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Friday, October 06, 2006

An Armed Teacher is a Good Teacher

Over at Volokh, Dave Kopel has a new post up arguing that we should deter gun violence in schools by arming teachers. 

Bravo!  Brilliant idea.  There will no longer be any more lazy students of the type that Mike Dimino decried!  No student will ever be unprepared again!  Lots of great learning will take place in these armed classrooms, I predict.  Hey, I often do some of my best writing when I’m “under the gun.”    

Okay, I’ll stop ranting now.  But it’s hard for me to take this drivel of an idea seriously. 

The rational response to school shootings is gun control.  Less guns equal less gun violence.  Commonsense. I don’t want to live in the wild west, and I don’t want to teach in it either.

(N.B. Ask yourself how you would feel if you were threatened by a lunatic with a gun.  I have been.  More guns are not the answer).  

Posted by Miriam Cherry on October 6, 2006 at 03:55 AM in Current Affairs | Permalink


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An analogy to consider:

Perhaps we might think of fighting 'gun violence' on analogy with the way forest fires are fought out here on the west coast, particularly in chaparral ecology. Whatever one has heard about 'fighting fire with fire,' in actual fire suppression and management, that is only one tactic in the strategic arsenal of the firefighter. For instance, during the off-fire season, parcels of very dense brush that have not burned in quite a while are burned off by way of fire prevention. Secondly, during an actual fire, backfires are lit to burn back into the fire so as to rule out the fire advancing uncontrollably in this or that direction. However, fires are best prevented and fought, and kept from burning structures and homes, with other tactics and strategies not involving the use of fire. Before the fire, residents potentially in harm's way are encouraged or required to eliminate potential fuels surrounding their properties. The forest service may also create fuel breaks with bulldozers and hand crews that attempt to assure that, should a fire break out, it will not be allowed to proceed in any and all directions. During the fire itself, tanker and helicopter drops of chemicals and water are used to fight the fire, as are bulldozers and hand crews constructing fire breaks. In short, the use of fire itself, and then in a very careful and professionally managed way, is only one of the means by which one prevents and fights fire. I'll leave it to others to fill out the analogy. It's by no means perfect: fires are integral to chaparral terrain, as some seeds require the heat of the fire to germinate and fires help to assure other new and differentiated growth (hence I would not want to draw any socially Malthusian/Darwinian conclusions from this: a hazard sometimes when using natural analogies for the human world). Still, I think it suggests something about the arming of everyone to prevent gun violence, a response that is as simplistic as it is short-sighted, and does nothing to reduce or eliminate this culture's dangerous bewitchment by or fascination with violence, in addition to its oft-invoked reliance on same.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 7, 2006 12:48:50 PM

Responding to Michael Heise, et al in regard to "commonsense":
Yes, the fact that I've personally been threatened with a gun is anecdote. Could I have written a post substantiating "commonsense" (and the policy implications of that notion) by citing plenty of research, empirical and otherwise on guns and violence? Of course, but it's been done before by others (and probably better, I might add). I posted my reactions to Kopel quite late at night (which probably explains my use of the word "drivel"). But even re-reading in the cold light of day, I have to tell you, this argument about arming educators in response to gun violence does strike me as lunatic fringe and, yes, (thank you Patrick) Hobbesian.

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Oct 6, 2006 6:49:45 PM

There was a great Doonesbury cartoon back in the day that had Duke testifying before congress on gun control. The exchange went something like this:

Congressman: As I'm sure you know, the majority of gun violence comes during domestic and spousal disputes. How would increasing the amount of armed citizens account for that?

Duke: Well, look at it from the spouse's perspective.

Congressman: Not following you.

Duke: Wouldn't you want to be in position to return fire?

Posted by: David Schraub | Oct 6, 2006 6:18:59 PM

One more thought: those opposed to stricter gun control laws make one argument to the effect that such legislation will leave guns in the hands of criminals with little or no compunction about breaking the law. That may be, but, and assuming I'm not blinkered by some sort of availability heuristic, is it not the case that the most egregious acts of gun violence at schools and elsewhere of late have been committed by those lacking a criminal background? I personally have been perilously close to two shootings in which the individuals had mental health problems (in one case long-standing, in the other, recent and episodic, brought on by the death of his wife of many years) and were able to acquire guns (legally) with relative ease. Would such individuals have caused the harm they did if it were more difficult to acquire guns (again, granting those criminally inclined may get their weapons by hook or by crook)?

