The gun issue is one of the most divisive in America. The mere mention of
new gun laws incites harsh commentary on both sides, and on Capitol Hill the
topic is more radioactive than taxes, the deficit or even war.
However, the issue of school safety goes beyond guns. When it comes to kids,
what matters is protecting them while their elders struggle to find better societal
solutions for maintaining their safety.
Following the Newtown tragedy, the notion of placing cops in schools was immediately
politicized because it was among things advocated by the NRA’s arch leader,
Wayne LaPierre. Anything the NRA suggests is immediately challenged by gun opponents – much
as any proposal to limit gun ownership is contested by Second Amendment fundamentalists.
LaPierre is a lousy spokesman, even for his own cause, and his choice of words – “good
guys with guns” – only serves to confuse matters when it comes to
stationing police at schools.
Officials like Mayor Hornik are not proposing arming civilians, as the notorious
sheriff Joe Arpaio seeks to do in Arizona. They’re talking about stationing
uniformed town police officers at schools, just as they are sent to patrol ballparks,
malls, airports, etc. Hornik’s rationale is spot on when he says that the
cops “will give our students comfort, our town and community comfort, and
will have anybody think twice about coming into Marlboro schools.”
Yet those who disagree with this simple logic deliberately distort the issue
in their choice of words. For instance, they persist in using the term “armed
guards,” even though town police would never be referred to that way in
routine performance of their duties. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie says
having a cop on duty would make schools “armed camps.” How ridiculous.
More than 20 percent of the nation’s public schools already have a city
or town cop present, and the facilities are no more armed camps than Yankee Stadium
is when New York cops patrol during games.
Some say uniformed police would send the wrong message to kids. Why? Youngsters
should be taught that cops are their friends – people they must rush to
if they ever encounter trouble in public.
Opponents make much of the fact that in 1999 a deputy stationed at Columbine
High in Colorado failed to thwart gunmen who killed 12 students. But no form
of police protection is perfect. Gunmen got to John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan,
but that’s certainly no reason to stop providing protection for presidents.
It is often mentioned that hiring cops is expensive, especially for small
communities. That’s a matter of local priorities, although I would advocate
a federal program to assist municipalities in paying for officers in schools.
“My first choice would be to never have a gun in our schools,” explains
Mayor Hornik, “but while the President and the NRA and the Congress debate
policy and law, the fact is there are guns out there. How many times do we have
to see these kinds of mass shootings before we decide to protect our kids?”
Hornik’s position is not a concession to the NRA, nor should it detract
from the critical issue of gun control.
If a public building were to be used to store several hundred gold bars, stationing
a cop at the door wouldn’t spark so much as a syllable of debate. Why do
we think less of a school containing several hundred precious children?
(c) Peter Funt. This column was originally distributed by the Cagle Syndicate.