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Are Schools Safe? Not According To A New Book.

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I have just finished reading a book, Children Under Fire – An American Crisis written by John Woodrow Cox. Because he’s a reporter for The Washington Post, the book has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. I’m sure the book will wind up on the short list for a National Book Award, and for all we know, maybe Cox is in the running for a Nobel Prize too.

There’s only one little problem, however, with this book. When it comes to giving us the facts about out gun violence, Cox just gets it wrong.

The book is a very detailed, very emotionally laden story about how two kids dealt with fatal shootings, in one case of a school classmate, the other the killing of the kid’s dad. The latter took place outside of an elementary school in Washington, D.C., the former on the campus of a school in a remote, South Carolina town.

Two shootings, one involving a Black, the other involving a White that occurred in two very different communities. The whole point of the book is to argue that notwithstanding the racial, demographic, cultural and geographic differences between where these two shootings occurred, the results were the same: loss of a precious life, intense trauma for the survivors, meaningless efforts to stop such events from happening again. 

What Cox refers to as a ‘crisis,’ is that so much of this gun violence seems to involve schoolchildren, either as perpetrators, victims, onlookers or family members of someone in a shooting event.  He says that “nearly 39,000 young people ages five to eighteen were killed by bullets between 1999 and 2017,” [p. 112]    

The actual number is 39,186, but Cox forgets to point out that 28,568 of these victims (73%) were 16 years old or above.  Which means that probably three-quarters of the kids who Cox believes were in school when they were killed, may actually not have been attending school at all.

There are roughly 50 million children enrolled in pre-K to 12th grade.  So, the percentage of school kids who are involved in gun violence is somewhere around .0002 percent.  Wow.  That’s some crisis.

Cox goes on to argue that in order to figure out what to do about this crisis, we need more research. He then relates what has become a standard bromide in gun-control circles about how Congressman Jay Dickey, who authored the amendment to the CDC budget that eliminated funding for gun research, ended up regretting his action in the year or so prior to his death.

I have read virtually every, single piece of evidence-based research on gun violence that has been published since Art Kellerman and Fred Rivara published the two articles in 1993 and 1994 which found that access to a gun created a health risk. Many of these articles are based on analyzing the race, gender, income, age, blah, blah, blah and blah of the perpetrators and victims of gun violence. 

I have never read one, single piece of research which even attempts to figure out whether the victims or the shooters were enrolled in school when the shooting actually occurred. Not one. And Cox says we need more research?

The book contains an interesting chapter on what Cox calls the ‘charlatans’ who have created a cottage industry selling security programs to schools, even though schools are very safe locations, certainly safer than the street. Cox interviewed a bunch of these phonies who were exhibiting their products at a national school safety trade meeting held at Orlando in 2018.

Funny, but Cox somehow manages to miss what is probably the biggest, single school security program of all, a scam outfit called Stop the Bleed, which sells tourniquet kits that plug up a bullet hole in someone’s head.

Who owns a company which uses a shabby marketing strategy based on a fear of non-existent violence to peddle its products?  None other than the American College of Surgeons, that’s who.

This book is long on emotion and short of facts. Which makes it typical of how many people who should know better talk about guns.

How Do We Make Schools Safe?

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              Our friend Shannon Watts is back in the news again because her parent organization, Everytown, has joined with the two major teachers’ unions – AFT and NEA – to raise concerns about the value of active shooter drills which are now performed in 95% of all public schools. This follows a report on school safety issued by Everytown last year, which outlined some basic strategies endorsed by the unions who represent most of the teachers working in the 132,000 public schools every day.

              School security has become a major issue because some of the worst mass shootings – Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland – have occurred in both elementary and high schools. And while a school building is still a very safe place, our friends in Fairfax and other loony-tunes gun nuts have been pushing the idea of arming teachers and conducting exercises to protect teachers and students from shooters, usually referred to as lockdown drills.

              When I was in the 5th grade, we had to squat down under our desks because the Russians were going to drop an atomic bomb on our city and lying down underneath our desks would protect us from harm.  I enjoyed these drills because it gave me an opportunity to fool around with my seat-mate Brenda, who had been left behind twice and was therefore already somewhat physically endowed.  I had absolutely no idea who the Russians were or what the term ‘atomic bomb’ really meant. I didn’t know and I didn’t care. All I really cared about was trying to cop a quick feel from Brenda without Mrs. Morse interfering in our fun.