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 6, 2006 1:38:27 PM

Wow. Sophomoric name calling combined with references to Hobbes and Freud all while simultaneously derailing a potentially worthwhile conversation about the complex relationship between guns and violence (not to mention school violence specifically)! Plus, somehow, that comment made me laugh at the end of a thread concerning a very serious and depressing subject matter. Kudos Patrick S. O'Donnell!

Posted by: Josh Wright | Oct 6, 2006 1:34:52 PM

The devotees of gun-packing are rather sad and pathetic creatures, living in fear of the Hobbesian state of nature as they see themselves ever in danger of living lives at once 'solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short,' believing the Freudian veneer of civiliaztion is brittle and cracking. Their irrational fears (at least from the perspective of risk analysis) have a stranglehold on their imagination and rational faculties, and they find comfort in the hysterical endeavor to bring the rest of us down into the muck and mire with them.

Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Oct 6, 2006 12:54:35 PM

frankly, i'm less concerned about access to guns and more concerned that, when possessed by the desire to lash out, folks seems to think schools are ample pickin's. i wonder more about the ways in which people appear to need to assert power over others, and who they choose to assert it over (children, and more specifically this week, female children), and less about the mechanics by which they assert the power. i don't think reducing access to guns (which is of arguable efficacy anyway) is the answer because i think school shootings, child abuse, sexual abuse, etc. probably all come from similar places.

Posted by: kommishonerjenny | Oct 6, 2006 12:41:57 PM

When I think of the fine men and women that were my teachers, I can think of several that, should the need have arisen, and they were armed, would have saved my life.

Posted by: Pat | Oct 6, 2006 12:30:23 PM

Kopel has made it clear: if only the Amish had been packing heat, this wouldn't have happened...

Volokh reaches a new low.

Posted by: newprof | Oct 6, 2006 12:10:08 PM

As I said on the VC thread, since Bush's Secretary of Education has publicly labelled the country's largest union of teachers (the NEA) a "terrorist organization," we can only conclude that conservatives are now calling for the arming of terrorists.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 6, 2006 11:44:25 AM

Interestingly, I hadn't read Kopel's article before I wrote this. I see he mentions the necessity of total gun control to have any practical effect (as opposed to highly cost inefficient marginal improvements) in the first paragraph. I don't read much about this issue (I don't own a gun myself and am not that invested in it), but it's an obvious point you pretty much never see anywhere when it does come up.

Posted by: Dylan | Oct 6, 2006 11:03:18 AM

The rational response to school shootings is gun control. Less guns equal less gun violence. Commonsense.

I suppose this line of thinking explains the unilateral nuclear disarmament crowd. For generous values of "explains."

This is a good line in Europe, or in some fantasy police state land where America becomes a hundred times worse than the darkest imaginings of George W. Bush's worst critic. The most effective (not "rational") method to reduce school shootings is total gun control. But that's not possible, so why are we talking about? Why not wish for a magic water additive that in combination with fluoride removes all evil from men's hearts?

Given that a permanent number of guns are and always will be floating out there, the rational way to stop these kinds of gun shootings is indeed to arm several people in schools; one or two guys in uniform who can be killed by surprise won't cut it, or will push the crazies to find the (aparently) undefended ones. Yes, you'll still have the subset of school shooting crazies who don't care about being shot by someone other than themselves or the possibility of failing in their demented goals. Less than 100% success is not failure.

More importantly, there would potentially be some increase in other types of school shootings if you spread hidden guns around. The truly rational person would ask what this new cost was, and whether it was worth it, rather than retreating into reflexive slogans about solutions that will never be practical.

Posted by: Dylan | Oct 6, 2006 10:57:33 AM

Seems to me, this is a greater tragedy for America than 9/11, in that the victims were executed in cold blood AND more heartbreakingly, these were 6 year old AMISH kids. How much more "innocent" can you get than a 6 year old Amish kid?

Huh? Victims of 9/11 were just as innocent and they were also killed in cold-blood. Unfortnately, there were almost 3,000 killed on 9/11. The murders in Lancaster County, PA are also a tradegy but your comparison to 9/11 is really strange.

Posted by: charles | Oct 6, 2006 10:41:33 AM

With Kopel you can be sure that he thinks "an armed X is a better X" for any value of X. Also, the UN is comming to take our guns away.

