Sandy Hook.


              Today marks the 9th year since a 20-year old kid shot his mother to death one morning in Newtown, CT, then got in a car and drove across town to the Sandy Hook Elementary school where he gunned down 20 children and 6 adults before putting a bullet through his own head.

              The day of the massacre I was standing in my gun shop and around 1 PM or so the phone rang, and it was the town’s police chief who told me to turn on a TV or a radio to catch the news out of Connecticut, which was our neighboring state.

              I watched the broadcast for about 10 minutes, turned off the TV, left and closed the shop and went home. I didn’t turn on the TV again because I was simply too sick to do anything except sit on my living room couch and try my best to avoid thinking about what had occurred.

              Over the next week or so I appeared on various TV programs in my area, and when I asked one of the talk-show hosts why I was being called up and invited to talk multiple times he replied, “You’re the only gun dealer who’s willing to talk about Sandy Hook without ranting about his 2nd-Amendment rights.”

              Frankly, I didn’t think then and I don’t think now that what happened at Sandy Hook and what has happened at the high school in Parkland, Umpqua Community College The Pulse, and every other place where a bunch of people have been gunned down has anything to do with the 2nd Amendment at all.

              So, what if the Constitution allows you to keep a handgun in your home? What’s that got to do with shooting your way into an elementary school and blasting the place to smithereens? So what if the 2nd Amendment says we can ‘keep and bear arms?’ How can the families who lost children or mothers and fathers ever feel that their Constitutional ‘rights’ should somehow replace the presence of a child or an adult in their home?

              And by the way, for all the talk about how we should get a comprehensive background-check law passed so that only ‘responsible’ and ‘law-abiding’ people can own guns, the AR-15 that the kid used to massacre everyone he saw was not only legally purchased and owned by his mother, but there was no law in Connecticut which prevented the kid from borrowing the gun and committing mayhem across town.

              There is something really fuck*ed up when we take a gun designed only for military use and sell it on the open market as a ‘sporting’ gun. There is something even more fuc*ed up when we also let anyone who hasn’t been locked up for a felony walk around with a handgun designed for the military but sold on the open market as a ‘tool’ for self-defense.

              Incidentally, the Sandy Hook shooter not only had an AR-15 as his basic slaughter gun, he also had a Sig pistol which he used to pop a round into his own head. And guess what handgun the U.S. military has been issued this past year? It’s called a Sig.

And just in case you haven’t watched a good war movie lately like ‘Band of Brothers’ or ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ you might be interested to know that the military doesn’t issue troops any kind of ‘sporting’ gun.

I think it’s important to mark anniversaries, both for things that are good and things that are bad. We all need to spend some time thinking about both because as Hobbes once remarked, life is ‘nasty, brutish and short.’

But we don’t have to make life nastier or more brutish or shorter by doing something as stupid as believing that someone walking down the street with a Sig or a Glock in their pocket is helping to keep himself and the rest of us safe.

All he’s really doing is demonstrating that he suffers from a case of arrested mental development and there’s simply no reason to pretend that he represents anything else.

What Did We Learn From The Michigan School Shooting?


I was going to leave the Michigan shooting behind, but an email from our friend Steve Klitzman contained a link to another comment about the Oxford tragedy which needs to be mentioned and deserves a reply.  It’s a rant about the mother of the shooter written by Dick Polman, who teaches journalism at the University of Pennsylvania and spices up his blog with political commentary from a liberal slant.

The column is entitled, “The parents from hell: America’s decline in a nutshell.”  Polman never bothers to explain exactly how or why America is in a state of decline, his conviction in this respect is based on a nutty blog that the shooter’s mother posted in 2016. The blog was discovered within hours after the massacre at Oxford High School took place and has since become Exhibit #1 to explain how and why an adolescent gets his hands on a Sig-Sauer pistol and kills four students at his school.

School shootings are the most horrendous and frankly, scary events. After all, schools are supposed to be (and usually are) safe havens even in the most violence-prone neighborhoods. To put it bluntly, most communities which suffer a school shooting are never the same again. In Newtown, they had to tear down the Sandy Hook Elementary School because town residents were traumatized just by driving past the facility after the 2012 massacre took place.

