Monday, December 17, 2012

Something Should Be Done

From time to time, generally in the days following a crisis, I hear people say, "something should be done." Most of the time this makes me cringe.

As a conservative, I hear this as a plea for more laws, more regulation and more government intervention in our lives.  And as a conservative I see most of these as a greater evil than the problems they try to "solve."  (And when I say, "solve" I really mean perpetuate because if they ever solved a problem, the program would be discontinued.)

But I had an epiphany last night.  My eyes were opened, and I saw the light about how to use the federal government's hammer of funding to solve a problem in a new way. So I am getting on board the "something should be done" wagon.  (As long as it is the right something.)

So here is my proposal.  I propose we have some new legislation.  I call it, "No Child Unprotected." And I think we can use some similar enforcement as the famous, "No Child Left Behind" law where current federal moneys are attached to some policy and assessment criterion.

Here is how this should work. The new law should require, that teachers take a concealed carry weapon's course each year.  (Eventually we can have one specially for teachers, but the one your state currently has for citizens is fine to start with.)  Pass an FBI background check to carry a weapon, and then carry a gun to school, and all school activities, all the time.  (There may be a few exception like a swimming teacher, but then there should be at least one armed school official there whenever there are students.) This program's goal is that there will never be a time in a school where our children can be gunned down like fish in a barrel and no one can shoot back.

I am sure that our law makers can take this simple idea that I articulated in a paragraph and turn it into a bill with hundreds or thousands of pages, but here is the thing, We don't have to make states that don't want teachers to carry guns do so, we just withhold all federal money from a state that fails to protect children this way. So they still have their freedom.

One objection that I see, is that some parents or schools may think that teachers might not be competent to carry a gun. Really? And we let them be teachers? If a teacher can't pass a CCW class and a background check each year, they should not be teachers. And if we don't trust them with a gun, why on earth do we trust them with our children? (I am really not criticizing teachers.  I believe that most of them are great people trying to go a difficult job as best they can. And I believe they would have no problem passing a background check or handling a gun responsibly.)

Another objection would be that these guns might accidentally kill students. While I this would be tragic, I think that we don't ban cars because people have accidents, and we don't ban pools and so many other things that have so much more accidental deaths associated with them, that this objection is mostly, if not completely, caused by misunderstanding and american people getting their information form poorly written movies.

At this point I can't think of any down side to this law. Can someone point one out?

13 comments:

  1. Reddit had a interesting discussion about this: http://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/14w806/be_wary_of_people_who_say_if_those_teachers_had/ and there are plenty of "downsides" discussed there. Mine is that arming all teachers doesn't send the message, "Your child is safe with us." It sends the message, "You child is in constant danger and needs an armed guard."

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    1. Thanks. That is a very long, rambling discussion. Mostly it seems to boil down to three views:

      1. Teachers are not competent to handle fire arms, but its okay for them to teach our kids.
      2. I'm afraid of everyone with a gun, so arming more people scares me.
      3. I don't understand that guns are safer than cars, doctors, swimming pools and many other things already in our homes and schools, so guns scare me because I am uninformed.

      I think we have already sent the message clearly that "your child is in constant danger." CNN did that again this morning. (As did all of the other news channels.) So its a bit late to put that genie back in the bottle.

      If we are to "Do something about" the problem of tragedies like this one. (single gunman killing dozens in a school.) What something do you propose? More signs warning that guns aren't allowed? More metal detectors? More restrictions on people that have never done anything wrong, and who are not even in the same demographic as those that have?

      How will any of those things help? Other than the ideas of locking up the mentally ill or questionable, I haven't heard any other viable ideas.

      Here is the deal:
      1. there are guns out there. And people with mental illness, or intent to do harm will not be detered by a new law or sign.
      2. having a gun free zone, makes for a nice target to someone in situation 1.
      3. The solution is either to make the target (school) less attractive. Or be able to identify the bad guy before he gets on campus.

      The option for some teachers or staff, (if not all) to be armed, would make the target less attractive. And looking at real numbers and statistics, the risk is less than that of having my kid ride the bus.

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  2. Okay, allow me to first take issue with your portrayal of the arguments.

