye shooter of street thugs does not appear to have been a deterrent either.

What do you Walter Mittys imagine an armed teacher would do? Is she going to carry a hip holster? Keep her rod in her purse? Locked in a desk?

In my experience, 9 times out of 10, if you need a firearm at all, you need it instantly.
10.3.2006 9:45pm
Bret (mail):
Harry,


On the other hand, the idea that openly or secretly armed citizens deter crime is a fantasy. I've been a newspaperman for 42 years, and I can tell exactly how many stories the papers I have worked on have run about local heroes pullin' out their shootin' irons and preventing a crime: 0


You're joking right? First of all, the value of guns (like any other means of self-defense) is in deterring capability above all else. In such cases (and they are numerous) there wouldn't be a story because the crime would never have happened. You don't write a story about a non-event. 'Joe Blow Criminal DIDN'T raid the liquor store last night ....'

Second, as for instantaneously being a crime preventer, I can link to numerous articles in the past few years where armed citizens either 1. prevented the crime from escalating, or 2. preventing the crime completely.
10.3.2006 10:05pm
happylee:
Eager's argument is less than persuasive. For example, the national media basically ignores stories involving local heroes with guns deterring crime. Take the shooting at some upstairs school of law in TN a few years back. The AP release had a paragraph mentioning that two students ran to their cars, pulled their guns out and rushed back in to disarm the bad guy. And guess what NYT and most outlets did? That paragraph didn't make it into the story.
As for the legitimacy of the argument (if not the suggested conclusion), keep in mind that it's hard to deny that having victims armed would level the playing field, ceteris paribus, versus having only the criminal armed.
And I disagree regarding deterrent effect. John Lott has done some great work in this area, and all interested folks would benefit from a review of his work.
I guess the question is whether the law should disarm victims by criminalizing possession of guns, thereby facilitating crime, or not.
That said, it'd sure be nice to be free of crime in general.
10.3.2006 10:14pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I was raised in the South back before anyone outside New York State had ever contemplated gun control laws.

I estimate that 90% of houses had some kind of firearm in them, and houses still got burglarized.

There were districts where you could pretty much be sure that wherever two or three were gathered together, at least one was packing heat. Those were also, by and large, the most violent parts of town.

It's hard to measure things that don't happen, but I'm here to tell you, crime is not rare where guns are prevalent.
10.3.2006 11:58pm
k parker (mail):
Harry, meet Peter and Clayton.
10.4.2006 12:38am
Sebastian (mail):
Anonymo:

People seem to suggest that I'm favoring the arming of teachers, which implies that I favor handing guns out to teachers or mandating that they carry them. I do not. I would be opposed to such a policy. What I do favor, as GeekWitha.45 alluded to, is removing time and place restrictions on where licensed individuals may carry a firearm, which would include schools if school employees chose to be armed. People who are not familiar with carrying arms often assume it would be easy to take a gun from the person carrying it. Practically speaking this is not the case, because the gun will be concealed. The attacker isn't going to know you have it until you're shooting at him.

Virtually no one who's around me knows when I carry a firearm, as it's generally not considered a good idea to allow those around you who know. The accidents and indicidents you allude to would apply to anyone in any other environment, and we don't see many incidences of armed citizens creating these kinds of problems. So why is a school special that licensed individuals should be restricted from legally carrying their weapons into the school?
10.4.2006 12:39am
Sebastian (mail):
On the other hand, the idea that openly or secretly armed citizens deter crime is a fantasy. I've been a newspaperman for 42 years, and I can tell exactly how many stories the papers I have worked on have run about local heroes pullin' out their shootin' irons and preventing a crime: 0

You must not have looked very hard because these incidents happen all the time, and you can find the local news articles if you know where to look (there's a few bloggers that regularly point them out). As several people have alluded to, the press tends to ignore these cases. In the vast majority of defensive gun uses, a shot is never fired; the display of a firearm is enough to end the attack.
10.4.2006 12:42am
Ken Mitchell (mail):
I have long believed that the only way of reducing school shootings was to allow teachers to be armed. The allure of shooting up a school is that this is one of the few places where a violent fanatic IS CERTAIN that all of his intended victims will be helpless.

The problem isn't a madman with a gun; the problem is a madman with THE ONLY gun. Allow teachers CCW, and some small percentage of them will carry concealed firearms. What percentage? I don't think it matters; it is the lack of CERTAINTY which will deter the nut cases.
10.4.2006 2:17am
Harry Eagar (mail):
I am aware of the lists.

There are roughly 3,000 counties in the U.S. Considering that, I find the lists unimpressive.

Lists just about as long, or maybe longer, could be made of people who shoot themselves or their friends on hunting trips.

