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"What Can We Do to Stop Massacres?"

UPDATE: This April 2010 report by the US DOJ states, "Moreover, nearly half of all public schools have assigned police officers."  Obviously, this statement does not make clear whether or how they are armed.

This is the question posed by the Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg in a piece written for the Atlantic magazine and published just prior to the massacre in Newtown, CT.  He recaps some important points from the article here (link to the full magazine piece here).  The very title of the full piece, "The Case for More Guns (And More Gun Control)," is probably at least 50% offensive to some of you, but the piece itself is well-researched and well worth the read.

Everyone has had their chance by now to mock the speech given by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre.  Indeed, he said many mockable things, but is putting a cop in every school really a crazy response to mass shootings?  The Atlantic's Michael O'Brien took a much needed look at what it might cost, both economically and socially.  He reports some surprising findings, most notably that a majority of Americans favor this solution according to a recent poll by Gallup, that it would not be cost prohibitive in dollar terms, but that it may actually have a net effect of making students feel less safe.

That's all worth considering.  That we could conceivably afford to do it means it's actionable.  However, even if it were guaranteed that the measure would be make schools safer, it might impact learning.  Is that a trade-off we should make?

I'm curious as to how some of you who dismiss this idea immediately feel about measures like putting marshals on airplanes.  There are significant similarities between mass shootings and terrorist attacks.  They're both events that are unlikely but devastating.  They both tend to be perpetrated by people who intend not to live beyond the attack.

There are also some key differences.  First, even though the efficacy of some of these measures is dubious, there is heavy security screening prior to boarding a plane.  Second, though we did expand the Federal Air Marshal program as a response to the 9/11 attacks, we still don't put a marshal on every flight.  Marshals fly undercover and exploit this to increase the deterrent effect without increasing cost.

It's unclear how effective this program has been.  Both the Richard Reid and Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab took flights that departed from Europe.  Both were subdued by unarmed passengers, not marshals.  Both made it onto planes with bombs that were poorly constructed, which is why their intended victims lived.  Additionally, the program has had its share of controversy, something that we should probably expect by now from organizations that operate primarily in the dark.

I think it's also worth distinguishing deterrent effects from tactical response in this discussion.  Most flights don't have a marshal.  This means we have them in place purely as a deterrent.  Marshals that aren't present can't actually respond to a threat in progress. Attackers might not know whether there is a marshal present, but chances are there isn't.

As others have noted, O'Brien also mentions in his piece that cops did actually show up to the Columbine massacre while shooting was still progress.  However, as pointed on this NYT piece submitted by Dag's erica20, Columbine reflected a turning point in how police respond to mass shootings.  At that time, the protocol was to wait for back up and attempt to talk the perpetrators down under the assumption that they wanted something.  Given this protocol, the officers on the scene kept their distance and engaged the shooters with pistols from beyond the effective range of their weapons.

Obviously mass shooters have no intent of negotiating anything with anyone.  As such, the strategy deployed by first responders has evolved.  Now, officers are trained to make neutralizing the shooter a top priority.  They train to do this even without backup and even when there are victims in need of aid.  In other words, get an armed responder to the shooter as fast as possible.

If we accept that this is our first-best response to mass shootings, then there is an obvious advantage to having such a responder present at all times.  So, it seems to me that if we were to put a cop in every school, we should consider the potential both for the deterrent effects and the potential for an effective, immediate tactical response that minimizes casualties.  I'm not sure what the deterrent effects would be.  It might not be possible to know.  One thing that we can be reasonably sure of is that the general deterrent effects of police fail in these cases.

If we really wanted to be able to mount an immediate tactical response in these situations, then it wouldn't necessarily be enough to simply station a cop at every school.  We would need to station someone there who is specifically trained and sufficiently equipped to respond to these events at every school (and that's just to be concerned with only schools).  Perhaps it would be best to station these responders in a secure, private, non-descript room on campus where they could monitor the school via closed-circuit cameras, potentially giving them the advantage in orchestrating evacuation, lockdown or other security protocols.  This might also avoid any kind of negative psychological effects of having an armed presence on campus, though this isn't guaranteed.

As I noted in my last piece, it seems to me as if many people have reacted to this most recent shooting, at least somewhat understandably, by doubling down on however they already felt about the attendant issues, particularly the issue of gun violence.  Unfortunately, I think that this helps insure that impactful solutions remain elusive.  For instance, many people had fun taking shots at Megan McArdle for suggesting that we might train children to rush a shooter, but then some of these same people argue that we should ban high-capacity magazines precisely because it would give victims of these events more frequent opportunities to do just that - rush and overwhelm their attacker.  To me, this position does not entirely compute.  To be perfectly clear for those who are having a hard time with this sort of thing, this criticism is not an argument against restricting magazine capacity.

It's also a long way from tackling the larger problem of gun violence.  Economist Noah Smith notes in this piece that the most impactful policy change we could make to reduce gun violence, outside of a total ban on and collection of all guns, is to end the failed War on Drugs.  Of course, maybe we don't care about those deaths so much because most homicides are committed during the commission of a felony.

