The Gun Issue

Pete Luna/Uvalde Leader-News

Last week I wrote about Uvalde and the issues around school safety and firearms safety. Mary Wells and I also wrote this.

The short version is that these episodes are shocking but far more rare than most people realize. Schools are safe and trying to convince parents otherwise in pursuit of political goals is counterproductive no matter how worthy those goals may be. And “hardening” education “targets” works against positive and effective school culture and school culture is the best way to prevent school shootings. School shootings are best understood as a general societal gun and violence problem that sometimes occurs in schools – given their ubiquitousness in communities.

As is often the case on tough issues I got some great notes, thank you. A few asked for what else I’ve written on the issue, so here’s a short syllabus. By way of priors, it’s informed by a few things: I do some work on security, I’m an analyst and cover the issue, and I’ve been a first responder. I’m also not hostile to the 2nd Amendment or gun ownership but believe that with rights come responsibilities and the 2nd is not somehow the only amendment without some limits. Lots of gun owners believe that.

In 2012, after Sandy Hook, I argued in TIME that we need a moderate alternative to the National Rifle Association to disrupt politics on this issue and help change the special interest – general interest dynamic that is a big reason even modest gun safety measures don’t pass despite a lot of support. Since then the NRA has fallen on hard economic times because of its leadership, but the gun lobby remains potent. That’s in no small part because although the NRA gets the ink it has several groups on its right flank billing themselves as no-compromise alternatives to the NRA. That’s the political leverage on politicians who are worried about a primary. And that dynamic is the one to disrupt.

In 2018, after Parkland, I revisited the idea of a sportsmen, hobbyist, and conservation oriented organization in U.S. News & World Report and also made the point that changing the politics around this issue is going to take time and patient capital, not just a vote in the Senate. That capital, best I can tell, is still not there. Sincere people want quick fixes. Political operatives want an issue.

After the Michigan shooting late last year I noted how preventable these episodes generally are. But that’s about school culture, trusting environments, not about preparing for a gunfight. The answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good trusting relationship so students feel comfortable raising concerns with adults in their school community.

I’ve also written about Parkland some, which is a story of irresponsibility and inattention by the school district. The local paper won a Pulitzer covering that, but it has not penetrated the national conversation.

In The 74 in 2018, I urged everyone to dial down the fear with kids and parents given the reality that mass school shootings, while horrific and shocking, are rare. Routine gun violence is a much more pervasive problem though it’s more race and class focused. That idea doesn’t seem to have caught on as we’re back to irresponsible rhetoric about how dangerous schools are.

Also in 2018, Drew Pache and I wrote in The 74 that preparation for any school violence means just that, be prepared. It doesn’t mean you have to terrify kids or teachers.

I didn’t write this piece, but asked Pache to write about the idea of arming teachers and why its adherents have watched too many movies. He did that for The 74. Not enjoyable reading but it’s the real deal.

Here in The 74 I wrote about how the media hypes school shooting numbers and black guns scare everyone, but we ought to pay more attention to the grinding costs of handgun violence.

Also in The 74, during 2020’s big push to kick school resource officers out of school buildings I made the obvious point that you do sometimes need them. And if schools move that way they need a more robust support and counseling apparatus in the wake of any change.

There are other cats and dogs but that’s a good sampling. Hopefully it’s a list that doesn’t get much longer.