The other problem with school shootings is that even when a youngster is identified as having behavioral or mental problems which require individual attention by parents, professional care-givers and school staff, nobody never imagines that the issues are so dangerous and so immediate that a psychological and then physical explosion is about to take place.

The parents of the Michigan shooter had a conference with teachers and school personnel just several hours before their son began his rampage which left four students dead. Did anyone at that meeting inquire as to whether the kid had access to a gun? The school’s official statement says that “The student’s parents never advised the school district that he had direct access to a firearm or that they had recently purchased a firearm for him.”

Were the parents asked if their son had access to a gun? No. They were not.

It seems to me that this would be a much more important question to ask than whether a goofy blog written by the shooter’s mother in 2016 should be taken not only to explain why the kid did what he did, but also to support the idea that America is in a state of ‘decline.’

Adam Lanza’s mother dragged him from one shrink to another in the years prior to his invasion of the Sandy Hook school. James Holmes, who killed 12 and wounded 70 at the Aurora movie theater in 2012 was seeing a shrink at the time of this massacre event. The kid who killed 33 victims at Virginia Tech in 2007, had recently been discharged from a mental health nearby  the school.

So here were three young men who together murdered 70 people in three school shootings, and at no time was the issue of access to guns raised by the mental health professionals who saw them, talked to them, and sent them on their way. And in all three situations, the shooters had been planning their rampages for months in advance – months when they were being treated for emotional distress.

Let me make one thing very, very clear. I am not (read: not) in any way promoting any idea that the professionals who saw these obviously disturbed young men didn’t do their jobs. Mental health isn’t like diagnosing the flu or Covid-19. It’s a terribly complex, multi-layered issue which in many instances we can barely figure out why it occurs or how serious a problem it has become.

On the other hand, how difficult is it to ask any patient or the parents of a patient whether the individual whose behavior is concerning has access to a gun? You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure that one out, okay?

Somehow, don’t ask me how, but when the issue of gun access should be staring professional caregivers and educators in the face, a curious silence emerges, and the presence or absence of a gun is left unsaid.

So, the parents of the Michigan shooter were dopes. So, the parents of the Michigan shooter loved Donald Trump. So, the parents of the Michigan shooter didn’t believe they needed to lock their guns up. So what?

If influential people like Dick Polman would focus on the real lesson which needs to be learned from the Michigan massacre and ignore the prurient content of some stupid blog, maybe we might begin to figure out how to keep our schools as safe havens and, for that matter, make the whole society safe as well.

It’s called a gun, Professor Polman, a gun.          

How Do We Stop School Shootings?


              So, this past Tuesday, a 15-year old student at the high school in Oxford, MI walks into the school with a semi-automatic pistol, shoots off a whole bunch of rounds, kills four kids and wounds seven others, including one teacher. He’s apprehended by two cops within five minutes after his assault began, and that’s that.

              Where did he get the gun which killed and wounded eleven people in five minutes or less? Evidently his father purchased it on Black Friday, no doubt because he wanted a gun for self-defense. I mean, you don’t buy a semi-automatic pistol that carries a magazine with 15 – 20 rounds to go hunting Bambi in the woods or to knock a bird out of a tree.

              In fact, the gun was a 9mm Sig Sauer. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the same model which the U.S. military now carries, the armed forces having decided to upgrade their handheld weaponry from the Beretta 92 pistol that had been issued for the previous thirty years.

              We are the only country in the entire world which gives its residents easy access to guns whose only purpose is to end human life. Now you can rationalize walking around with a Sig or Glock any way you want, but let me break it to the you gently, okay? The World Health Organization defines violence as a medical problem caused by the intentional attempt by one person to injure himself or someone else. And the WHO doesn’t differentiate between so-called self-defense versus an assault. Violence is violence, okay?

              Every year we suffer more than 100,000 deaths and injuries committed by using guns. And we’re not talking about Grandpa’s old shotgun that’s sitting in the basement collecting rust and dust. We’re also not talking about those 22-caliber, bolt-action rifles that you can pay half a buck to shoot at some plastic ducks at the county fair.