I'm not arguing that we should necessarily put a cop in every school or train children to overwhelm shooters.  I'm trying to find an answer to the question posed by Jeffrey Goldberg.  I don't yet have any children of my own, but I do have many in my family.  Most of them are of the age of the children brutally murdered in Newtown.  They are not in school right now.  In a few days, I will get to visit with them.  It is one of the great joys of my life.  I will get to give them their presents.  We'll play together.  And I'll be very thankful that they're safe and happy.

When they return to school after their break, we likely still won't have an answer to the question of how to protect them from these events - or if we even can.  I think that matters a great deal.

In the meantime, I wish you all an exceptionally safe and happy holiday.

I am worried that the 'wrong' folks will have firepower and that the good will lose the ultimate battle.

Of course it is the 22nd so we escaped one Apocalypse. 

Wait a minute....

There is someone at the door and I must shoot him!

I'm not sure what the deterrent effects would be.

It was reported that the school shooter in Conn., took his own life, when he saw officers about to enter the school.

Had the officers not shown up, I believe the carnage would have been greater.

The Police presence, was a definite deterrent. 

Correct.

Further, had Sandy Hook had a long or even a short term practice of having 1-2 armed officers monitoring the school parking lot (not with cameras, I'm talking about standing there visibly watching what is going on) and adjacent street(s), I seriously doubt Lanza would have even planned his attack, let alone carry it out with deadly results/

Frankly, I think there's a pattern here; in addition to having an obvious mental problem, most of these rampage killers are attention whores. And/or they have a big axe to grind and want to "send a message" to whomever.

We have to remove potential public venues from being targeted by rampage killers; the best way to do that is the presence of armed security guards-- where they can be seen, and we need much better security facility-wise.

There's a reason why rampage killings are not occurring at football stadiums and airports.

The schools my grand children attend have a resource officer. The officers are from the local police and sheriff office. They are there during school hours and after school events. They park their cruiser in front of the main entrance. They are there to be a positive roll models and also help.with workshops on drugs, guns and bullying. They settle fights and handle kids that have brought gun or drugs to school. They also keep an eye out for child abuse and neglect to notify the proper authorities to look into it. They dress in full uniform with side arm. Having a officer may or may not deter a crazy hell bent on murder and suicide. Semi automatic weapon with a extra large clip in the hand of a mass murder is hard to take down. That is why cops want them band because the cop.is out gunned with firepower.

I don't think the idea of putting a cop in a school is offensive to most people here. The problem people have with the idea is the either/or manner this proposal is so often framed. When you say, "a majority of Americans favor this solution" rather than a majority of Americans are in favor of this solution it implies we should use this one solution rather than a multifaceted approach using several of the many proposals that people are in favor of. I'd bet most people favor a multifaceted approach of several remedies they are in favor of rather than any one solution.

A cop in every school wouldn't have stopped the Aurora shooting in a movie theater. Or the Giffords mass murder in a parking lot. Or the mass shooting that was occurring in a church in PA at the same time as LaPierre was making this same proposal. The armed guard at Columbine didn't stop that shooting nor did the armed guards at Virginia tech.

A cop in every school might have some tiny effect on gun violence. I'm not opposed to symbolic gestures with small effect as long as they are part of a comprehensive approach that includes other more significant remedies that attempts to deal with this problem from many angles.

In a previous post where you argued against an assault weapon ban that polls show most people are in favor of you stated, "I'm not interested in symbolic gestures.  I'm interested in how we can significantly increase the safety of innocent people."  Yet here you are proposing what seems to me a symbolic gesture that will not significantly increase the safety of innocent people. Considering your previous post this post proposing a cop in every school seems to be a symbolic gesture designed not to lessen gun violence but to avoid an assault weapon ban. At least I'm sure that's LaPierre's purpose in making this proposal.

 

Agreed we need a multi-faceted approach, and that includes much better security systems/practices at places where large numbers of people gather-- which obviously have little to no security in place now-- and I contend that is one reason they are targeted by rampage killers such as "The Joker".

Note that he did not carry out his massacre at a Denver Rockies baseball game. That's because security is there, taken much more seriously than at movie theaters.

Your post overlooks the deterrent impact of visible, serious security. Had Sandy Hook Elementary School had 1-2 police officers monitoring the parking lot-- had this already been in place, I seriously doubt Lanza would have put together and carried out his plan.

Had he attempted to carry out his plan with armed officers in place, he would have been stopped before he shot through the door and entered the school.

Movie theaters, shopping malls, schools are easily targeted by rampage killers-- partly because the killers know from experience there is little to no security at these public places.

I like the two questions, what can we do and what should we do--they do a great job of illustrating and probing the issues at hand.

In theory, I'm not entirely opposed to the idea of having an armed security guard in each school, but I think once we really look at it, most of us will find this an unsatisfying option, especially educators themselves. It may make our children statistically safer in a statistically improbable situation, but the tradeoff in kid perception of safety will probably not be worth it. (You mentioned that you don't have kids yet--I'm lucky enough to have a six-year old, so I can imagine running this stuff by her.)