    1. Teachers are human too and prone to accidents, mental illness, and lapses in judgement. An unarmed teacher who snaps is incompetent and should be fired. An armed teacher who snaps is incompetent and might kill kids. With this in mind (and with the number of school massacres that occur), I would assume that arming teachers will increase the number of gun-related school deaths, not decrease it.

    2. No issue here. I AM afraid of everyone with a gun and arming more people DOES scare me.

    3. I think that if you were to look at safe usage percentage, cars, doctors, and swimming pools would be far less dangerous than guns. Plus, there are regulations put in place for each of these activities to make them more safe.

    I have issues with your proposed solutions as well, but let's deal with one thing at a time :)

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    1. 1.
      I agree that teachers are human. I have heard a couple of anecdotes of teachers who snap. I have no first hand experience with this, but maybe you saw this quite often. If schools are really causing normal people to go loopy, this becomes a whole new problem.

      However, lets put the deleterious affects of teaching in public schools aside. Even these anecdotes don't have the teachers turning violent. They just start acting confused and inappropriate. So I don't see how this turns into more deaths. I don't know why you would assume that they would become violent more often for having access to a gun, then a knife.

      2.
      I am sorry that I scare you. I promise to be nice. :)

      3.
      Weren't we talking about accidents? So we are not talking about "proper save usage" If we were, doctors would be incredibly more dangerous than the safe usage of guns. But that is not what everyone wants to compare. They want to compare save usage of everything else, but gun accidents don't get exempted from the tally. That is apples and oranges.

      And one more thing, swimming pool accidents happen in spite of the current regulations for safe usage. So having those should rationally make them even more dangerous and we should take all swimming pools away from private citizens unless they take a safety course in their use each year. (and don't get me started on cars and doctors.)

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  3. 1. "I don't see how this turns into more deaths." We can address this with some simple Bayesian reasoning.

    There are about 99,000 schools in the US. There were 9 school shootings last year. That's a percentage of 0.00009%. Let's assume that arming teachers discourages 90% (being generous here) of those shootings, so the percentage drops to 0.00001%.

    There are 6.2 million teachers. Let's assume that severe mental illness (enough to cause someone to "snap" and start shooting kids) is 0.000001% (also being generous here). That's 62 shootings. Even if it's only a "one in a million" chance, that's still 6 shootings. Keep in mind that this isn't calculating accidents, or the potential for the students to gang up on a teacher and take his or her gun.

    These statistics might not be exact, but it's enough for me to think it's probably a bad idea.

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    1. But you are still comparing apples to oranges or in this case, nutty professors to wacky teens. The two demographics aren't the same. So the conclusion that we will have any of the same result is a bad use or reasoning.

      To start with there is little deterrent for a mentally ill person or just an evil one from walking into a school and shooting people. Hence the current events. There was nothing and no one to stop him.

      Assuming that teachers are going nuts at the rate in your math, so that we should currently have 62 teachers a year that become violent, there is nothing stopping them from bringing a gun and shooting their students. But this isn't happening. Neither is instances where they start attacking people with letter openers. So I can reasonably conclude that we would still have 0.0000000% teacher intentional shootings. And that math works out 0.0000000 X 62 million = 0 shootings.

      But the point is not just to make them less attractive targets, but to turn the event into one where the gunman is shot by one of the many armed teachers or staff after he comes in shooting.

      Last I checked there were 6 teachers among the victims in Connecticut. If each had been armed, each of those confrontations might have ended the killings. Even if it was only a 50% chance, that is much higher of a chance than they had just threatening him with a detention slip.

      I don't think that injecting guns into classrooms is a magic bullet. (pun intended.) But the current setup to removing all possible defense isn't solving the problem.

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    2. I'm not sure you understand my comparison--look at the numbers again. I say that arming all teachers will reduce the chance that students will be killed by "nutty teens" but it will increase the chance that students will be killed by "nutty professors". The "nutty teen" reduced risk (0.00001% - 1x10^-4) isn't related to the "nutty professor" increased risk (0.000001% 1x10^-5). They were just estimates. I'll agree that my estimate for the "nutty professor" increase might have been high (only a fool would choose 0 though--let's be realistic here). But the decreased risk of the "nutty teen" might have also been a little high too. Maybe suicidal, mentally disturbed teens would relish the challenge of a shootout more than a massacre, maybe they wouldn't be deterred at all. We simply don't know. My point in approaching this is that while the "nutty teen" risk might decrease, the "nutty professor" risk might increase, and these factors need to be considered when making this recommendation--hopefully with as accurate of statistics as possible (surely not 0 in either case).

