Tuesday, April 02, 2013

The N.R.A.’s Useless Advice


Paging through the new National Rifle Association report on improving school security, I stopped short at a photograph illustrating how profoundly depressing that document really is.
It was a picture of an ordinary classroom door, with a bank of windows next to it. The windows are pretty commonplace in modern school architecture, giving a sense of transparency to the building and allowing passers-by a glimpse of what is going on inside. But to the N.R.A., the windows are a potential hazard.
In 2010, the report says, a 16-year-old shot through a similar school window at the Hastings Middle School in Minnesota, reached in to open the locked door from the inside, and killed six people hiding in the classroom. The N.R.A.’s solution? Put the windows away from the lock, or install bullet-proof windows.

Bullet-proof windows on a first-grade classroom. Why not add some barbed wire, too?

It’s telling that the report didn’t even get the details right, confusing its school shootings. (There are so many, who can keep track?) The incident the report refers to actually took place five years earlier at the high school of the Red Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. A 16-year-old Nazi sympathizer on the reservation used a .40-caliber handgun and a shotgun to kill 10 people, including his grandfather and five students at the school, a teacher, a security guard and himself. In the Hastings incident, a 14-year-old student pointed a .22-caliber handgun at several students and a teacher, but didn’t shoot anyone.
The N.R.A. is the last place to turn to for accurate information about school shootings, since it generally tries to pretend they don’t happen or don’t matter. Schools, in fact, don’t really need its advice on bulletproof windows, better locks, or armed security guards. Tens of thousands of American school buildings are in such bad physical shape that expensive security amenities are unimaginable. Those that have the need or the resources do what they deem necessary to keep students safe.
What schools really need is a way to keep guns out of the hands of troubled students. For that, the N.R.A. has a section recommending “coordination with mental health professionals” to identify students who might become threats. Schools should reduce bullying and harassment, it says, so helpfully. Not a word is said, naturally, about how easy it is for students, showing signs of trouble or not, to get their hands on a gun, or the N.R.A.’s role in ensuring that easy access.
“Cultures and climates of safety, respect, and emotional support can help diminish the possibility of targeted violence in schools,” the report says, quoting from a federal publication.
That’s certainly true, if painfully obvious. But what about fostering a climate of safety and respect in society at large? A child can’t even go into a sporting goods store for a baseball glove in most states without seeing a wall of gleaming assault weapons for sale. When the N.R.A. itself is encouraging the proliferation of guns and attacking the most basic forms of federal regulation (such as background checks) as unwarranted intrusions, it’s no wonder that think the solution is bulletproof glass. Everyone else is more worried about the bullets.

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