My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:
Once again we find ourselves searching for solutions in the wake of a mass killing at a school. It is the natural human reaction to want to do something about it and we all want the killing to end. The powerful impulse to “do something” is often the genesis of bad laws, or worse, tyranny, but that must not deter us from doing whatever is legal, ethical, and constitutional to decrease the likelihood of another massacre.
Mass killings are still the statistical outlier in America. The odds of being killed in such a mass shooting is dwarfed by the likelihood of being killed by a criminal or angry family member. According to FBI data, our nation has averaged about 23 deaths per year from mass shootings since 1982. While each mass shooting is shocking and tragic, you are more than twice as likely to be killed by bees or wasps as in a mass shooting. Still, while rare, mass killings appear to be on the rise and we must take reasonable measures to prevent them when possible, and mitigate the damage when they occur.
The root causes of the rise of mass killings are complex. Our culture is steeped in violent movies and video games; devoid of moral absolutism; hostile to God and blessings of salvation; detached from the real world of human interaction; where kids grow up isolated and angry in a sea of digital and artificial surrogates for love, friendship, and emotional connections. It is a toxic brew that — especially when mixed with mental illness and lax law enforcement — fertilizes evil. But fixing the culture is hard. In the meantime, we must look to preserve the footings of individual liberty while providing for our security.
What can be done about reducing mass killings in our schools and elsewhere? Provide better mental health services? Install better security in our schools? Hire armed security officers to patrol our schools? See it and say it? Ensure that background checks for the purchase of weapons are thorough? Deal severely with people who are violent and unstable? Yes. All of the above.
Another measure we need to take is to allow schools to decide if and how they would allow teachers, parents, and staff to arm themselves.
There are some realities that we face as a nation when it comes to firearms. First, firearms are prevalent in our society and they are not going away. That is as it should be. We decided at the founding of this nation that an armed citizenry was necessary for the preservation of liberty and it is an ethic that is ingrained into the American heart. If anything, in the face of tragedy, Americans have shown that they prefer to lift restrictions on owning and carrying firearms for law-abiding folks instead of enacting further restrictions. Even if we repeal the 2nd Amendment tomorrow, 300 million guns aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Second, while we can and must take action to address the root causes of violence, we will never completely dig out those roots. They are at the very core of humanity. We are marked by a shadow of evil that cannot be completely eliminated absent the eradication of our species. As such, we must do as we have always done: hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Allowing school employees to arm themselves provides for that last desperate line of defense in the face of unthinkable violence. When faced by a lunatic with a gun, there are very few ways to escape the situation alive. Meeting force with force is sometimes the only, and best, option.
Implementing such a policy is complex. High schools are different from elementary schools. Rural schools are different from urban schools. Big schools are different from smaller schools. That is why the decisions about how a policy allowing teachers and staff to arm themselves must be left to local school districts and private school leaders.
But this is not untraveled ground. In Texas, for example, 172 school districts already allow staff and/or school board members to carry firearms on school grounds. And according to the Giffords Law Center, nine states already allow concealed carry holders to carry on school grounds in some or all situations. Those are not the schools where mass shootings are on the rise.
Not every, or even most, school employees would want to accept the responsibility of providing an armed defense, but some would. They deserve to have that choice. They deserve to have a safer workplace. Even the best police forces are minutes away when seconds count.
At the very least, the fact that some school employees might be armed serves as a deterrent to wouldbe killers. There is a reason why mass murderers tend to target gunfree zones. They may be evil, but they aren’t stupid. The threat of an immediate armed response denies them the time to inflict maximum carnage.
We will never be able to completely eliminate the threat of violence in our schools. That is precisely why we must provide our school teachers and staff with all of the tools available to protect themselves and our children. As we have learned after almost every school shooting in the past thirty years, the violence only stops when it is met with equal force. The quicker that happens, the fewer people get shot. It is just that simple.