The NRA call for armed guards in schools

The NRA's call for gun-carrying guards in schools shows it joins with other Americans in caring even more about children after the Sandy Hook shootings. But history also shows violence declines when children are taught how to counter violence by means other than violence – such as caring for others.

Maddie McGarvey/The Burlington Free Press/AP Photo
A school safety officer sits at the entrance to Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vt., letting people in through a locked door on Dec. 17. Officials locked the front doors to the five public schools after a 'non-specific' concern.

Ya gotta love ’em. No, really, you’ve got to love the way the National Rifle Association (NRA) and its 4 million members have responded to the school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

On Friday, the pro-gun lobby suggested every public school have armed guards. The proposal would further turn schools into fortresses, like medieval castles, in the hope that it would stop another shooter like Adam Lanza. In short: Meet force with force.

But the NRA really deserves praise for increasing its concern for schoolchildren (more later on why that matters). Its chief executive, Wayne LaPierre, said: “Now, we must speak … for the safety of our nation’s children. Because for all the noise and anger directed at us over the past week, no one – nobody – has addressed the most important, pressing, and immediate question we face: How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?”

For many people, it’s easy to embrace the NRA’s proposal. Many public places from airports to malls already have armed guards. And many homeowners keep guns for protection.

Some data seem to back up the NRA’s idea.

A study by the Ohio-based National School Safety and Security Services found that most of the 121 attempted or planned assaults on schools between 2000 and 2010 were halted by law enforcement interventions. School officials themselves halted 19 of them.

Another – and controversial – study in The Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology estimated that Americans used guns to defend themselves 2.1 million to 2.5 million times a year. (Scholars still debate the 1995 study’s survey methods.)

But the best part in the NRA’s idea isn’t that the pro-gun group has suggested a new way to defend innocent children. Its opponents are equally adamant in seeking curbs on guns – also in an effort to protect kids.

Rather, the best part is that the mass shooting in Sandy Hook has pushed the NRA to join other Americans in expressing a heightened love for the well-being of every child and a renewed hope for each one’s safety. On this point the NRA can find common ground, perhaps even agreement, with its opponents. But it is also on this point that the NRA’s proposal must be questioned.

For all of the caring to be found in placing an armed security in every school, it is only a small measure compared with all of the caring of children by teachers, administrators, coaches, and others who shape their character – and their behavior over time..

Perhaps the main reason that public schools exist is to extend the main lesson of history that humans need to be loved in order to be less violent toward each other. And guess what? Violence per person in the world has declined over the last few centuries, according to a recent Harvard study, even as education has increased.

It is easy to measure the cases where law enforcement prevented an attack in schools. But where are the studies that show how many children have been saved from resorting to violence in their lives because of a loving teacher, a wise coach, or disciplining principal? Better yet, how many parents became better parents because of the influence of schools?

Many more school shooters could be stopped if somewhere in their upbringing they found unconditional love and the help for their mental or emotional anguish.

Education, for sure, is a means to make a living and to enjoy the fruits of advancing civilization. But at its heart it is based on the love of other human beings to bring out the best in them. “Love one another” and even “Love thy enemies” aren’t abstract theological notions but concepts made real in the day-to-day embrace of children in schools that teach them a peaceful path of living.

Americans may still want armed guards in many places, including schools. But the NRA’s idea runs against history’s upward journey toward greater understanding of a common good. Why go backward and teach children to always answer violence with violence?

So ya gotta love the NRA for caring about children, even if its solution to preventing gun violence in schools is misdirected. Embrace it for its sentiment.

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