Sandy Hook & Schools

Even before all the details are known, what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary this morning is clearly a horrible human tragedy, unimaginable whether or not you are a parent. It’s also a gun violence tragedy and we have way too many of those – and I say that as someone who is generally pro-gun rights (“generally” means also pro-sensible regulation of some kinds of firearms). Still, and this is of course cold consolation to the families directly involved, while incidents like this at schools stun us and seize headlines, overall gun violence is not common in schools.  CDC data show that less than 2 percent of youth homicides even occur at school (while overall homicide is the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 25-24). In terms of risks to students in school there are other more prevalent issues – bullying and other safety issues.

So what happened today should lead us to have a serious conversation about gun violence – although many other awful incidents in the past should have as well, and have not. But other than common sense security measures the implications for schools are much less obvious and we should seek to disentangle what is a societal problem from what is a school problem.

15 Replies to “Sandy Hook & Schools”

  1. Hopefully this hideous tragedy will be the last straw regarding guns in our country. Please contact your representatives in DC to take action against this senseless violence. There is no reason on earth why our citizens need assault rifles.

  2. An aspect that ought to be part of the discussion is the difference of violence depending upon the neighborhood. Kids in high crime areas usually don’t experience gun violence, especially on a massive level. Virtually all of these mass murderers are from middle and upper class Caucasian families.

  3. R,

    You miss the point. Guns have existed in this country since our founding fathers. And with the passage of time, guns evolved and acquired even more tlethal capabilities. But no one turned them on fellow citizens.

    As someone who spent his life around incomprehensibly lethal weapons I have a constructive perspective: When guns are mixed with CONTEMPT, the outcome will never be good.

    Hatred is an understandable emotion. It is based upon fear. But contempt is a smoldering long term resentment, and our experience with it suggests that its basis and germination is in religion and politics.

    The turning point of civil conduct in our country occurred with Patrick Buchanan’s famous 1992 speech at the RNC, in which he talked about waging “culture war”.

    That was carte blanche to wage campaigns of contempt against specific groups of people. And in the past twenty years no one has come in for more of that deadly emotion than teachers and the public schools.

    Mix guns with a cavalier and contemptuous regard for a group of people and an institution and that spells bloodshed and violence. Shall we talk about Bosnia? Shall we talk about Iraq. Or about Afghanistan and their servant class?

    At the War college my class discussed the dynamics of a group of people gaining political power through scapegoating certain part of the populace. Can you deny that has not happened in this country?

    An immediate remedy is needed. For the heroic teachers and principal who gave their lives I recommend this immediate action:

    1. Posthumous Medal of Freedom.
    2. Burial with full honors in a local national cemetery.

    How about edu-refomers? Is it time to hold back on the reform rhetoric? Is it time to recognize that teachers were telling the truth when they said their jobs were different?

    Here is thoug experiment. Exactly how many of us would step into a bullets path to save someone else’s child.

    Some on the internet are saying they would. How would they know. I close with a quote from Homer’s Illiad:

    “Where you my brother in the battle where men win honor, and now you come striding forth in your great heart…”

    Honor is due these brave souls who gave their last measure for the good of these children and civl society.

    Who has the guts to get onboard with this? Or will your career enhancing biases get in the way?

  4. Who would have thought that when a few brave souls in this country’s military defeated the communists and the wall came down, that their elected leader and politicians would find an enemy within, and identify it repeatedly for the past 20 years as teachers and the public schools.

    Do we need to be reminded of C. Rice and her ridiculous assertion that teachers were a national security threat?

  5. If those of us interested in education research and policy are dismayed at the frequent inability of the media and talking heads to understand K-12 research and report on it accurately, we can at least take solace in the fact that we’re light years ahead of the dimwits who weigh in on gun control policy and research.

    If I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard a media talking head report correlations between countries with gun control laws and higher murder rates as if it were *definitive* causal evidence that gun laws increase safety, I’d be retired by now. It drive me nuts that we allow people on TV (e.g. Piers Morgan) to discuss research without having a clue about things like peer review, causal inference, etc.

    We’re doing so much better in education, but the “study laundering” is still a problem. I understand that these issues are emotional, but whether one is pro or anti-gun control, bad policy is made based on emotions. Good policy is made based on causal inference in peer reviewed research.

  6. To DaProfessor:
    Causal inference and peer reviewed research are not are not necessary ingredients for good public policy- especially when simple common sense is readily available. I don’t need a peer reviewed study to convince me that restricting access to assault weapons is good public policy. I have yet to hear anyone explain the public policy goal that is accomplished by allowing basically any adult the right to possess a weapon whose only purpose is to kill en masse. Emotions don’t make bad policy- policy makers who don’t have the necessary courage or wisdom make bad policy.

  7. Adam,

    Of course you’d “prefer” for public policy to be made based on common sense. But whose common sense? Sounds like… ahem, your own? Now that sounds well-reasoned, doesn’t it?

    Not really. The reasons we do things like teach evolution in schools, fight for sex education being taught, and are trying to do something about climate change are because we purposefully looked at the scientific evidence on these various subjects rather than the ideological, emotional, or religious convictions of a bunch of rubes who’d prefer to make policy based on *their* version of common sense.