              The lockdown drills now being conducted by a security industry are very unlike what I did to keep myself from being immolated by an atomic bomb. The drills require students to simulate a situation in which a shooter is roaming through their school, complete with warnings from teachers, maybe viewing a life-size replica of someone who has been shot, lining up and running out of the building in a minute or less. The companies which provide this service are now raking in more than $3 billion every year. Meanwhile, the kids often suffer from all kinds of psychologically-damaging reactions, and there’s no evidence that these drills make  schools safer or more secure.

              Shannon gave a solid interview on behalf of the new Everytown report. She was speaking on behalf of Everytown, but when it comes to school safety, she knows what she’s talking about because she also runs MOMS. And the MOMS organization must count at least several million mothers whose children attend school. So, when Shannon says that she hears again and again about kids who were terrified because they had to take part in lockdown drills, she isn’t just pushing out some alarmist messaging designed to raise more funds.

              Right after Sandy Hook, the boys from Fairfax rolled out a school safety program called School Shield, which went nowhere fast. The program involved doing safety audits of school sites, training teachers to watch for threats, hardening school premises with better locks, more alarms and stronger doors. Nobody who is seriously concerned about school safety paid attention to this PR stunt because, after all, the NRA has been promoting the elimination of gun-free zones such as schools for years.

              I have no issue with the security measures being promoted by Everytown which are endorsed by the AFT and the NEA. But perhaps as they move forward in this program, they might want to think of one more safety initiative as well.

              Most school systems now have curricular attention being paid to violence, but the violence is usually defined as bullying or other forms of personal, physical abuse. Why not widen the definition of violence to include teaching the kids about the risk of guns? After all, there isn’t a school system anywhere that doesn’t expose its students to the risks of smoking, drugs, obesity and unprotected sex. So why should gun violence remain, as they say, the odd man out?

Active Shooter Drills Don’t Belong In Schools.

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              There’s a guy out in Davis, CA named Bryan Malte, who runs an organization called the Hope and Heal Fund.  Bryan has been in and around the gun-control movement for almost 30 years, and after a long stint with Brady, he and his wife moved back to California where he runs this important effort to help reduce gun violence in California, although what he does obviously has application just about everywhere else.

              Last week Bryan published a very significant column on his website and on Medium about active shooting drills in schools. Since you already have a link to his website, here’s a link to the Medium piece as well. You might want to read his column on the Medium website, because if it gets enough traffic then it might become a featured piece which would get even more people to read what Bryan has to say.

              What he has to say is that a whole industry has now grown up around the idea of ‘hardening’ our schools to protect the teachers and children from someone entering the building with the intention of shooting the whole place up. The active shooting industry’s target customer base goes far beyond education – hospitals, workplaces – anywhere that might attract some jerk with a gun will sooner or later get solicited by a salesperson selling them a program to help them get prepared. Or as one of the leading companies calls it, moving the customer from a ‘passive to proactive response.’

              This is all pure, unadulterated crap and like the gun industry itself, what is being promoted is a response to fear. Bryan hits this one right out of the park when he notes that not only are schools about the safest places for kids and adults, but the active-shooter drills are themselves likely to cause fear. How do you think a bunch of schoolchildren are going to react when they witness a staged shooting “replete with fake blood and student-actors’ ‘bodies’ on the hallway floors?”

              Were it the case that merchandising the fear of schoolchildren was only being done by a cadre of fast-buck private outfits I wouldn’t be so concerned. After all, since when has American ingenuity not found a way to make money off of fear?  I don’t know if he’s still peddling freeze-dried food for your backyard bunker, but Glenn Beck has been touting moving your savings into gold and silver for at least the last ten years.

              On the other hand, when the huckstering is done by the one professional group whom he would like to believe only gives us advice on what we really need, then something is seriously wrong. I am referring to a program called ‘Stop the Bleed,’ run by the American College of Surgeons with a shopping cart on their website where you can purchase anything from a Personal Bleeding Control Kit for $69, up to a wall-mounted Bleeding Control Station for $800, the latter product can probably be attached to the hooks which used to hold the fire extinguisher in the hall.

              Along with the medical supplies a school district can also opt for training, which gives kids an opportunity to develop the same traumatic fears that might occur after they get done with the active shooting drill.  Come to think of it, why not give the kids a dose of both?  In the morning they can learn how to stand on a toilet seat so that the shooter won’t know if anyone’s in the john; after lunch they can see some pictures of how a person might bleed out unless they wrap a bandage around the injured arm.

              In 2018, the American College of Surgeons donated $841,780 to Congressional candidates, with members of the GOP getting almost 60% of the total. So far for the 2020 election, the GOP candidates are again slightly ahead. Every, single one of these GOP recipients shamelessly votes the NRA line. And these surgeons want us to believe that selling their crummy, little medical kits to schoolkids will make a difference when someone walks into the classroom with an AR15?

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