Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Shootings, School Safety, And The Real Problem

A couple days ago, the Spokesman Review published an article about school districts looking at how to make their schools safer.

Safety and security are at the forefront of parents’ and school administrators’ minds since a gunman killed 20 students and six adults in an elementary school last month in Connecticut.  

“That day pretty much shook American schools to their core,” said East Farms Elementary School Principal Tammy Fuller, who led a community meeting at her school Thursday.  

Districts throughout the region are using varying approaches to address safety.

We are allowing ourselves to be overcome by the "it could happen here" fear. When something happens elsewhere it is easy for us to imagine that the same event could repeat itself. Instead of explaining to parents and students how safe schools are and how unlikely a shooting--let alone a mass shooting--is, we allow our imaginations to run wild and fear to be our guide. And we ignore the real problem.

According to the US Department of Education our country has 67,140 elementary schools, 24,651 secondary schools, 5,730 combined schools, 1,296 special education/alternative schools, and 33,366 private schools. We have 4,495 degree granting schools and 2,247 non-degree granting schools. That's a total of 138,925 schools in our country.

One hundred and thirty-eight thousand, nine hundred and twenty-five schools.

America has a long history of school shootings, but when you compare them to the number of schools you'll find that despite the incessant keep-you-up-to-date-on-all-the-speculation coverage by the media when a shooting occurs, our schools are safe. Fifteen to thirty shootings every decade for over one hundred thousand schools does not mean we have a school safety problem.

According to the US Census Bureau (PDF), thousands of people in America are murdered by firearms every year. The four columns below are for the years 2000, 2005, 2008, and 2009 respectively.
Two-thirds of murdered Americans are killed by firearms. We have a gun violence problem and sometimes that gun violence problem shows up at a school. Our gun violence problem was recently recognized by Spokane Police Chief Straub in another article recently published by the Review.

The homicides in 2012 included a mixed bag ranging from the suspected murder-suicide of an elderly couple and a fatal domestic dispute to a gang-related homicide and a recent shooting where police say a drunken man pulled out a gun at a party and unintentionally shot a young woman in the back of the head. 

But much of the carnage has at least one common link: people who decide to use guns to end disputes.  

“It’s a scary statement about where we are as a nation,” Straub said. “We are settling too many disputes by shooting each other. Going forward, we are not going to tolerate a weekend like this.”

The responsibility for addressing gun violence does not lie with school administrators or the police. It belongs to our legislators and to us as citizens.

It is possible to protect our Second Amendment right to own weapons and decrease the amount of gun violence if we would work together towards those goals. Sadly, that doesn't seem possible in today's political climate.

So instead we make our children fearful at school.