>> Thursday, April 04, 2013
So I skimmed the NRA's Report Of The National School Shield Task Force (PDF link). This is the report, released this week, from the NRA's committee chaired by former Congressman Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, empaneled to review and discuss all the things we can do to make our nation's schools safer from armed assailants besides disarming them, which is off the table because it's unconstitutional.
Most of the talk in the news seems to be about how the NRA is calling for arming teachers. This is one of the things they recommend, but only one of the things, and yes, it's absurd, but it is only one of the things the report talks about. They also write about putting unarmed guards into schools, and armed volunteers, and increasing the number of law enforcement officers assigned to schools as School Resource Officers (SROs, in the parlance); in fact, the proposal to arm teachers and the model law they've drafted to enable armed teachers is really kind of incidental and, as absurd as it is, not wholly unreasonable from a certain point of view (yes, this is a paradox); the proposal to arm teachers is really almost a kind of afterthought proffered for schools that need to improve security on the cheap because they can't get the funding for SROs, armed private security, and don't want to deal with the hassles involved with allowing volunteers with guns to roam their campuses.
Indeed, in point of fact, one might even consider that arming the nation's teachers might even be a tad more responsible than the Shield Task Force's volunteers idea (oh, by the way, that would be pp. 96-97, if you're following along at home). The Shield Task Force--I'm going to start calling them the STF, because I'm lazy--suggests schools might employ "armed citizen volunteers, such as retired or off duty police officers or military veterans, to provide an additional layer of deterrence and security," conjures unfortunate mental images of rheumy-eyed, balding, grizzled, hunchbacked old men with guns almost as big as their shrunken frames wandering the hallways like Silver Alert refugees from a local retirement home, suspiciously eying their juvenile charges with their hoppity-hip music and sagging pants, wishing that North Korea would go on and end the armistice already so these twelve-year-old punks can be drafted and turned into men. I wouldn't be the first person to observe there's some irony to be found in the coalition with a history of not trusting our nation's educators to educate anyone trusting them with concealed weapons, but then it's possible that these folks have almost as many reservations (in their hearts-of-hearts) about unleashing Old Man Crumpet upon our nation's children to brandish his vintage rifle at them while saying "GAH!" a lot and complaining about their loud clothes, lack of manners, and preferences for basketball and football over real sports like baseball and bowling. Furies have mercy, Crumpet might shoot a kid in the leg just to be ornery, maybe we should arm the gym teacher.
But the bulk of the STF report is really rather depressing. Here I have to seemingly digress and tell you that I just absolutely loathed school from probably junior high school on to graduation from high school, and that one of the things I loathed was the (in retrospect fairly banal and nearly universally shared) feeling that I was in some kind of prison. Alas (and funny to write "alas" about this), these were metaphorical feelings, as high school felt like a prison, but with so many kids leaving campus during lunchtime (in violation of school rules, but still), those staying on campus having lunch just about wherever they wanted, all the milling about between classes, the open (almost collegiate, really) construction of the high school I attended, etc., etc., the place bore little-to-no real resemblance to an actual, bona fide prison like the ones they send actual, bona fide menaces to society to after convicting them of such horrifying breaches of the social contract like murder and finally agreeing to sell weed to an undercover officer after being asked for, like, the fiftieth time already and would you just shut up about wanting to buy some dope if I can find some?
Yes, though school felt like a soul-crushing locked-down penitentiary where I was held captive for wasted hours-on-end, it wasn't actually all that locked-down or much of a pen (it was mostly soul-crushing, though). Happily(?), the STF has come along to bridge the vast chasm between my youthful narcissistic, melodramatic, martyred visions of life as an existential hell in which I was some kind of pimply cross between Josef K. and Number 6, and the much less-existentially-hellish, dull reality.
Windows, for instance. Are bad (p. 48). Fences are good. Especially ones that "den[y] climbing holds as well as opportunities to bypass underneath" (pp. 26-28). Schools should "Avoid dense vegetation close to buildings, as it may screen various forms of illicit activity" and "Use landscape elements to protect sensitive operations, gathering areas, and other activities from surveillance without creating concealment for covert activity" (p. 29). (This may be the first gun control-related document in history to include advice about preferred shrubbery--"Use thorn-bearing and sharp-leaved plant species to create natural physical barriers to deter aggressors, keeping in mind they may also impede emergency egress"; not only does the STF report predictably include recommendations that would subsidize the arms industry, like encouraging gun sales to school faculty, but it also throws a bone to Home Depot and Lowe's.) Cameras, the STF report is big on cameras inside and outside the building and make sure they're unobstructed, waterproof and well-kept (I'm skipping a page reference here because you could practically open the report at random and have good odds of hitting a video surveillance paragraph or illustration). Panic buttons, ballistic steel plating and creation of "entrapment areas" at the front entrance of the building are all Very Good Things (pp. 36-37).
