Nevada school shooting shows limits of security

James Alan Fox

October 22, 2013

Another school. Another firearm. Another shooter. In this case, a shooter too young even to be called a gunman. The result, unfortunately, is yet another senseless episode of gunshot injuries and death.

On Monday morning, just before the start of classes at the middle school in Sparks, Nev., a 12-year-old boy fatally shot a teacher and wounded two fellow students, also both 12, before turning the gun on himself. The teacher, identified as Michael Landsberry, has been called a hero for his valiant attempt to convince the armed youngster to surrender.

The specific location of the shooting spree — on the playground within the school's campus — points out the limitations of many of the security-minded proposals that have been debated in the months since last year's Newtown, Conn., elementary school massacre. No form of access control — be it a metal detector, school ID cards, or locked doors and windows — is sufficient to protect the lives of innocent children and staff members. No threat of armed resistance, such as a school resource officer or teachers with loaded guns in their desk drawers, can deter this type of senseless violence.

In January, the National Rifle Association, hoping to deflect criticism as well as efforts to tighten gun control laws, promoted a "more guns" national strategy for school safety. The so-called "School Shield Program" would furnish every school in America, regardless of size or grade level, with trained sharpshooters. In subsequent months, lawmakers in as many as six states have sponsored legislation to arm school teachers and train them to shoot. A new South Dakota law, for example, created "school sentinels" — teachers, administrators, security guards and even volunteers from the community — empowered to carry guns inside of schools to protect the student population.

But what about the ball fields and playgrounds, like the one on the Sparks Middle School campus where Monday's shooting occurred? Are we going to arm gym teachers and referees in case some student gets out of hand? And what about the fleets of yellow school buses? Are we to equip bus drivers with licenses to kill on sight?

This past weekend also witnessed another tragic accident involving a firearm. In Fayetteville, N.C., a two-year-old girl found her father's loaded .22-caliber pistol under the living room couch and shot herself with the newly discovered shiny "toy." Melvin Andre Clark Jr., a convicted felon, will face involuntary manslaughter charges for his negligence. But that, of course, will do nothing to bring back the dead little girl or to save the lives of other children put at risk by unsecured guns in their home.

In both the Sparks and Fayetteville shootings, the guns belonged to a parent. The only solution to tragedies such as these is to require "smart gun" technology so that it is not possible for an adolescent, child, or toddler to have unauthorized access to a loaded firearm — that is, anyone but the properly licensed and sufficiently trained gun owner. We must close the "beg, borrow or steal" loophole, whereby immature, trigger-happy minors acquire dangerous weapons from irresponsible adults. Too many bad things can happen when handguns get into the wrong hands.

James Alan Fox, the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, is co-author of Thw Will to Kill and a member of USA TODAY's Board of Contributors.

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