              We are talking about guns like the kind of gun that the Oxford shooter used in his assault, and the idea that all we need to do is keep these guns out of the ‘wrong hands’ by locking those guns up and using them in a ‘responsible’ and ‘safe’ way is a joke.

              The same day that this kid committed mayhem with his father’s gun, his father and mother had been at the school talking to teachers and administrators about the behavior of their son. They weren’t at the school to get an award for how well their son was behaving in and out of class. The purpose of their visit was to talk about problems the school was experiencing with their son.

              What do you think were the odds that the parents of this obviously disturbed kid were asked whether their home contained a gun? I’ll tell you what the odds were – zilch. The mother of the kid who slaughtered 25 adults and children at Sandy Hook dragged her son from one shrink to another for years before that horrendous event. Not one medical professional raised the issue of gun access in the home – not one.

              Once Governor Whitmer gets done mouthing her ‘thoughts and prayers’ platitudes about what happened in Oxford and repeats for the umpteenth time that gun violence is a threat to public health, I have a solution for what could be done to prevent or at least reduce school shootings, not just in Michigan but everywhere else.

              Why don’t we pass a law which prohibits anyone from owning or possessing bottom-loading, semi-automatic guns in their home as long as the home is the residence of a school-age child? Would it be what Grandpa would call a gefailech (read: big deal) if everyone had to put off owning a ‘killer’ gun until such time as their children grew up and left home?

              And by the way, for those readers who believe that such a law would jeopardize their beloved gun ‘rights,’ let me break it gently to them as well. It is accepted without question in this country that government has a ‘compelling interest’ in keeping the community safe. Which means that any law restricting ownership of guns whose presence constitutes a clear threat to community safety doesn’t violate the 2nd Amendment at all.

              Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the law which bans assault rifles in the city of Highland Park, a law that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2015. And by the way, this law didn’t ‘grandfather’ in assault rifles that were already owned by residents of Highland Park. The law says that if you want to own an assault rifle, no matter when it was purchased, take your gun and move out of town.

              I don’t understand why my friends in Gun-control Nation go out of their way to avoid the issue of banning the most lethal consumer products that can be kept in the home and then lament and wring their hands when someone uses one of these products the way they were designed to be used.

              Am I missing something here?

Another School Shooting? What Else Is New?


              This morning I got some kind of message about a high school shooting in Alington, TX so I turned on the TV and switched back and forth between Fox and CNN.  And by 1 PM or so the shootings seemed to be over with four injured kids and adults being taken to a local hospital and the shooter, an 18-year old, still at large.

              This past Monday, two members of Florida’s Congressional delegation who both happen to be Democrats, held a press conference to discuss a bill they have filed called the School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act, that will require the Departments of Education, Justice and HHS to gather, compile and publish data on school shootings that will allow legislators to “develop policies and strategies to curb some of this preventable bloodshed at America’s places of learning.”

              Those words came out of the mouth of Debbie Wasserman Schultz who art one time was the Chair of the DNC but had to resign in 2016 when it turned out that she and some other DNC members got together to try and derail the Bernie Sander campaign. Her Congressional District by the way, happens to be right next to the CD which covers the town of Parkland, where a mass shooting in the high school killed and injured thirty-four adults and students in 2018.

              So, Congresswoman Schultz believes we need more information about school shootings in order to know what to do? And she gets paid $174,000 a year plus bennies to get up in public and announce such crap? 

              What I’m going to say right now may come as a great shock to Representative Schultz and any other Member of Congress who signs on to this bill, but we have all the information we need to prevent every single school shooting from ever taking place. 

              Go back to the first big shooting, which was when a former Marine named Charles Whitman went up to the top of the tower on the University of Texas campus ion 1966, and over the next 90 minutes shot and killed fifteen people, wounded another thirty-one and was himself then shot and killed by an armed civilian and a cop.

              Over the years since then there have been other school shootings at places like Columbine, Umpqua Community College, Virginia Tech and of course the big gugga-mugga at Sandy Hook. These are only the shootings which left more than 10-15 people getting injured and dead. Only four people taken to the hospital in Arlington today?  It’s three or four hours since the shooting took place and it’s already off the front page of the news.