Then, the guards themselves are human--you have to figure a certain number of accidental and deliberate gunfire into the equation. Not to mention that these well-trained people will have to cope with being incredibly bored and then possibly required to act instantaneously in the event of...an event.

To me, it just won't add up. Which brings us to the question of what we should do.

I'm in on the high-capacity magazine ban. After that, though, I think our efforts need to be much more subtle and aimed at turning the heat down on violence rather than up on "evil geniuses" themselves.

I honestly do not think stationing officers in schools would have as much deterrent effect against spree shooters as LaPierre envisions.  Seems like it would just increase the challenge and make them the first target(s) when it is generally known who they are and where they are likely to be.  It is not hard to imagine Harris and Klebold at least attempting to 'neutralize' an in-school station before the real carnage began.

As much deterrent effect could be accomplished with a random stop and walk the halls during regular police patrols.  No doubt most all schools are on regular patrol routes.  Locating precincts and substations nearby would be a good move as well.  The local station here is across a major intersection from the school complex.  Patrols already pass by two sides going on and returning from regular patrols.  

 

Huh?

How many rampage killings occurred at football/baseball stadiums this year? How many occurred at our airports?

Zero. that's because these public places have serious security systems in place-- both armed guards, camera systems, metal detectors.

Where did the rampage killings this year occur? A sikh temple, a movie theater, a school, a shopping mall... last year, Mr. Loughner attacked and killed people at a grocery store parking lot-- these are all places with little to no security system in place, no police presence.

Armed security is in fact a deterrent. The shooters are picking public places to carry out their dramatic attacks-- because they know there is little to no security at these particular places.

Where does it end? Security guards at theaters, schools, churches, playgrounds, malls (already have them but guess we need more), parking lots, playing fields, school buses, public buses, beaches, scenic overlooks, The Worlds Largest Ball of Yarn?

Abortion clinics? Park benches along a runners route?

A gun ban wouldn't have worked against Eric Rudolph, a bomber intent on killing.

No place is safe anymore.

Let the market decide, who'll get supported and which businesses will post a sign "Enter at your own risk" 

I'd prefer to make sure my loved ones, go where security is taken seriously.

Better yet buy online.

Where does it end?  After the end.

I share your frustration, but let's not get off track here. we can discuss another time just how insane/absurd our nation has become overall and the reasons for that.

The key for now is there IS a pattern with these rampage killers.

The answer is an overwhelming yes.

We must have more/better security in public places, schools, universities, etc. and there must be monitoring/tracking of people who suddenly start building an arsenal in their homes and who are broadcasting their hate, anti-social baloney on line. the websites for this are easy to find.

The cost of the above is irrelevant, and the upside is this will create jobs which are badly needed.

As I've pointed out, congress just spent hundreds of billions on the fiascos in Iraq and Afghanistan-- all with absolutely no ROI for we the taxpayers.

Americans are not in danger from al Qaeda, we're threatened right here at home by domestic "terrorists".

My comment was quite on track, thank you very much. It was not an outburst of frustration but a reductio ad absurdum critique of your position. As you yourself pointed out, killers seek out unguarded killing grounds, even parking lots. So guarding the schools may simply reroute the killers to public playgrounds and other "soft" locations. To stop massacres this way, you would have to guard every public gathering in the country, which is neither feasible nor desirable.

As for monitoring people who build an arsenal in their homes, I agreed in another thread that it's a good idea but illegal under current gun laws. 

I meant no disrespect.

I'm having a hard time finding a more absurd scenario than this: 280 million guns in a nation with numerous mentally ill people with easy access to those guns, combined with a near total lack of security at our schools, universities and other public places.

I find the general lack of empathy with the victims concerning. It appears many are more concerned with how a course of action appears, how much it costs-- instead of protecting innocent people from armed madmen.

I'm interested in seeing other realistic solutions, given the obvious fact we're not going to get rid of our 280 million guns-- and whatever law (maybe) passed by congress won't be retroactive.

No offense taken. While I'm skeptical about the effectiveness of armed guards in stemming mass-shootings (at a macro level) for the reasons I've presented, a more effective arms tracking system is a welcome addition to the existing proposals. I'm seeing more discussion of that lately. The NYT endorsed it this morning.

The trick is to get gun rights supporters in Congress to abandon the NRA myth in which Big Brother takes away Americans' guns in order to establish totalitarianism. By law, banks have to report suspicious cash transactions to the feds, and no one thinks twice about it. But when it comes to guns, the NRA treats the flagging of potential criminal behavior as a dangerous infringement of the Second Amendment.

American citizens weren't to keen about government intrusion into bank accounts either; it was forced upon us.

Maybe the government, should have spent more time going after the big players, like HSBC?

One can clearly see and understand, that the government of, by and for the banksters, would go after the little guy.

Forget that the HSBC was financing our enemies and when caught by the government, they had to only pay, a token penalty. 

With Liberty and Justice for all?  How about an equal opportunity, to turn a buck without the government, peering into our bank accounts, looking for a probable cause, circumventing the 4th Amendment.  

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