What Happens When The Once Esteemed Bible Of Free Enterprise Sends A Freelance Journalist Covering “Resistance, Gender, And Politics” To Report On Guns In Schools?

Bill Tallen, Executive Vice-President of Distributed Security, Inc. responds to Erin Corbett‘s article on Fortune.com, Kids Brought Guns to School at Least 392 Times Last Year. Here’s What Experts Say We Should Do About It 10/23/19

This article is just more antigun “advocacy journalism,” distorting and cherry-picking useful research on firearms violence in schools, and relying heavily on unsubstantiated opinion from sources with little professional credibility.

The heartstring-grabbing title establishes both the tone, and the fast and loose treatment of facts and logic.  In the first week of the 2019 academic year, we are told, guns were found in students’ backpacks in Arizona, California, Indiana and Massachusetts. Now, perhaps we should celebrate these discoveries, because none of them ended in violence.  But that’s not the point, you see, which is the need for a “nationally enforced reporting system” and “Child Access Prevention” laws at the federal level. Never mind that 27 states plus D.C. already have such laws – including three of the four states mentioned, which suggests what we already know, that laws on the books don’t force behavior consistently enough to justify yet another federal encroachment on states’ responsibility for criminal law.

Did I mention cherry-picking?  The article cites one fact from the voluminous National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) study, Indicators of School Crime and Safety. That critical factoid is that during the 2016-2017 school year, there were 3,272 instances across America where “kids brought guns to school.”  In round numbers, there are about 33 million elementary school students in the U.S.  If there are on average 150 school days in the year, that suggests 4,950,000,000 (that’s almost five billion) opportunities for kids to sneak a gun into their school, so forgive me if I find 3,272 instances, less than 1/100,000 of the opportunities, not a happy number but somewhat less than apocalyptic. I really prefer the NCES approach, which speaks of rates and percentages; it’s easy to forget what a big country this is, and be misled by numbers.

The NCES study is a good piece of work that presents several things shedding light on the broader topic of violence in schools. For instance, the federally promoted Youth Risk Behavior Survey asked if 9th-12th grade students had carried a weapon “such as a gun, knife, or club” anywhere in the last 30 days, and whether they had carried such a weapon on school property.  16% reported that had carried some such weapon at least one day, a rate unchanged since 2001; but only 4% reported they had done so on school property, down from 6% in 2001. Of course, there was no differentiation between those three types of weapons (so the numbers tell us nothing about the rate of firearms carry), or the circumstances (for instance were the “weapons” associated with hunting, sport competition, adult supervised activities, or other non-threatening contexts, or were they pizza slices nibble into the shape of a gun?). It is also worth remembering that these are anonymous survey responses by teenagers.

But that doesn’t help the narrative, so we move right along. We’ll be back to the NCES report in a bit, but first, let’s consult some “advocates”. The “guns brought to school” numbers, if they didn’t scare you enough, must be only the tip of the iceberg because “we don’t know how pervasive the problem is,” according to one “Gun Violence Prevention Advocate” (capitals in the original), and “public schools aren’t properly reporting the incidents” because there is no “nationally enforced reporting system,” according to (who else?) “experts.”

The author moves on to “gun storage laws” and the opinion of another gun policy “expert” who tells us that “everyone is focused on the rights they have, but not the responsibility.” But don’t worry, experts (again) tell us that that “the conversation doesn’t have to be so politically polarized” like, you know, generalizing about the irresponsibility of everyone who favors firearms rights.

Sticks and stones might break your bones, but if words don’t scare you sufficiently, maybe some graphics will do the trick. In that spirit, we are given a map of the US generated from “news reports compiled by Fortune,” splattered with dots of various sizes indicating the number of incidents of kids bringing firearms to schools in the 2018-2019 school year, aggregated by counties.  Lots of open areas on this map, and lots of the little “one incident” dots, but a metastasizing cancer of swelling, overlapping circles (the 12-incident circle has an area about 804 times larger than the 1-incident dot) covering the left and right coasts and a scattering of counties across the South and Midwest.  The counties picked out for having 5-12 of these incidents are almost all (all but one) in states that – referencing sources cited in this article itself – already have laws in place establishing criminal penalties for allowing minors unsupervised access to firearms, under various conditions. Is anybody unfamiliar with – or impressed by – the point of view that if existing laws are ineffective, the obvious solution is to pass more laws?  But sources like the Giffords Law Center (notoriously anti-firearm) insist that federal law will sort this out: all we need is a federal Child Access Prevention Law that will hold parents responsible – those deplorably irresponsible gun-owning parents, you see, at least those not already disarmed by a federal “red flag law.”

Never mind, though, just keep moving: “Gun violence prevention experts” (unnamed but who are we to question?) agree that the biggest reason that kids are taking guns into their schools – remember these incidents overwhelmingly do not result in violence – is “because they have access to them in the first place.”  Well, that seems logical; but why doesn’t the author share a very interesting discussion from the NCES study, which reports that minors’ access to loaded guns without adult permission actually decreased from 7% to 3% between 2007 and 2017?  Could it be that this crisis – a crisis of potential, because there isn’t any correlation offered between all these guns coming to school and actual shootings – is actually waning without big government intervention?  That would be inconvenient and off-message.

In case any of you deplorable, violent troglodytes have missed the message, this article then characterizes the arming of teachers, or provision of armed police or school resource officers (SROs) to schools as “reactionary” responses. Watch out; we know what happens to reactionaries.  But maybe some of you can be brought over to the right (left?) side, when you learn that “studies show those efforts don’t actually make anyone safer.”  I jumped right onto that link to peruse those groundbreaking studies, but the link leads to just one study, which is actually ambivalent about SROs. As it should be, because while there have been some high-profile failures (such as Parkland) SROs have saved lives on several occasions.  Properly selected, trained, and supported, they contribute significantly to the security of schools against armed threats, as do armed staff members (never just “teachers”) in the 20-plus states that have them. Of course, that one study doesn’t even mention armed staff members; I guess that idea is just so reactionary that we don’t need no stinkin’ study to tell us so. 

But we don’t get to contemplate armed school staff and their merits, because we need to hear from more “community organizers,” “Social Work” academics, student activists, and – of course – Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety.  Not one of whom, I confidently predict, will ever be on hand when the shooting starts in a school, and the soon-to-be victims look around desperately for a defender to stand between them and maiming or death.

No one who supports armed protection in our schools believes that is the only way to address the threat of school violence – which in a rare moment of clarity and honesty, this article does admit is “incredibly rare.”  But it is a last line of defense when all the unenforced laws and hopeful prevention, detection, and access denial measures fail – as they do, by definition, every time an active killer opens up. 

We’re Distributed Security, Inc., and we’re experts in armed security and the defense of innocent life by trained, motivated civilians.  You want to know what “the experts say we should do about it?”  We’re the experts who can tell you what will happen on that bad day if you have armed, trained personnel in your child’s school – and what will happen if you don’t.

Bill Tallen is Executive Vice President – Tactical Operations.Prior to joining the enterprise he had a 20 year career with the Department of Energy, where he served as a Federal Agent, team leader, unit commander, training instructor, and manager in the agency which provides secure transportation of nuclear weapons and nuclear materials within CONUS. He helped to found DOE’s Special Response Force program, developing and teaching urban and close quarter battle techniques to Federal Agents charged with recovery of lost assets. He has designed and conducted a variety of wargaming efforts in support of vulnerability assessments, security system design, and leadership training, and has taught a variety of crisis decision making models. Bill holds the degree of Master of Arts in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

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