In the wake of recent revelations that the deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas was exacerbated by both weak school security measures and a poorly trained, haphazard response by local law enforcement, Americans have renewed public debates on school safety, gun control, and mental health.
Predictably, Democratic lawmakers nationwide have rushed to advance bills to tighten regulation of gun owners, manufacturers and distributors. But the ineffectiveness of such measures in the past has led some to question whether gun control measures in places like New York, Chicago, and Washington, DC have actually curbed violent crime, and what proven measures exist to strengthen public safety in a society that is currently being divided by race and ideology.
In the first five months of 2022 alone, 17,923 lives were taken through the illegal use of a firearm, 9,966 of which were suicides. Of them, the media has dubbed 230 incidents as “mass shootings,” defined by the numeric value of four or more shot or killed excluding the shooter(s). Overall, national crime statistics show the violent crime rate has dramatically increased since 2019, raising concerns of a national public safety crisis. In response, the mainstream media and the Democrat-controlled Congress have called for tighter control over the tools used in these crimes, firearms, as opposed to a national trend toward progressive prosecution and anti-law enforcement policies.
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Politically, the gun control argument makes sense for politicians seeking to provide a “quick fix” distraction for an issue that, if properly addressed, may alienate one’s base. However, an examination of gun control from the passage of New York’s Sullivan Act of 1911 to the Clinton “assault weapons” ban of 1994 shows that a more nuanced approach to address the criminal behaviors leading to more serious violent crime is more effective than simply restricting the tools used by the criminal.
More importantly, the left’s focus on gun control as a solution to deeper socio-economic problems has served to sidetrack a long-needed policy discussion that could have prevented the increase in violent crime and active shootings. That includes considering factors like mental health, family structure, community decay, social isolation, and a political acceptance of criminal behavior. None of these wider societal problems can be cured or alleviated with increasingly redundant gun control laws.
Regarding school violence, Democratic lawmakers seem to ignore the empirical evidence that over 94% of mass shootings have taken place in “gun free zones” — they are calling for gun control while failing to ask why there was little to no security in place in the first place. This is because in cities like Philadelphia and New York, despite a high rate of school violence, local officials have subscribed to a belief in the “school to prison pipeline” argument that actually restricts school law enforcement from having the training, authority, or equipment necessary to respond to a school shooting.
Policy proposals regarding school safety are thus politicized by these fringe ideologies nationwide. In California, State Senator Steven Bradford introduced the “Protecting Students from Law Enforcement” bill (SB 1273), which would amend state law for school safety and repeal the existing law’s mandatory reporting requirement for schools to report threats of violence by students in classrooms. Bradford argues that the removal of mandatory reporting would make schools more comfortable for students who are at risk of entering the “school-to-prison pipeline”. Withholding information that would otherwise help law enforcement identify potential threats of violence is simply dangerous. Regardless, the California State Senate passed SB 1273 on a strict party line.
The same “restorative justice” laws that seek to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline” … fail to address the fact that African Americans are overwhelmingly victimized by violent crime in their communities.
Bradford also co-authored AB 2598 with Assemblywoman Akilah Weber to reform school discipline policies toward the same type of “restorative justice” model used by Philly DA Larry Krasner, L.A. County DA George Gascon, and now-recalled San Francisco DA Chesa Boudin — wiping away disciplinary records necessary for reporting red flags in K-12 schools. As California has few bipartisan checks and balances in place, this dangerous bill is expected to pass the state legislature this summer and be signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom. When the national conversation should be focused on how Red Flag laws failed victims in places like Buffalo and Uvalde, lawmakers are attempting to take them out in the name of “racial equity.”
The same “restorative justice” laws that seek to dismantle the “school-to-prison pipeline,” citing disproportionate school discipline against “African American students and others overrepresented in suspension statistics,” fail to address the fact that African Americans are also overwhelmingly victimized by violent crime in their communities.
Philadelphia schools hold a long-term distinction of being among the nation’s most violent, with notable hate crimes emerging against Asian-American students. If our legislative response is to replace suspension and other punitive discipline practices, minimize punitive measures for truancy or absence, and institutie trauma-informed practices and social-emotional learning – how are we going to protect students who “play by the rules”?
Proponents of social-emotional learning, critical race theory, and similar constructs are simply following an ideological conviction that traditional school security, law enforcement, and discipline policies create “systemic inequities.” By classifying those who victimize others as victims themselves, our political class is accommodating unacceptable behavior and discouraging the accountability necessary to create a clear distinction between right and wrong. This further contributes to the cultural degradation and mental health crisis, leading to violence in our schools.
Moving toward more effective policy proposals
We must start with the study of readily achievable best practices in security, combined with longer term analysis of the complex factors that drive our youths to violence. The impacts of codified leniency and a cultural acceptance of the rising trend of fatherlessness must be addressed in serious policy discussions at the political and academic levels.
Our government’s primary responsibility is to protect the life and liberty of its citizens while upholding the Constitution — not diminishing the freedoms of law-abiding citizens while leaving children completely unprotected behind unlocked doors. While security experts devise actionable policy proposals to address physical security, mental health, law enforcement capabilities, family breakdown and other contributing factors, our constitutional rights must faithfully be protected.
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This best-practice approach is seemingly missed by our U.S. Senate, who are currently scrambling to explore compromised “gun safety legislation”, even as news emerged on how the horrific Uvalde school shooting occurred, and how local police refused to make entry to confront the shooter for over an hour after arriving. Modest steps to codify school security and law enforcement response is more effective, as embodied by Florida’s state response in the aftermath of its own tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland four years ago.
Following that deadly attack in 2018, Florida lawmakers didn’t wait to adopt wide-ranging reforms that Republicans supported and that then-Gov. Rick Scott signed into law. Florida’s law included some gun-based legislation raising the age for weapon sales to 21, imposing a three-day waiting period on most long-gun purchases and creating a “red flag” law allowing authorities to temporarily confiscate weapons from people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others. But lawmakers also dedicated $400 million for mental health and school security programs, and set aside $97.5 million in recurring funding for a requirement of school resource officers and/or to certify volunteer “guardians” to protect campuses in every district.
Florida’s bill also mandated frequent active shooter drills, and effective physical security measures to make campuses less accessible to intruders. Signed into law only weeks after the Parkland shooting, the legislation shows what can be accomplished when lawmakers on both sides focus on solutions instead of scoring political points. The Florida law also shows the fallacy of legislating along party lines. For example, Florida is among eighteen states that have risk protection orders, and states like Florida and California — which have used them thousands of times — have treated them as essential methods for protecting public safety. The difference? Florida has guardrails in place to restore one’s civil rights and protects the rights of lawful, healthy gun owners. In contrast, California politicians demonize gun owners, as opposed to partnering with them to protect the public at large.
Florida is also expanding access to mental health counseling. Last month, BayCare and Tampa General Hospital, announced a new partnership to help stabilize individuals in immediate mental health crisis, to include tele-counseling for those who can’t immediately access local providers. Again, timing is key. Lawmakers should be building on what works instead of harping on an unachievable goal of taking 400,000,000 firearms already in circulation off the streets.
Congress and the states need to focus on the best practices. That’s the first step in keeping our streets from becoming killing fields.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his own experiences on both sides of the criminal justice system. He has served as a federal and municipal law enforcement officer and was the former Director, Office of Investigations with the American Board of Internal Medicine. @benmannes