Contrary to myths that newspapers ignore righteous citizens defending their homes, reporters eat that stuff up. You don't see it often, because it doesn't happen much.

I once reviewed all the specially heinous murders in a large county in Iowa (multiples, home invasions, ambushes, that sort of thing). It was unlikely that any of the victims would have survived even if he had had a gun around.
10.4.2006 2:37am
Sebastian (mail):
Harry:

It's certainly not disputable that more people are murdered every year than are justifiably killed. Nonethless it doesn't address the issue of people who defend themselves without ever firing a shot, which estimates for run as high as 2.5 million incidences a year, to a few hundred thousand on the low side. I suspect the truth is probably more on the lower side, but probably considerably higher than the number of murders a year.

Also, it seems that the press has managed to ingore instances where, in many of these mass shootings, other citizens with guns have intervienened. How many people knew that the Pearl Mississippi shootings and the shootings at a Law School in Virginia were stopped by armed citizens? I don't recall the press even mentioning this at the time.
10.4.2006 3:34am
Publicola (mail) (www):
Mr. Eager,
What you're speaking of is probaility. Odds more or less. Assuming you're correct &firearms do not deter a significant number of injury or death producing crimes every year that's still not an effective argument. What matters is choice.

Let's say that 3 armed fellows come to my office or school or home intent on killing me. You'd be correct in assuming I'd probably not be long for the world. But if I was unarmed that'd be a certainty. Whereas if I was armed then it might not prevent them from coming after me but it would give me a chance to stop them before they achieve their goal. I don't like playing the odds; I'd much rather control my own fate if I am able.

Personally I think that word getting out that X% of teachers are armed in every school would eliminate many of the school mass murders we've seen over the years. The would-be killers would pick softer targets just as burglars in the south pick softer targets (i.e. homes that aren't occupied by armed homeowners). But the chief benefit would be that if someone did attempt to kill as many people as possible an armed teacher would have the chance to stop him before he got too far along with his plan.

As an aside the last year I checked on such things (2002 if I recall) there were roughly 28,000 firearms related deaths in the u.S. 16,000 suicides, 11,200 homicides (both justifiable &felonious) &800 accidental (really negligent) deaths. Since it's usually estimated that there are between 80,000 &2,000,000 defensive uses of a firearm per year I'd say that you are mistaken about more folks getting shot on hunting trips than there are cases of legitmate self defense with a firearm.
10.4.2006 5:09am
Barry P. (mail):
people who defend themselves without ever firing a shot, which estimates for run as high as 2.5 million incidences a year

2.5 million/year = 6850/day.

So, according to these numbers, almost 7,000 potentially violent near-crimes are deterred every day by somebody flashing their piece.

As a reference point, there are about 5,000 violent crimes per day committed in the US.

Color me skeptical, Mr. Lott.
10.4.2006 7:27am
Kevin P. (mail):
Here are two web sites that collect incidents of armed self defense:

http://www.keepandbeararms.com/opsd/

http://www.claytoncramer.com/gundefenseblog/blogger.html

And remember, these are only the incidents that make the news. There are a large number that don't because nobody got shot. The presence or brandishing of the gun was sufficient to avert the crime.
10.4.2006 8:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Some bloggers have noted that Britain has reached the pinnacle of gungrabbing: Absolutely nobody but criminals have guns. Most of the police aren't armed.

The result is a four-times higher rate of "hot" burglaries, that is, burglaries when the residents are home. The rules regulating self-defense with other than guns don't help, either.

One blogger several years ago said that certain shrinks ("find a need and fill it") specialize in treating kids traumatized by the event. Presumably, they make a living. Must be enough kids traumatized.

The point isn't burglaries, which are done when nobody's home and nobody with an ounce of sense would consider relevant to this discussion, but assaults on actual people. Not uninhabited property.
10.4.2006 9:12am
CJColucci:
EV: I'd be happy to "focus on the substantive issue," but Skepticul and Mark Field beat me to it. Of course, they didn't say anything that wasn't just plain common sense, so there should have been no need for it. But common sense, like knowledge of the real world, is in short supply in some cossetted quarters.
10.4.2006 10:48am
Too Lazy To Log In:
As a newspaperman, I tend to agree with Professor Volokh that the Times' statement is the kind of ill-thought-out blather that we reporters often put into stories. Lucky for me, I have good editors who take my blather back out, except when I'm writing for VC.
On the other hand, the idea that openly or secretly armed citizens deter crime is a fantasy. I've been a newspaperman for 42 years, and I can tell exactly how many stories the papers I have worked on have run about local heroes pullin' out their shootin' irons and preventing a crime: 0