Doors. Doors are a big deal. Locking the doors, inside and out, and make sure they're not some kind of bullshit doors you can open by sliding a credit card between the flange and frame or shoot through and kick in or anything. Steel doors are good, or at least reinforced wooden doors. The STF makes a big deal about locking interior doors--possibly at all times, if practicable--and notes (accurately) that the Columbine shooters (Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) didn't go into any classrooms with locked doors (having recently finished Dave Cullen's Columbine, however, I'm prepared to write that the STF overlooks the facts that Harris was probably a psychopath--and bored easily (psychopaths have a tendency to need constant new stimuli; indeed, Harris seems to have started losing interest in his own plan to destroy the school once his bombs failed to go off and after he'd shot several people, which really is as ironic and fucked-up as it sounds)--and Klebold was probably bipolar--and relatively unmotivated beyond Harris' likely goadings). If you really must have some kind of window in or next to a classroom door, best make it something that an assailant can't peer through or break in to gain entry. Interestingly, the STF also advises against that glass with wire in it because it can produce shrapnel.
It's baleful. I mean, I thought high school was terrible and prisonlike, but that was definitely an era long before national lobbying organizations and their affiliated task forces of former politicians and ex-military and retired law enforcement consultants were seriously pushing the notion of actually making schools really and truly prisonlike for the national good. Somehow we've managed to reach a point where the "Another Brick In The Wall (part 2)" sequence from Pink Floyd's The Wall seems more documentary than sardonic commentary: I could not find a reference to meat grinders in the STF report, but can't help thinking Mr. Hutchinson would have cheerfully endorsed them as part of a safety plan if it were a choice between turning children to sausage and making it harder for the local neighborhood maniac to get off another ten rounds before having to swap out magazines.
Exaggeration. And maybe a bit harsh. But then it might not quite be as harsh to mention that with all the STF report's focus on vulnerabilities loading and unloading buses (pp. 57-61), it's almost surprising they didn't take it to the next modestly-proposed step and missed the opportunity to point out how much safer the kiddies would be if they didn't have to file into the buses out in the open like that, and if they could just stay inside the schools all the time. Behind the carefully-planned shrubbery, unscalable fences, steel doors, exclusionary zones, ballistic glass, etc. I mean, why not lock them up from ages six to eighteen where no one can shoot them except their teachers, right?
The saddest funny thing about that, though, is that gun control legislation is deader than a Norwegian Blue pining for the fjords, such that it would be a damn sight easier passing legislation incarcerating first graders for their safety than it would be to pass a law limiting the sale of high-capacity magazines or one requiring background checks of gun buyers at gun shows--or any other piece of gun control legislation. Lately I've been reading and hearing a number of liberal pundits who are shocked this should be the case, though I think I could have told them back in December this was how things would work out. For all sorts of reasons, there's no way anyone is going to attempt to reduce school shootings--or shootings in general--by making it harder for anybody to, you know, actually shoot anybody else. Never mind whether this result is Constitutionally mandated or merely some kind of uniquely American pathology; it goes beyond the inevitable fact that of course the NRA's special team of experts is going to recommend turning American schools into fenced-in fortresses before breathing a word about restricting access to firearms, however modest, beyond to the fact that in our contemporary political climate and culture it would in fact be easier to secure Federal educational funding for fortified boarding schools where outsiders only see their children via Skype and carefully-screened faculty guards with electronic security badges teach math between patrols. Not, mind you, that this dystopian YA-novel-begging-to-be-written will come to pass, either, just that right now it could get more votes than a waiting period on ammunition purchases could, say. But I'm not predicting it will come to that, the only thing I'll bet on with any certainty is that some more people will be shot and nothing more will be done about it than the usual finger-wagging and/or hand-wringing. Some of my fellow liberals keep saying they're bewildered that Newtown wasn't the moment-of-truth lots of jaw-waggers said it was; well for fuck's sake, the NRA Shield Task Force says the first American school shooting on record was in 1764 (p. 6)--why on Earth would Newtown have been different from any other tragedy we've had in the past two-and-a-half centuries? It's perfectly fair to say that the problem isn't that we haven't learned anything as a society; we have and, as a collective people, we just don't actually care very much. What we've learned is: schoolroom windows are an invitation to the inevitable and eventual assassin, and the shrubbery should be tall enough to inconvenience him when he arrives and low enough we can see him when (not if) he comes.