Washington’s ideological blinders too often prevent anything approaching a rational discussion of issues. The battle lines are drawn and most everybody assumes without thinking that any suggestion emanating from “enemy” lines must be dangerous, wrong or even crazy.
In response to Columbine, then-President Bill Clinton and a Democratic Congress enacted a program called Cops in Schools. Today, 23,000 public and private U.S. schools provide armed security for our children. Yet when National Rifle Association (NRA) Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre suggested that armed security officers in our nation’s schools would help prevent the next Newtown, he was greeted immediately and unthinkingly with derision and hostility. A New York rag called him the “Craziest man in America”; New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dismissed the idea out of hand, and teachers’ unions went berserk about any hint that their members could protect their young charges.
The idea was brusquely dismissed out of hand as too costly by some liberals and derided by others as an overreaction to the Connecticut shootings. One school “security expert” said it would be money and effort wasted because such incidents are so rare that guarding against them isn’t worth the effort. Much of this comes, of course, from the same folks who say we just need another gun law or two and that school shootings justify gutting the Second Amendment.
Away from the madding crowd, not everyone rejects the idea simply because the NRA suggested it. Mr. Christie was dismissive immediately, but the head of school security in Camden, N.J., must not have heard his governor’s comments before telling a reporter that he thought providing armed security was a good idea. Democratic California Sen. Barbara Boxer announced that she favors putting armed National Guardsmen in our schools. Mrs. Boxer’s far more radical suggestion caused barely any media ripple.
President Obama and others say they want a “conversation” about how to prevent another Newtown, but it appears that to them, such a conversation should focus mainly on firearms restrictions through a renewal of the discredited Clinton-era “assault weapons” ban, which was sunset because even police agreed it had no effect on crime and violence. This proposal and others like it may make people feel that they’ve “done something,” but they won’t prevent the next Newtown. A rational conversation focusing on protecting our children would be far more useful and in keeping with the needs and desires of the American public. Such a “conversation” would involve a serious discussion of the failings of our current mental health system and the role of violent videos and computer games in pushing borderline personality types over the edge.
This is not to say everyone with a mental health problem is a potential killer or that any kid who plays one of today’s popular graphic war games is about to take up a gun and kill his mother, but it is to say that we need to address these areas of concern if we want to deal with the sorts of mass shootings that, while rare, have become more common in recent decades.
These are problems the NRA has never ignored. As president of the NRA in the 1990s, the late Charlton Heston addressed violence in music and video productions. As long ago as 1966, the NRA was urging action to bar those with mental problems from owning guns. In the decades since, little has been done to improve the treatment of the potentially dangerous mentally ill or to include those who have been adjudicated mentally ill on the national registry of people prohibited from purchasing firearms.
These are serious and complicated questions that must be addressed if we are to keep our children safe, but none of them will be solved overnight. That’s why it makes all the sense in the world to provide armed security for our children. As Mr. LaPierre told NBC’s David Gregory during a “Meet the Press” interview on Sunday, “If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy.”
David A. Keene is president of the National Rifle Association of America.