That, and your follow up comments, tell us more about media bias than the deterrent value of privately owned firearms.
10.4.2006 12:15pm
ray_g:
I suspect that the number of instances where merely the display of the firearm ends the assault is under reported because the defender often does not have a license to carry and therefore does not want the police involved. A few years back when there were a lot of reports of car jacking in Los Angeles, several people told me that they were carrying loaded pistols in their cars. I would ask if they knew that was illegal unless they had a concealed carry permit, and the reply was usually either or both (a) they didn't know that; (b) they didn't care. I often wondered how many car jackers were shot and the police and press never heard about it.
10.4.2006 1:05pm
JDG (mail):
I think perhaps the more likely explanation for why the gunman selected an Amish community for his awful crime has to do with his overall motive for it. He apparently blamed God for the loss of his baby daughter 9 years earlier:
"Elise's death "changed my life forever," the milk truck driver wrote to his wife. "I haven't been the same since it affected me in a way I never felt possible. I am filled with so much hate, hate toward myself hate towards God and unimaginable emptyness it seems like everytime we do something fun I think about how Elise wasn't here to share it with us and I go right back to anger."(Washington Post, 10/3)
As the Amish are known to be a particularly godly people, I do not find it unsurprising that he would have chosen them as the vehicle with which to exact his vengeance against God.
10.4.2006 1:13pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
The posters at VC are more sophisticated than the usual run of armed citizens. Usually, when the question of deterrence arises, it quickly morphs into a discussion about which shootin' iron is preferable, with weight of slugs in grains, much discussion of muzzle velocities in fps etc., and hardly ever a word about gun safety.

It's hard to avoid the impression of a bunch of social retards who are just a li'l too itchy to play the hero. They scare me almost as much as the thugs who shoot to rob.

I gave up hunting when I was 17, when it dawned on me (I was a late bloomer) that all the guys I was out in the woods with were drunk and maybe guns and alcohol are a bad mix.

I'm a Southerner. I'm comfortable around guns. Not so much around some of their enthusiasts.

Too Lazy, the very first story I ever reported for a real newspaper, when I was still in school, involved firearms defense. A husband was chasing his wife around the house (again), and their son, about 14, got out the family 12-gauge, hid behind a door and as his father came around blasted him.

That's as close to the fantasy scenario of heroically interrupting a carjacking in progress as I ever have encountered in real life.

When I asked the sheriff if he was going to charge the boy, he said, 'No. I'd have done the same thing.'
10.4.2006 4:13pm
dweeb:
My point is that a competent adult can make that choice for himself, but that it is not moral to choose not to protect innocent persons -- persons that you are responsible for, such as your own children or your students -- because of such beliefs.

It could be argued that Jesus bore some responsibility for His disciples, and He didn't act to keep any of them from being martyred.
10.4.2006 6:07pm
dweeb:
When I asked the sheriff if he was going to charge the boy, he said, 'No. I'd have done the same thing.'

Well, in the South, "he needed killing" is an affirmative defense to a murder charge, right?
10.4.2006 6:10pm
dweeb:
On the other hand, the idea that openly or secretly armed citizens deter crime is a fantasy. I've been a newspaperman for 42 years, and I can tell exactly how many stories the papers I have worked on have run about local heroes pullin' out their shootin' irons and preventing a crime: 0

That doesn't mean the stories aren't there, only that the papers haven't run them. You go on to cite three instances yourself, courtesy of Mr. Dimaggio, and then commit the fallacy of claiming his actions were no deterrent value without examining the incidence of robbery for a control group of comparable nearby businesses that were unarmed. If he had three attempted robberies, and a nearby unarmed business owner had 12 in the same period, that's pretty good deterrence.

Contrary to myths that newspapers ignore righteous citizens defending their homes, reporters eat that stuff up. You don't see it often, because it doesn't happen much.

And yet you've been shown empirically where the majority of news outlets intentionally withheld such facts. Seems like the typical grasp on reality and logic we've come to expect from the press.

Lucky for me, I have good editors who take my blather back out, except when I'm writing for VC.

Clearly.
10.4.2006 6:13pm
dweeb:
Second, no school wants to say, "Send Your Kids Here: We're Strapped!" It's just bad marketing.

Depends on the target demographic. You assume the market is a monolith.
10.4.2006 6:14pm
dweeb:
Would a more cynical community have said "Hey, wait a sec, you're carrying three guns into the school! We don't trust you!"

They wouldn't be any quicker to say it, but, as several people have pointed out regarding fences, guards, and phones, they would have been far better prepared to back it up once said.

Say that there is, for instance, an unarmed security guard manning a metal detector. The killer shoots the guard and goes through the metal detector. Even if someone hears this initial shooting and calls the police (assume a non-Amish schoolhouse in which there are indeed telephones) when the guard is shot, rather than when the children start being shot, the murderer would still have time to kill plenty of people before the police arrive.