              Now what do every, single one of these shootings have in common which they happen to share with the more than three hundred deaths and injuries that Americans suffer from guns every day. Not every week. Not every month. Every friggin’ day.

              And the reason that these shootings never get the headline on the mid-day report from Fox or CNN is that most of these shootings involve either older White men who live in small towns out in the boondocks and shoot themselves or involve younger men and boys who happen to live in what we now politely refer to as ‘underserved zones.’

We used to call these neighborhoods slums, then we became a little more sensitive to the feelings of the slum dwellers and we started talking about ‘ghettos,’ then ‘inner-city neighborhoods’ and now these places are ‘underserved.’

Let me tell you something about these slums or underserved neighborhoods or whatever you want to call them. Since the 1950’s, and I can’t find any data which goes back earlier than 70 years, the people living in these God-forsaken locations have been getting shot at rates that are ten times or higher than what happens in the more, shall we say, ‘proper’ neighborhoods throughout the United States.

My office is located in the South End of Springfield, MA, a neighborhood mostly Hispanic and Black where nobody has a job. The gun-violence rate in this neighborhood is up there with Honduras, maybe even a little worse. Cross the city line and you’re in the suburb of Longmeadow where there hasn’t been a crime involving the use of a gun for at least the last ten years.

When some kids in a suburban high school in Arlington, TX get shot, the story makes the national news. When someone who lives in Springfield’s South End gets shot, it doesn’t even make the local news.

But both of these acts of violence come from the same source, and with all dure respect to Debbie Wasserman who hasn’t yet figured out what to do about these shootings, the answer is right in front of her nose.

Get rid of the goddamn guns.

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.

Active Shooter Drills Don’t Belong In Schools.


              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?

Greg Gibson: A Slightly Different Angle.


My son was killed in a school shooting in 1992. Since that time I’ve been on what people often refer to as a “journey.” I’m not a big fan of pop psychology. Dr. Phil and Oprah can keep their “closure,” “healing” and the like, but in this case the “journey” metaphor fits. Every survivor of gun violence will be on a journey for the rest of his or her life. Each survivor’s journey is an individual odyssey. Some end badly, some end well. Some result in surprising discoveries.

The administrators at my son’s school knew the killer had a gun and ammunition, but they were too inept to stop  the shooting. I’m a writer, and I was so angry at their failures that I wrote a book about the murders, and about guns in America. It was intended to reveal the stupidity of those college administrators, and it succeeded in that. But it also made me realize that there was no redemption in revenge. Instead, I eventually made peace with the college, and became more involved in the gun violence prevention movement. I advocated for sensible gun laws, wrote op-eds, and did talking head duty on TV.

People were generally respectful of my experience as a survivor, but I was told repeatedly that my views had little grounding in fact, because I knew nothing about guns or gun culture. So, a few years ago, I got my Class A Large Capacity license in Massachusetts and bought a couple of handguns. I’d hunted as a kid and am a Navy vet of Vietnam vintage, so guns weren’t new to me. What surprised me was the fact that I found shooting therapeutic. I was mastering the instrument of my suffering.

Recently I published a piece in the New York Times about the idea, proposed by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, that arming teachers would reduce school shootings. In this article I proposed to look into the matter of how much training it would take to transform an average gun owner such as myself (or a teacher or a rabbi with my level of skill) into someone capable of reacting instinctively and flawlessly to an active shooter situation. I was, in essence, trying to imagine myself in the library where my son had been killed. How much training would I have needed to save him?

The answer, of course, was “a hell of a lot.” In short order I became convinced that, instead of training teachers and rabbis to shoot like special forces operatives, it would be wiser and more humane if we could train special forces operatives to be teachers and rabbis.

My article was well-received by the people who already agreed with it. But unexpectedly, this writing project carried me to a place in my 26-year survivor’s “journey” that I could never have imagined.

As research for the article, I began taking lessons in defensive handgun use. By the time it was published, I had become engrossed in the training. I saw how complex and physically challenging tactical defensive shooting could be – like learning ballet or gymnastics but with lethal implications. Given my history, I was surprised at myself for being so interested in this intense and specialized activity.

