John Crisp - Armed school guards may do more harm than good

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After Newtown, President Barack Obama appointed Vice President Joe Biden to chair a committee charged with the reconsideration of our nation's gun laws. Immediately gun sales in Texas, and elsewhere, began to skyrocket.

Austin, Texas, TV station KXAN reports that Brownell's, which according to its website is the world's largest purveyor of firearms, sold a 31⁄2-year supply of magazine clips in just three days. Brownell's reports that orders may be delayed due to "extreme volumes." At the time the website also was reporting that it wasn't too late to buy eGift cards for Christmas.

So, ironically, the massacre of 26, including 20 children, in Newtown, Conn., has spurred a buying boom of the very weapons that made it possible. It also stiffened the will of avid gun control opponents, particularly the National Rifle Association.

Time is on the NRA's side. Our attention spans, even for a massacre as horrible as Newtown, are limited. Columnists and politicians are prone to distraction by other issues. But the will of the NRA is single-minded and determined.

On December 23, after a week of silence to let the dust settle, Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the NRA, started pushing back. He blamed the killings in Newtown on everything except the high-powered, high-capacity semiautomatic weapons that make killing really, really easy.

LaPierre said that the only thing that will stop a bad man with a gun is a good man with a gun. This pithy aphorism embodies an attractive but unrealistic logic that, unfortunately, distracts us not only from the efficient killing capacity of modern small arms but also from the other elements of modern society that need attention before the problem of gun violence in our culture will be solved.

LaPierre's remedy is for Congress to finance a police officer in every school (so much for a small federal government). And he commits the NRA to coordinate the placement of retired soldiers and police officers in schools as volunteer gunmen.

Fine. But there are close to 100,000 schools in the U.S., not including the colleges and universities. Some estimates suggest that a well-trained guard could cost around $80,000 per year, a price that would be well worth it if these guards could actually protect our children.

But how well trained will the volunteer guard at, say, Anytown Elementary School in Anytown, Utah, be? What kind of a weapon will he have? Where will he be at the moment an unhinged but highly motivated shooter enters the school?

I do not question the skills, training, will, or courage of the 100,000 policemen and retired soldiers that the NRA proposes to place in our schools, but I question whether we're willing, and whether we can afford, to provide them with the kind of firepower or the strategic advantages required to stand up against a determined shooter like Adam Lanza.

Lanza attacked Sandy Hook Elementary with high-powered, high-capacity weapons, including an assault rifle. He was protected with body armor. He was prepared to take on another shooter and might even have relished the opportunity. Will a retired policeman who, after two or three years on the job during which absolutely nothing has happened, be able to mount a defense against a well-armed and armored shooter?

The NRA imagines that no deranged killer would dare to enter a school protected by a retired police officer with a .38 revolver. Shooters may be insane, but they're not stupid. Often they have the courage that insanity, desperation, and hopelessness provide. Often they attack with a strategy and they're prepared to fight.

Two predictions: The lightly armed, surprised good guy with a gun will be no match for a determined bad guy with an assault weapon, and often he will be the killer's first casualty. And rather than a deterrent, the armed school guard will serve, for some shooters, as an attractive first target, the one that ratchets the killing frenzy up a notch or two.

(John Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)

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