Posted by: Matt | Oct 6, 2006 10:05:00 AM

I'll side-step and leave to others far more knowledgeable than I critical questions concerning the relation between guns and violence, except to note that, as prior posts suggest, the relation is assuredly complex and not univariate. What struck me was the structure of Prof. Cherry's argument (e.g., "I have been. More guns are not the answer".) As someone once remarked, "the plural of anecdote is not data." If true, it is perhaps especially so for an autobiographical anecdote.

Posted by: Michael Heise | Oct 6, 2006 9:44:28 AM

Seems to me, this is a greater tragedy for America than 9/11, in that the victims were executed in cold blood AND more heartbreakingly, these were 6 year old AMISH kids. How much more "innocent" can you get than a 6 year old Amish kid?

As long as there are people willing to do such harm to such totally defenseless creatures, the possibility of arming school teachers with defensive weapons (We're not talking about uzis and "assault" rifles, the typical fatasy menace for the anti-gun individuals) should not be completely dismissed as "lunatic".

1. Teachers - we should encourage female teachers in particular? (statistically less likely to go on rampages)
2. Having an OPTION - not "mandate"
3. Of carrying _concealed_ weapons
4. Of a defensive "caliber" -snubby revolvers and such
5. IF they complete the proper technical, legal, ethical training
6. and living in a society teeming with 100+ million guns
7. in which the "ideal" - yes _I_ think thats ideal - of "no guns" is impossible to achieve
8. And would disarm ONLY the lawsuit-fearing, jailtime-fearing citizens

This would be a lunatic idea, how? This would be a lunatic idea in, say, a place like Japan. (But the local police also keeps dossiers on individual citizens, which are updated twice a year?)

Unlike Japan, freedom is "ORGANIC" in America. And its already too late to turn back the tide;Its either good or bad depending on your viewpoint of course.

If this will stop just ONE more such "execution" of hapless child, the debate is worth it.

(To give you some personal context: I'm reasonably well-trained in the use of rifles though I don't own a gun. I'm also a leather-avoiding, meat-avoiding,anti-hunting, humane-mouse-trap using un-NRAish "nut")

Posted by: Raj | Oct 6, 2006 9:39:45 AM

you are being unfair to the "wild west." frontier towns typically had gun control laws that prohibited citizens (other than law enforcement) from carrying arms within city limits, and that would include schools. in tombstone, for example, the gun control law was ordinance number 10 -- pretty high on the agenda following municipal incorporation.

Posted by: steve lubet | Oct 6, 2006 8:54:44 AM

Less guns equal less gun violence. Commonsense.

danielz is right: that's far too simplistic an analysis. I'm not going to reply by saying "more guns equal less violence," as that's equally simplistic (and, after all, the most famous work on the topic was based on a set of faulty assumptions). But there's a whole lot more at work here than just one variable.

Posted by: CL | Oct 6, 2006 8:21:52 AM

"Less guns equals less gun violence. Common sense."

Unfortunately, however, much too simplistic. A little more thought and you might realize that gun control only disarms, or reduces guns, among the law abiding. In no country in this world, no matter how strict the gun control laws or their enforcement, can criminals not get firearms. Nor does a reduced number of firearms reduce violent crime. In Taiwan, simple possession of a firearm is a capital crime. However Taiwan, a highly industrialized country, has a higher homicide rate than does the United States. In almost all cases rises in violent crime and homicide rates have followed the passage of gun control laws.

Meanwhile, in the United States, at least 90 million more firearms have been sold since 1990. Since 1990 our violent crime and homicide rates have dropped drastically. And, according to FBI reports and statistics, the largest drops have occurred in states that make it easiest for law-abiding citizens to obtain and carry concealed firearms for defense.

So, Ms. Cherry, your "commonsense" really makes no sense when you apply critical and logical thinking. Why don't they teach that in school?

-dan z-

Posted by: danielz | Oct 6, 2006 8:09:16 AM

Horshack says "ooh, ooh, Mistah Kottah" just one too many times, and Gabe pops him. No, I don't think so.

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Oct 6, 2006 8:02:52 AM

It was a Dave Kopel post. Duh.

When I have to send my kids to a school where teachers must be armed it's time to check out. I'd much reather live in a country where the legal system is much less developed but where this sort of violence is much less prevalent. [take your pick here.]

Posted by: BTD_Venkat | Oct 6, 2006 4:17:27 AM

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