Then the real surprise came along.

I’d been working away with my Ruger LC9s and my Sig Sauer P229, but I was having some difficulty with the way each gun fit the task. The Ruger felt too jumpy and small, and that first pull on the DA/SA Sig was a bitch. To make matters worse, I have small hands and I’m left handed. Sometimes it felt as if the guns were working against me.

Toward the end of the fourth session my instructor, who’d been steadfastly encouraging me through my difficulties, went inside his big black bag and came out with a pistol, a little smaller than my 229. “Try this,” he said. “It’s striker fired. It’s simpler to operate, and it’s ambidextrous. You can work the slide release and safety with either hand, and you can turn the mag release around to work lefty.” He put the gun in my hand and suddenly my hand was happy. I took a few shots – nice trigger action, comfortable to hold and shoot. “Wow. What is this thing?” It was a Sig P320. I took a few more shots, and then I didn’t want to give it back to him. For the rest of that afternoon and all that evening, I kept remembering how right it had felt to hold and shoot that gun.

If you’re reading this essay, you’ve probably had a similar experience. You find a gun that just feels right. But I’m a gun control advocate and a survivor of gun violence. It wasn’t supposed to be happening to me.

The next day I took my Ruger and my 229 down to my local gun shop and swapped them for a Sig Sauer P320C 9 mm. and a couple of boxes of shells. I drove home happy, feeling as if I’d satisfied a deep need or sorted out a troubling situation.

My training has gone smoothly since then. I’ve learned to extract the pistol from its appendix holster, put rounds in the target, clear a jam, and swap out magazines without posing a danger to myself or others. Soon I’ll be moving and shooting. My instructor says I’ll get faster and smoother. He says it’s all about establishing good habits and repeating them until they become muscle memory. I know I’ll never achieve the proficiency of those guys in the You Tube demos, but that’s all right. I’ve already had a remarkable and unexpected turn in my “journey.” I’ve had a romance with a pistol.

Will I continue to advocate for sensible gun laws and better education about gun safety, mental health and situational awareness? You bet! But I’ll be coming in on these issues from a slightly different angle now.




Tom Gabor – Focus on School Security Is Myopic.


While Floridians are understandably focused on the mass shooting in Parkland, American schools now experience one intentional shooting a week on school grounds.  Among G7 countries, the US has experienced 288 school shootings since 2009, whereas none of the other six nations has experienced more than two of these incidents.

santa feWhile enhancing school security is a legitimate short-term measure in keeping students safe, it falls seriously short of a comprehensive approach to the problem.  School attacks were exceedingly rare prior to 1992 and armed security, active shooter drills, and lockdown procedures, routine in public schools today, were unheard of prior to the 1990s. Thus, security vulnerabilities alone cannot account for the surge in school shootings, as schools now adopt far more security measures than in the past.

Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam has shown that 18-29 year-olds are becoming more disengaged from community life.  Their church attendance, involvement in public meetings and political activities have all declined sharply from the 1970s.  Young people spend more time alone than they did decades ago and more time using electronic devices than they do with family and peers.  Those experiencing some form of crisis are less likely to lean on the family, place of worship, or social organizations as their ties to these institutions are weaker.  Depression among the young has increased dramatically and there has been a 50 percent increase in suicide among 15-24 year-olds from 1999-2014.  This is the age group most at risk to commit school attacks.  There is a significant pool of alienated and depressed young people who may experience despair and act out violently following a precipitating event, such as expulsion from school, loss of a relationship, ostracism by peers, or bullying.

Coinciding with this trend toward increasing social isolation, has been increasing access to weapons designed for combat that can fire highly lethal, high velocity bullets rapidly and that, when equipped with high capacity magazines, can allow a shooter to discharge up to 100 rounds without reloading.  The Parkland (Fla.) shooter obtained his AR-15 legally when he was 18, despite numerous disturbing actions and calls to law enforcement.

The combination of a large pool of at-risk youth and easy access to highly lethal weapons is a recipe for the mass casualty shootings we have seen.  Yet legislators, driven by short-term considerations, are often indifferent to the social factors driving this trend and unwilling to risk the political consequences associated with confronting an intransigent gun lobby that resists even the most popular and modest attempts at gun regulation.  Following Parkland, Floridians are primarily offered enhanced school security on a low budget, along with the option of armed school personnel.