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    3. Let me try again to justify my 0 nutty professor shootings.

      1. Nothing stops nutty professors today, from bringing a weapon to class/work and having target practice.
      2. There is no evidence that gun ownership or possession increases the frequency of mental illness.
      3. This would not lead to an increase in shootings, as there is no factor that increases the frequency.
      4. Current number of teacher shooting students as far as I know is 0. (if its not 0, we still have no reason to increase the number.)

      Why is there an increase? If there is no increase, and the current number is 0, That puts us at...0.

      I am not concluding that we would have an overall frequency of 0 school shootings. But if we use your reduction estimate, we deter 8 of the 9 yearly shootings. (we have to use integers her as you can have .9 of a shooting) That may be high. Lets say we only deter half, or say 4 of the shootings. (cause again, we only have hole numbers of shootings.)

      The remaining 5 shootings, are not met with the school population running and hiding, but with teachers returning fire. Lets also say that this results in saving 50% of casualties from each shooting. Thus we save 100% of half of the casualties, and 50% of the other half. 3/4 people saved. Sound good to me.

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    4. Let me add some additional counter-arguments

      1. I would argue that in the heat of the moment, passions may drive a teacher with a gun *on their person* to do something thoughtless or regrettable, thus possibly increasing the potential for harm (again, even a very small possibility is still uncomfortably large given the sheer number of teachers)

      2 and 3. No argument there. Let the record show that I never claimed that gun ownership caused mental illness. However, I do wonder if the possession of a gun causes people to jump too quickly to the firearm as the solution to a conflict, when in some cases it's unnecessary. Guns can inspire fear in people and fear can cause people to do irrational things.

      4. Google search shows no cases of teachers killing students. I will say this though, there are many, many instances of teachers getting angry with students--some cases of teachers hitting students. While this is in no way excusable, would these teachers have acted differently if they were carrying a gun?

      So I believe that saying "it won't happen at all" is naive, but without actually getting some data on a fully-armed school, we probably won't be able to accurately access this possibility. But let's say, for the sake of argument, that the "nutty professor" possibility is too remote to consider. There are other possibilities that could cause the risk of harm to students to increase if every teacher were armed:

      1. Students attempting to get the guns. This has the same problem, but the potential is greater because the number of students is far greater than the number of teachers. There are 16.2 million high school students (assuming here that only high school students would be able to tackle a teacher to get their gun). Even a infinitesimal possibility for this is uncomfortably large when applied to such a large population (again, a "one-in-a-million" chance still means 16 occurrences in this case).

      2. Accidents (at least this one has some hard data for us to look at). 34% of American households own guns. According to the US Census, there are 114,000,000 households, giving us almost 3,900,000 households with guns. In the year 2007, there were 613 gun-related fatal accidents, giving us a rate of 0.000016% of fatal accidents per gun-holding household. If we give 6.2mil teachers a gun, at the same accident rate we will have 99 accidental deaths. Overestimating this by half is still a much worse problem that our current school shooting fatality rate. (BTW, the number of non-fatal injuries was 15,698 for a rate of 0.00014% or 848 in 6.2mil)

      But I think we're getting too far into the details of this issue. Let me state for the record that for the most part I'm not opposed to gun ownership. I'm also not opposed to using guns to protect the students at school. However, I'm thinking that having a handful of armed guards (most high schools already have armed policemen) would probably be enough of a deterrent to decrease the rate significantly (again, probably not to 0 :-) ).

      However, I'm very much against the arming of all 6.2 million teachers. One additional thing we didn't talk about was the possibility of a teacher using the gun as a disciplinary threat. It would be completely unprofessional and would require disciplinary action, but it's not outside the realm of possibility. Although no students would be physically hurt in this case, it certainly doesn't make for a safe learning environment.

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    5. You are awesome!

