Worth a Try?

Dr. Malcolm Cross

The Uvalde atrocities have generated much debate over how to prevent future massacres or at least minimize the chances for their recurrence.  But so far, the main response to particular ideas is to oppose them either because their implementation would threaten civil liberties, or because they simply wouldn’t work.  A better course of action is to implement the more rational and practical ideas, see what happens, retain what seems to work, and rethink what doesn’t, keeping in mind that whatever works may well save lives in the future.  Legislation passed and implemented in Florida following the 2018 massacre at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has created an experiment whose results may be useful in determining what can, and what cannot, reduce the probability of future mass shootings.

Not all ideas being bandied about should be taken with equal seriousness.  Calls to abolish or modify the wording of the Second Amendment are too wildly impractical for serious consideration.  To eliminate or modify the words of the Second Amendment would require the assent of three fourths of the states.  The chances of winning such widespread approval are nil.  Moreover, the Supreme Court, as dominated by conservative Republicans, has interpreted the Second Amendment to confer the right of individuals to privately own guns and not simply as a means to facilitate the formation and maintenance of “state militias.”  Given the Supreme Court’s composition, there is no reason to think it will change its interpretation of the Second Amendment any time within the foreseeable future.

Nor should any proposal that would deprive mentally healthy and law-abiding adults from purchasing firearms for legitimate self-protection be considered.  Second Amendment or not, we should have the right of self-protection, especially given the apparent delays of the Uvalde authorities in intervening to stop last week’s massacre, not to mention the normal time lags in police response to calls for help.

But other ideas are more deserving of serious consideration.  One set of ideas winning popular support as well as the approval of liberal publications such as the Washington Post and the New York Times, and  conservative journals such as the National Review, include provisions for increasing to 21 the age at which all guns can be purchased, the establishment of better and more thorough background checks of would-be gun purchasers, and the adoption of “red flag” laws that allow for the temporary confiscation of guns from owners exhibiting dangerous behavior.  Moreover, they were incorporated in Florida’s 2018 law. 

Critics of these ideas claim they’re either impractical or dangerous.  Those who oppose background checks point out that the Uvalde Monster passed them.  Opponents of red flag laws question the fairness of gun confiscations—even temporary confiscations—before crimes have been committed.  But before criticisms harden into opposition, one should see how these restrictions have already played out in states which currently have them.  Do responsible gun owners remain free?  Have those whose guns have been taken been able to reclaim them?  How much harm have they suffered?  Data from Florida and other states which have adopted some or all of these measures should be systematically collected analyzed to help answer these questions.  

Other ideas also adopted by Florida, such as the “hardening” of schools or the arming of teachers, also deserve serious consideration before being hastily accepted or summarily dismissed.

Those who wish to harden schools basically argue that schools should have only one point of entry, to be supervised by armed guards.  Critics have said this would, in effect, turn schools into armed camps.  While that prospect may not be pleasant, parents may want to ask themselves whether they want their children educated in armed camps or in potential shooting galleries.  

More questionable is whether teachers and administrators should be armed and trained to stop a shooter.  It’s been argued that teachers already have too much to do and few would be able to acquire the skills necessary to win a gunfight with an armed intruder.  Maybe so.  But at least one of the teachers murdered in Uvalde apparently died while trying to shield her students with her own body.  Would she have been more effective with a gun?  We’ll never know, but perhaps it’s worth thinking about, if for no other reason than to do so is to take more seriously that heroic teacher’s sacrifice.

In fact, we can never be completely certain that the implementation of any of these ideas will reduce the number of school shootings in the future.  Indeed, we can never learn of the shootings that never take place, whether because of the implementation of Florida-style legislation or for other reasons yet unknown.  But not being certain of the success of particular proposals should not deter us from at least trying to implement them and see what happens.  Given what’s at stake—the lives of children and their teachers—is it not worth a try?

Malcolm L. Cross has lived in Stephenville and taught politics and government at Tarleton since 1987. His political and civic activities include service on the Stephenville City Council (2000-2014) and on the Erath County Republican Executive Committee (1990 to the present).  He was Mayor Pro Tem of Stephenville from 2008 to 2014.  He is a member of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church and the Stephenville Rotary Club, and does volunteer work for the Boy Scouts of America. Views expressed in this column are his and do not reflect those of The Flash as a whole.

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