    That’s the problem when you worship common sense > unemotional data-driven causal inference. And yes, there is plenty of research suggesting that gun control has perverse effects on crime published in some of the leading journals in social science (e.g. American Economic Review). I suggest, but won’t hold my breath, that you dig into some of the research yourself. It’s always better to be fact-driven than emotionally-driven in figuring these things out.

  8. Last Thursday, Michigan legislators passed a bill that would allow certain people to carry concealed firearms in schools and other previously gun-free zones.

    One group that has taken no position on the legislation is StudentsFirst, the education reform group… that happens to be active in Michigan politics.

    Asked about its stance, StudentsFirst spokeswoman Ileana Wachtel said, “StudentsFirst believes that schools have to be a safe haven for kids. It is incumbent upon our elected officials to ensure that every single child is protected, particularly those under the care and direction of our public schools.”

    Asked whether that means the group supports or opposes the concealed-carry expansion, Wachtel said, “We’re focused on education reform policies. That’s what we do.”

    Although the group takes no public position on the measure, StudentsFirst’s allies in Michigan politics have no problem with concealed carry in schools. Indeed, the vast majority of the Michigan legislators whom StudentsFirst recently endorsed voted in favor of the legislation. Of 22 legislators who received election endorsements from StudentsFirst, 14 supported the bill (all of them Republican), one voted against it (a Democrat), and seven others aren’t in office.

  9. You ask for VOLUNTARY RESPONDERS. You give them guns.

    The incident starts: The kid has an AK47 this time. Spraying bullets everywhere.

    The first responder teacher has second thoughts:


    Teacher heads for the side door and safety.

    Gunmen continues rampage killing hundreds.


    How do you require their own SELF SACRIFICE? Would their desertion be a fireable offense? Would they lose their job because they REFUSED TO PERFORM HARI-KARI?

    So,right wing loons, how does it work that YOU are the center of your own universe, reading your Ayn Rand books, while YOU DEMAND AND COMPEL others to give their lives to protect YOUR CHILDREN?

    Hey Rotherham, it is time to head to your edu-reform get togethers, scratch your heads, and wonder whether your view of education is a bit detached from reality.

    One more time, the patron saint of individualism and free markets, says that SELF SACRIFICE IS AN IMMORAL AND ILLOGICAL POSITION FOR ANY RATIONAL INDIVIDUAL TO ADOPT.

  10. Rand’s books are NOT on the required reading list for Navy officers and enlisted.

    Case CLOSED.

    Our binding oath to this country is Honor, Courage, Commitment.

    But the public thinks that self sacrifice is part of a teacher’s job description. Using their logic, what is the metric? Is there some kind of VAM model for this?

    How will VAM account for traumatized children and how will that affect teacher evaluations?

    IF we demand objective measures, then how do we ACCOUNT for these kind of BLACK SWANS.

  11. DaProfessor,
    Actually, I never said that I would prefer public policy be based solely on common sense. What I said was that sometimes common sense is enough. Did we need peer reviewed studies to confirm that slavery was unjust and not good public policy? Do we need quasi-experimental designs to demonstrate that driving while impaired is a public safety concern? Do we need research findings to tell us that dog fighting should be banned? My point is not to diminish the role that research can and should play in policy development. In fact, as someone who is involved in policy development, I frequently rely on research for guidance. However, research is not and should not be the only tool in the toolbox. How should we handle situations when the research is inconclusive or contradictory in its findings. While there may be research that shows the gun control efforts have little or no impact on crime, there is also research that shows that gun ownership leads to increases in accidental fatalities. There was a recent study that reported that people that carry guns are more than 4 times more likely to be shot than unarmed people (the difference is even more stark when you look at armed people attempting to defend themselves).

    I will end my argument where I began it. Explain to me the public policy goal that is accomplished by allowing individuals to possess semi-automatic assault rifles?

  12. To Da Professor,

    I am familiar with this report done at the University of Chicago by an economist firmly allied with the gun lobby. His work was seriously questioned by the NBER.

    Social science is having serious credibility problems. Particularly economics, which is driving the education reformation debate, has failed in its core mission of predicting business cycles, explaining or predicting either rational individual or market behavior, and relying on less than robust theories to explain black swan phenomena.

    I would like very much to believe your data driven methodology, but assumptions matter. And economic research and regression is littered with questionable assumption and made up laws in much the same way Central Park in New York is littered with trash. In fact, the issue is so pressing that Roubini has questioned the usefulness of the discipline.

    A finance professor at M.I.T. made a pithy little presentation in which he said the social sciences suffered from physics/math envy and that in their rush to quantify their results they were creating even more inaccurate results.

    If physics were to behave and perform as social science does, we would all be dead. It is time to rely on common sense more than on social science. It has provided results that are abysmal for our nation and society.

  13. If we continue down the path of expert advice from social scientists we will go over the cultural cliff.

    We bow down to assault weapons.

    We beat down teachers, cops, and firemen.

    Who thinks this is NOT headed in the direction of other select groups. Who thinks they can predict the frustration, rage, and fury of the masses?

    And please show me your data.

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