Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Prevention Measures for School Shootings

When we look at the Sandy Hook school shooting, are there actual public policies that could prevent, or at least reduce such events?  Are there policies that could mitigate the amount of killing?

 The answer to that question is a clear and surprising yes.    No, I am not talking about using the school shootings to punish Tea Party members who like guns.  The "Gun safety proposals" (if you are on the left) or "Citizen Disarmament proposals" (if you are a second amendment supporter) would have done nothing to prevent Sandy Hook.   Nor would proposals to ban violent video games or place more names of mental patients in the "banned from buying guns from legal sources" hopper.

Here are  three things that would actually work, but which institutional players refuse to even consider, because it impacts their power and perks.  I will list them in the order of their effectiveness:

First: Stop the media from shouting Fire! in a crowded schoolhouse.  We have known for decades that it is media attention that is the driving motivation for most of these public mass shooters.  The copycat effect has been demonstrated and documented over and over again.  Clayton Cramer wrote a paper on this in 1993.   It was published in a the Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 9:1 [Winter 1993-94].  It won First Place, Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Ethics Prize, 1993, Undergraduate Division.  It has been widely written about in other publications, such as the Wall Street Journal.   A book, The Copycat Effect, by Loren Coleman, was written in 2004.   It detailed simple strategies for mitigating the effect and reducing the number of these mass public killings.   They could be implemented without any significant chilling effect on the first amendment.    The AP could simply include these requirements in its writers guidelines.    The Cramer article has been around for 20 years, and won a prize for ethics.  The book by Coleman has been available for nearly a decade.  Any thoughtful person can see the obvious connection between making anti-heros of school shooters and the potential to tip unbalanced people over the edge, into an act that they see as immortalizing their otherwise miserable lives.

It seems clear that the media would rather keep their power to use these events push for more citizen disarmament than they would prevent children from being murdered.  As Cramer noted, the coverage of school shooting is at least 8 times as large at that of similar mass homicides that do not involve guns.

In a strange twist, the old media actually benefit financially from school shootings:  Newtown Media Buys

Second: Repeal the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1996.  School shootings increased fourfold after the act was passed.   It is clear that public "Rampage" shooters overwhelmingly prefer to strike where guns are formally prohibited, the "Gun Free Zones".    The act is of dubious constitutionality.   Its predecessor, the Gun Free School Zone Act of 1992, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in the Lopez decision of 1995.    Under intense media pressure and lobbying by President Clinton, a slightly modified version of the act was passed again in 1996.   Federal prosecutors seem loathe to prosecute most peopel under the act, likely worried that the Supreme Court would again declare it to be unconstitutional.   The Lopez decision occurred before the second amendment was affirmed as an individual right under D.C. v. Heller in 2008, and applied to the states in McDonald v. Chicago in 2010.     The law has been a disaster, as indicated by the numbers.   If school shooters knew they might be opposed, by ordinary citizens who they could not identify, they would likely choose other targets, as seems to have happened in Aurora theater shooting.

Those who push for more infringements on the second amendment oppose this measure on ideological and practical grounds.   If this arbitrary and disastrous bill is repealed, might not others be repealed as well?   This is a sort of "reverse slippery slope for the citizen disarmament groups.   On practical grounds, the "Gun Free School Zones" are the corner stones of a quiet attempt to make it impossible for people to exercise second amendment rights.   Simply look at any map and start drawing arbitrary 1,000 foot circles around schools.   It clearly becomes impossible to move through any village or city without intersection one or many of those circles.  To remove those circles would be an enormous blow to the attempt to make exercise of second amendment rights legally dangerous and difficult.

Third: Allow teachers and parents with concealed carry permits to protect their children in schools.   This might be termed the "Israeli" or "Thai" solution.   Both Israel and Thailand have implemented such policies, with positive effects.  It would almost certainly work in the United States as well.   This is not quite the same thing as "armed security" that the NRA suggested.   Known armed security can be planned for and dealt with, as the shooters did at Columbine, though it certainly complicates a mass shooting plan.   What the mass shooters seem to fear most is not death, but failure.   If they are to go down in the "record books" they need to kill a lot of people.   The possibility of an armed teacher that they do not know, or of a random armed parent, is something that makes planning a mass killing much more difficult.  Utah has allow armed teachers and parents since 1995, when they passed their Concealed Carry Weapons law.  Utah teachers have been crowding into free gun training courses after Sandy Hook.   Utah has not had any school shootings since the law passed.

There is a fourth solution, but it is truly radical.   I expect it will occur in time, because the economics are so overwhelmingly favorable: Decentralize the massive public schools system.

This is the least likely of the four proposals to be implemented.  It does not solve the problem, but it does make school shootings much less inviting by reducing the concentration of victims.  It is the most radical because it upends the existing school power structure.    The old brick and mortar school system that we have today was conceived of in Bismark's Germany, pushed into national prominence by the early school reformers that wished to mold children's minds in service of the nation, and centralized during the 1950's and later on the advice of progressive "experts".

Centralization of the schools has led to the historically bizarre  concentration of cohorts of same aged students, separated from their parents,and subject to central authority and indoctrination.   It may have made sense economically during the industrial era, but now it is a dinosaur.    It makes no sense in the age of the Internet and digital information.   There is no good reason to crowd all these children of the same age together, where they teach each other mischief and crime, and often learn to distrust their parents.  Teachers can teach distributed classes.  There is no reason to keep the enormous expense of huge brick and mortar facilities.   Very little is needed to teach  6-7 year old children to read.   Before this era, most were taught this at home.   Once a student has learned to read and to use a keyboard, the universe of learning is at their command.   Easy to follow teaching programs are already available.   If you insist, make parents responsible to insure that their children learn to read, write, and understand basic arithmetic.  Allow employment services to give tests for the equivalent of GED.  No high school diploma is necessary.   Make basic instruction available for free, on line, to replace the current public schools.

While this reform is highly unlikely in the next few years, as the entire education establishment is against it, as well as 75 and more years of established cultural traditions, I think it will happen in time.   The economics and pure sense of it are overwhelming.   Consider the competitive advantage of communities that are able to educate their children for $500 a year instead of $20,000 a year.   Home schooling, charter schools, and private schools are already starting to show the way on this approach.   Much the same is likely for Universities, where a great many courses can already be taken on line.

©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
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