There are numerous “soft” targets for shooters, apart from schools, including theaters, shopping malls, clubs, airports, and stadiums.  Thus, hardening schools alone fails to address the risks to which other citizens are exposed and may place other targets at increased risk as perpetrators seek less fortified  targets.  Many schools around the country already have adopted some basic security measures.  In Florida, after the Parkland mass shooting, just $100 million has been allocated for school security, or about $25,000 per public school–enough to install about a dozen security doors in classrooms.

A serious effort to enhance school security involves access control protocols (screening all who enter a school), surveillance through monitored cameras and patrols, adequate perimeter security, intrusion detection systems, security doors and bullet-resistant windows, adequately trained and properly armed security personnel; emergency communications, and lockdown procedures.  Turning schools into prison-like facilities is prohibitively expensive, creates more fear and disruption for students and teachers, and fundamentally alters the learning environment.

In the unlikely event we went down this path, we would only mitigate risk of one type of soft target–schools.  Until we address the factors that drive school shooters and the easy access to weapons capable of mass slaughter, the promise of a safer society will be unfulfilled.

Thomas Gabor is a criminologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This article was originally published in South Florida’s Sun Sentinel


Thomas Gabor: It’s A Folly To Arm Teachers.


Since the atrocity at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, President Trump has been promoting the idea that arming instructors, or at least some of them, would have prevented the carnage.  The National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has weighed in predictably with the tired slogan he created following the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”   States like Florida are considering adopting some version of this approach in lieu of significant changes in firearm policy.

teachThe recitation of LaPierre’s slogan in the aftermath of these slaughters of our young is, in my view, cynical, offensive, and unsupported by empirical evidence.  It is also as illogical to suggest that increasing the volume of guns will reduce gun violence as it is to make opiates more accessible as a way of addressing the opioid crisis.  The solution of arming teachers is also highly cynical as this measure often depicts teachers as the last line of defense preventing our schools from descending into complete chaos.  Arming teachers or school staff does nothing to address the reasons why so many young men in America, relative to other countries, wish to murder as many of their peers as possible and nor does this proposal address the accessibility of weapons that enable these massacres.

Surveys show that neither teachers nor the public like the idea.  Like their college and university counterparts, most educators are not interested in doubling as security guards and students would feel less safe with schools awash in guns.  Teachers worry about undermining their special role as educators and mentors, which consists of a different skill set from that of security staff.  School teachers are usually women and women tend to have low gun ownership levels.  Schools would likely lose valuable talent.  Even if just some teachers were armed, incentives would likely be required to recruit and retain teachers with armed training, creating a preference for those prepared to undergo the necessary training over talent in the classroom.  In addition, scarce educational resources will be diverted from the classroom to firearms training.

The cost of training teachers and/or other school staff willing to serve as armed marshalls would be prohibitive and ongoing training and recertification would require time out of class, with its associated costs.  Kansas gave school districts the prerogative of arming teachers and the state’s largest insurer of schools refused to cover schools with armed instructors, deeming the situation as unduly risky.

In general, across the US, the training required of those with permits to carry guns, in states where a permit is required, is woefully inadequate.  Rigorous training ought to include instruction in the law pertaining to the use of force, gun safety and handling, judgment (when to shoot and not to shoot), awareness of the possibility of friendly fire incidents, and marksmanship under stress.  Even trained police officers miss their targets about 80% of the time in combat situations.  Deployment of a gun in a crowded school being attacked by a shooter requires exceptional skill, judgment, and composure.