The same holds WITH the armed guard - the killer(s) could still have the armed guard outgunned, outnumbered, or out-skilled. Arming the gatekeepers is not some magical threshhold that guarantees anything. ANY level of security can be overwhelmed by sufficient escalation. One would think the Arkansas National Guard, with all their guns, could secure a school against unwanted intrusion, but they didn't seem to want to test that when the 101st Airborne arrived in Little Rock.

All the deterrent methods are only window dressing against a crazed killer who is determined to kill and die and who is armed with the element of surprise...It's true that, just as with burglary, to the extent you harden your school you'll push the problem elsewhere

Bingo. Locks, police, armed guards, for the most part only serve to keep the honest people honest.
10.4.2006 6:16pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
dweeb sez: 'You go on to cite three instances yourself, courtesy of Mr. Dimaggio, and then commit the fallacy of claiming his actions were no deterrent value without examining the incidence of robbery for a control group of comparable nearby businesses that were unarmed. If he had three attempted robberies, and a nearby unarmed business owner had 12 in the same period, that's pretty good deterrence.'

Thanks for my laugh of the week.

I can just picture your Robber No. 3 telling his pals: 'I'm gonna knock over old man DiMaggio. I can't believe he's a good enough shot to hit three out of three.'
10.4.2006 9:05pm
Toby:
I live a long way from Amish Country.

I have a friend who's young wife (w/ 2 small children) was followed home from the grocery store. As his wife arrived home, upset, because she was followed, and called him from the back, where he was in the garden, the follower reversed down the long driveway and out of site.

He called the sheriff. "Would you recognize him again if you saw him" "I think so." "Do you have a gun?" "yes" "If you see him again, shoot him"

Be that as it may, I cannot imagine gates / lockdowns / etc around my children's school. What are you teaching the children? "You live in a dangwrous world where you can do nothing without authority defending you" Is it worth teaching generations of kids this about the world? Is that what you wan tyour children to have as the strongest memory of their childhood? I know boomers who still whine about the trauma they felt about nuclear bomb drills. And these samer adults happily acquiesce in teaching their children that the world is a terrifyingly random place where they are and will always be powerless.

Here is a rule about cybernetics: most parts of any system can only be controlled so much. If you try to control them more than that, you will break all other parts of the system to do so.

Safety Nazis would do well to remember this.
10.4.2006 9:24pm
J.B.:
EV, you are usually quite on the ball, but this time I admit to being totally baffled.

Less trusting and insular communities -- say, an inner-city L.A. community that 1) expects violent crime in the area (less trusting) and 2) is used to such violence flowing into schools from nearby neighborhoods (less insular) -- would have better secured itself. This may include an armed guard. It may include armed teachers or community members. All of those solutions are entirely compatible with the passage you cite. So where's the "red herring"?
10.4.2006 11:08pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Ted Bundy, as disturbed as it is possible to be and still tie his shoes, didn't try to kill men sleeping in fraternity houses. He went for women in dorms and sorority houses. Perhaps he had a thing for women, or perhaps he had a thing for killing and went for the situations where he could get away with it.

For all the talk about how you can't stop this stuff, the perps seemt to take care to choose targets where they can't be stopped. They could commit suicide by cop without killing a bunch of kids, simply by shooting cops in front of the precinct. But they choose places where they can do what they want to do without interference until the end.

Which means they're making a prudential judgment about where they'll be successfully resisted. And not going there.
10.5.2006 11:22am
Aultimer:
Professor V -

Tying this post to a previous one, any thoughts on whether the Pennsylvania funeral protest law would have succeeded in keeping the WBC protestors away from the Lancaster funerals (which they'd planned and then cancelled in exchange for airtime)? The PA law has a 500 foot buffer, which would seem problematic.
10.5.2006 1:43pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Richard, I realize this is a blog inhabited largely by civil lawyers, but spend a few days in low level criminal courts before you ascribe a lot of prudential forethought to criminals.

To begin with, over half the perps are likely to be raging drunks, and a good fraction of the rest drug-addled. Their ability to reason from A to B on any subject is shaky.

People rob 7-Elevens because they're not smart enough to rob banks.
10.5.2006 3:37pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Harry. You may be right in general. When I was doing judo and ju-jitsu, nobody invaded our classes. The karate club's functions were not hassled. Mass murderers don't invade police stations or hand gun classes, and women seem to be the target of choice for serial killers.

These clowns seem to get off on planning as much as they do the deed, they do so much of it.

So I think they're an exception. As demonstrated by the facts.
10.5.2006 9:26pm