In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, last Wednesday that killed 17 people, some conservatives are suggesting that state governments and the federal government take radical action.
They don’t mean restoring the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (which banned guns resembling the Colt AR-15, similar to the gun used in Parkland and one of the most popular rifles in America) or challenging the National Rifle Association’s grip on the conversation about guns and their place in American life.
They mean putting armed drones in schools. Or using Homeland Security technology in schools to create barriers against potential shooters. Or arming retired police and military personnel and putting them in classrooms, or using the same security mechanisms as airports. Or permitting teachers and others to carry concealed weapons in schools.
The horror of what took place at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is causing a clash of ideals for many on the right, who simultaneously rail against the expansion of the state into the lives of everyday Americans when it comes to say, food stamps or welfare benefits, but who are now voicing support for policies that would bring the “police state” into fifth-grade classrooms.
As a Fox News commentator told Laura Ingraham on The Ingraham Angle on Wednesday, to stop school shootings, “we can harden the target. We can lock down schools. We can have some type of electronic admission. We can have metal detectors. We can make the kids safe so the shooter just can’t walk into the school anytime he pleases.”
@realDonaldTrump time to consider armed drones at every school in USA. If drones can save lives in middle of Syria, operated by military heroes at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, then they can be used to protect schools inside USA.— Wayne Allyn Root (@RealWayneRoot) February 17, 2018
“Security theater” on the right
Wayne Allyn Root isn’t just a friend of President Donald Trump and a longtime supporter. He’s a former Libertarian Party vice presidential candidate and author of The Conscience of a Libertarian: Empowering the Citizen Revolution with God, Guns, Gold, and Tax Cuts, which makes, according to Amazon, a “passionate case for smaller government” and details how “Americans can take back their country from big government, big unions, big corporations, corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and lobbyists.” His radio show launched in 2009 as a broadside against “big government.”
But Root, a self-described “passionate, committed libertarian,” thinks schools should use armed military drones, presumably to take out school shooters before they can kill anyone else.
But the primary purpose of armed drones is to kill people — whether they are the military drones used at Nellis Air Force Base or the drones that will be used at the US military’s secret $100 million drone base in Niger. Further, the argument that using armed drones in war zones (or domestically, for that matter) rather than sending in troops “saves” American lives (or anyone else’s) is highly debatable.
And that’s in regions of countries engaged in years of war like Syria, Yemen, and Iraq — not in American schools. They’re not hostile zones rife with al-Qaeda operatives or members of ISIS; instead, they’re full of children. To put an armed drone in a school to “protect students” would serve only to terrify them.
Add to that that each armed drone can cost as much as $30,000 per flight hour, and Root’s suggestion starts to look not only dangerous to individual lives and the civil liberties of American students, but remarkably impractical.
Bringing airport security to schools, as Geraldo Rivera proposed to Sean Hannity, is also baffling from a conservative point of view. Conservatives have long decried the Transportation Security Administration’s ineffectiveness and heavy-handed policies. In 2015, TSA missed 95 percent of weapons and explosives brought through security checkpoints during Homeland Security security tests. As Logan Albright wrote for Conservative Review in July 2017:
The TSA is not about keeping us safe, nor is it about apprehending would-be terrorists. The TSA serves one purpose and one purpose only: To create the illusion of safety, the perception that someone is in charge and taking care of things, even if any sensible person can see that it’s all a charade.
Consider also the cost: The annual budget of the TSA, which is chiefly focused on air travel in the United States, is around $7.5 billion. There are just about 15,000 airports in the United States, compared to more than 98,000 public schools alone. The budget, then, for a TSA-style security apparatus for every school in America would be astronomical.
But what about armed guards in every school?
In contrast, the issue with putting armed police or guards in every school isn’t that it’s impractical. It’s that we’re already doing it, and it’s not working. According to the National Association of School Resource Officers, around 40 percent of public schools in America have at least one full-time or part-time school resource officer (SRO) — a law enforcement officer deployed to work in one or more schools.
That included Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and every single high school in its district. Most SROs aren’t trained to work with children — in fact, just 12 states have laws that specify the training requirements for law enforcement officers working in schools. Some of those trainings involve preparing for a mass shooting; some don’t. And the number of confrontations between SROs and students has increased in recent years, with cases of young children handcuffed above the elbow by SROs reaching federal courts.
Even metal detectors intended for use in schools haven’t been shown to have a real impact on student safety. A study performed by the Journal of School Health in 2011 found, “Students in schools with metal detectors were just as likely to report victimization as those in schools without metal detectors.”
One potential (and more sensible) solution
But many conservatives are thinking of ways to stop school shootings before they start that are more logistically workable (and more constitutionally sound). On Friday, David French of National Review suggested the expansion of the use of gun violence restraining orders. With GVROs, a process could be set in place so that if a parent or close relative felt that a person might be a risk to public safety (or their own), they could petition for a hearing to have that person’s access to guns temporarily denied. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has voiced his support.
California already has such legislation in place.
On the left, the best means to end school shootings and mass shootings of any kind would be to massively limit access to guns and the number of guns any American can own, full stop. But the right finds any effort to curb the Second Amendment, by any means, to be anathema. And yet ironically, as Reason magazine’s Robby Soave has pointed out, many conservatives seem all too willing to put the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments at risk instead.