      One last stab at the teacher shooting students numbers. Statistics in the US are really meaningless here because we don't allow guns on school campuses (except for actual cops) but there are places that do. Switzerland is my favorite, and Israel is another. Both nations have teachers who own and often carry guns. Neither have any shootings of teachers on children. (they don't have other shooting either.)

      The assault on a teacher to get their weapon is an interesting argument. We obviously don't have statistics to deal with. But I wonder how often armed security or cops are assaulted to have their weapons taken. I think the number exists, but this is not the movies, and so I think the one in a million is probably incredibly high. But I don't have a real number or statistic to base it on.

      BTW, I have never actually seen a cop in a school except on TV. And I have kids in school. (oaky the highway patrol did come once to my drivers ed class)

      I could respond to the whole accident argument with the "safe use" argument. But I am sure accidents happen, teachers and students are still just people, and it will be impossible to create an environment where there is absolute safety.

      In truth my whole post and argument is a response to the "Something Needs To Be Done." comments. As I listen to the suggestions, (banning guns not even used in any shootings, raising taxes to pay for mental health care, and cracking down on law abiding citizens) I have to say that none of the other suggestions have a chance at lowering the chance of shootings, or protecting children.

      At least my suggestions would make a diference.

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    6. Comparing countries on gun statistics is always tricky because individual countries are so different and these differences might affect the gun culture. For example, Japan has very strict gun laws (a universal ban practically) and consequently a very low gun-related death rate. But the culture and history of Japan is very different from the US and such a system probably wouldn't work here.

      I did a quick read of Switzerland and Israel and their gun laws. It looks like they also have some tighter regulations than we do some cases. Both of these countries also have government-supported universal health care--some of which maybe covers mental issues? Not saying that there's a direct correlation there, but it shows how many complex factors can affect comparisons of countries and their gun cultures.

      A more accurate comparison might be between states (although we might also run into some of the same problem of history and culture). http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/01/the-geography-of-gun-deaths/69354/ If you do this there is a inverse correlation between the number of gun deaths and the level of regulation (i.e., less regulation = more deaths). But there are exceptions (namely Vermont). The greater correlation was between political preference and gun deaths (Red states have more gun deaths, Blue states have less), but I don't want to claim that mostly Republicans kill people, and certainly to want to infer that any killing they do is expressly because they are Republican. I just want to point out how complicated this issue is an how comparisons between countries or even states can further complicate things.

      Which brings us to your main point. Is it true that "Something Needs To Be Done"? I'm not so sure that it does--and I think you agree. It's one of the main reasons I spoken out about this issue. Although this recent shooting was tragic, it doesn't necessarily mean that we need to increase gun regulation. However, by that same token, it also doesn't necessarily mean that we don't need to increase gun ownership.

      The problem with the gun control is that it's politically poisonous. Perhaps the increased presence of firearms is an effective deterrent to further gun violence. Perhaps slightly stricter regulations could decrease gun violence. These questions deserve serious investigation, but it won't happen because the passions on both sides are so high.

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  4. I say we outlaw drugs that should fix our cocain problem! ... wait what?

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  5. I can understand why this information was late arriving on the scene of the debate. http://www.myfoxatlanta.com/story/20389661/texas-town-allows-teachers-to-carry-concealed-guns Here is a school in the US, with the US gun culture, that has been allowing teachers to carry concealed weapons for years.

    As I would have predicted, there are 0 instances of students wrestling the guns from the teachers. There have also been 0 instances of teachers going wacko and shooting up the classroom. And there have been 0 instances of a shooter showing up at the school to commit violence.

    I know this is one school, so you can tell me that the statistical significance is low. (And you are right as far as that objections goes.) And you can tell me that Texas does not have the same gun culture as Connecticut. (And this is true as well, whoa be to Connecticut.) And you can tell me that 2007 to 2012 is not long enough. (And I agree, they should have had this right since 1776, but there I go again....)

    The opponents to teachers with guns in schools articulate that they don't believe that guns will make kids or schools safer. But for school systems that allow guns by teachers, their counter is two fold. 1) we aren't seeing any shootings here. 2) At least this addresses the issue, what is your alternative.

    And no workable or even conceivably effective solution has been put forward. (Banning more guns is not workable, or conceivably effective. FYI)

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