While there are far too many school shootings in the US relative to other countries, there are about 60 per year in about 150,000 public and private schools or 1 in every 3000 schools.  Just as in the case of firearms kept in the home, arming teachers in every school may well result in many more unforeseen misuses of firearms, including  unauthorized uses of force, accidental shootings and discharges, and thefts of guns.  Teachers may over-react in dealing with unruly students and use deadly force to control them, a departure from the intent of arming them.  Issues relating to the disproportionate use of firearms against minority students may arise, as it is an issue with full-time, professionally trained law enforcement officers.[1]

Also, arming at least some teachers will create a new market for the gun industry, one reason the gun lobby supports this initiative.  The industry is currently experiencing a major downturn in sales.  In addition to helping deal with slumping sales in the industry, the entire idea is not just dangerous and harmful to the mission of schools but a huge distraction from what we ought to focus on:  The community and societal issues that produce school shooters and the weapons that enable them.


Thomas Gabor, Ph.D. is a criminologist, sociologist and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.


Thomas Gabor: Gun Licensing Could Have Prevented Parkland Shooting


Tragically, fellow Americans, this time in Parkland, Florida, have once again been slaughtered ruthlessly by a young man wielding a weapon of war.  This is well past the time to discuss how these events can be prevented.  One does not need to be an expert to conclude that military-style weapons that can receive external magazines capable of holding 10-100 rounds of ammunition have no role in civilian life, other than to murder as many people as possible in the shortest time span.

parkland3Aside from banning these weapons, we need to do much better in screening individuals for their fitness to possess, own, or carry firearms.  In a January 8th post, I laid out some preliminary ideas for a national gun licensing system, although such a system could also be established at the state level.  The rationale is simple:  People operating a variety of forms of machinery and in many occupations require a license to ensure they meet certain requirements and maintain their qualifications to continue to engage in those activities.  In Florida, for example, licenses are required of motor vehicle operators, barbers and cosmetologists, mold remediation services, contractors in the construction industry, and many others.  If those operating cars and construction machinery need a license, it stands to reason that those owning and operating lethal weapons also ought to be licensed.

I mentioned in the previous post that expanding background checks to all gun sales and tinkering with our current system of checks is the low-hanging fruit with regard to reform as 95% of Americans support such actions.  Unfortunately, the obsession of gun safety advocates with this system has led us to lose sight of fundamental flaws in the way we screen prospective gun buyers.  Searching FBI electronic databases is not sufficient as, aside from clerical errors (seen in the lead-up to the Charleston church shooting) and the failure to forward data to the FBI (seen in the Sutherland Springs, Texas church shooting), every criminologist knows that official criminal records represent just the tip of the iceberg with regard to someone’s criminality and will miss troubling warning signs.  I therefore propose a comprehensive screening process including:

  • An in-person interview with law enforcement;
  • Reference checks;
  • Where applicable, notifying a current or former domestic partner of a license application;
  • Successful completion of gun safety and skills training provided by law enforcement or security firms;
  • Certificate of mental aptitude for applicants under 26 years of age; and,
  • A waiting period of 10 business days.

The shooter at Stoneman Douglas High School, just like many previous mass shooters, obtained his weapons legally.  The proposed licensing system may have prevented him from obtaining his weapons at four different stages of the process:

  1. The in-person interview may have uncovered some troubling attitudes on the part of the shooter in relation to guns. He may have even been deterred from pursuing a license due to the need for an interview.  With the private sale loophole closed, he may have either given up the idea of purchasing a gun or been forced into the illegal market.  With an accompanying assault weapons ban, the supply will eventually be reduced dramatically, substantially elevating the price of an illegal AR-15, which can cost $1,500 with all the accessories when purchased legally.  An illegal purchase might cost several times that amount, making it inaccessible to most young persons.
  2. Reference checks with peers, family (in this case surrogate family) members, school personnel, and social media checks would have uncovered his troubling behavior, statements, and threats.
  3. The psychological evaluation done for the certificate of mental aptitude may have uncovered disturbing attitudes and intentions.
  4. Even the requirement that he receive rigorous safety training—something not required to purchase a gun in Florida—may have raised some red flags for instructors.

No system is foolproof but experience with licensing in virtually every other advanced country with far better outcomes than the US indicates that it is time to develop such a regulatory system.  A national system is preferably to state licensing, as porous state borders mean that individuals who would be denied a license in one state can obtain firearms in nearby states that have lower standards.

Tom Gabor, Ph.D.

Criminologist and Sociologist

Author, Confronting Gun Violence in America (Amazon’s #1 new release in Criminology)


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