Today columns|Opeds|Boston.com blog|Media|Other Publications|
Military-style guards with guns in schools across the nation wouldn't protect
James Alan Fox, Opinion columnist
Published 3:00 a.m. ET Feb. 20, 2019
Even after Parkland, Santa Fe shootings, military-style guards don't make
sense for schools. They'll create an environment of fear more than safety.
On Valentine's Day, we remembered the students and staff from Parkland,
Florida, who one year ago were struck " not by Cupid's arrow " but by
bullets from an intruder's gun. Soon we will do the same for the 10 who
perished in May's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas.
We will, of
course, never forget these tragedies, just as we will never forget the
Columbine and Sandy Hook massacres from years past. These represent the
awful extremes of school violence that have students and parents around the
country in a hyper state of fear.
Although the sense of safety of
schools has been shaken, it it important not to view such occurrences as the
"new normal," as some have suggested. Since the mass killing at Santa Fe
High, there have been but four fatal gun assaults of students in our
nation's K-12 schools, each claiming the life of a single victim. Also, in
the five years before the Parkland shooting, 13 students were gunned down at
schools, a tiny fraction of the thousands of school-age children shot to
death over that time frame while they were away from school.
the "one is one too many" mantra is true, school shootings are not an
epidemic. More important, there is no reason to overreact, which clearly is
the case at a charter school in Palmetto, Florida, where military veterans
are being hired to patrol the campus wearing body armor and carrying
semi-automatic rifles. Principal Bill Jones believes this will send a strong
message of deterrence to anyone who would contemplate an attack, even though
a suicidal assailant might actually welcome a shootout.
the broader message of danger relayed to students by such visible firepower:
The bad guy is gunning for you. Transforming schools into armed camps does
more to elevate fear than alleviate it.
Talent and temperament are
Jones is not the only administrator hiring guardians
and arming them with high-powered weapons. There is, however, a significant
difference between civilian guardians and school resource officers who have
been deployed successfully in schools across the country for decades. Not
only are SROs sworn law enforcement personnel trained for the role, but they
also perform a variety of functions besides guarding against armed
intruders, from vandalism prevention and drug education to mentoring
students and coaching athletes.
By contrast, the school guardians
being recruited in Florida and elsewhere, despite having completed an
intensive training program, are ill-equipped for the job in terms of talent
and temperament, not weaponry.
According to FBI data, there were 20
active shooter events at K-12 schools from 2010 through 2017, nearly half
without fatalities, for an average of fewer than three incidents per year.
That is in contrast to the roughly 100,000 schools in the United States.
Given the exceptionally low likelihood of an active shooter attack, the
overwhelming majority of the guardian's time will be idle, much like the
lonely repairman in the classic Maytag commercial.
with guidance, not big guns
Not only are the odds of an active
shooter much longer than the long guns used in Palmetto, but many school
shootings have occurred during non-school hours, when guardians might not be
working. Unfortunately, there is always opportunity for a determined gunman
to do damage in nonsecure places. Are we going to put a guard on every
yellow school bus or arm the refs at JV football games?
spending scare resources to deter the unlikely gunman, it is better to
invest in prevention, such as hiring more teachers, guidance counselors and
school psychologists. However effective in identifying and intervening with
a student seemingly on the path to destruction, this will at the same time
enhance the educational and social development of countless students, most
of whom would never be inclined to shoot a classmate or teacher.
1957, while mobilizing the Arkansas National Guard to deal with the Little
Rock school integration crisis, President Dwight Eisenhower lamented: "It
will be a sad day for this country ... if school children can safely attend
their classes only under the protection of armed guards. That sad day has
come, and the concern for aggressive over-response is bigger than Little
Rock.James Alan Fox is the Lipman
Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University
and a member of the USA TODAY Board of Contributors. He is co-author of
Extreme Killing: Understanding Serial and Mass Murder. Follow him on
You can read diverse opinions from our
Board of Contributors and other writers on the Opinion front page, on
Twitter @usatodayopinion and in our daily Opinion newsletter. To respond to
a column, submit a comment to email@example.com