Fear is a powerful emotion. When we act emotionally, we naturally tend to make mistakes.
Since the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., our fears about safety – especially the safety of our children – have motivated a national debate as to how we can prevent gun violence. Sadly, the leadership of the National Rifle Association (NRA), not the membership, has been fanning those fears to get us to oppose gun regulation. Since commonsense regulation does not threaten the right to bear arms, which is solidly enshrined in the Second Amendment, there is a more likely reason: Fear motivates sales.
Follow the money. The NRA is now a full-fledged lobbying group that no longer represents the views of its own members, which overwhelmingly support tighter regulations, according to pollster Frank Luntz. Rather than working cooperatively with others who are concerned about the issue, the NRA's leadership has made the whole organization look foolish by arguing that the solution to gun violence is more guns. Instead of being part of any sane solution, NRA's leaders have pointed their finger of blame elsewhere.
School leaders are under tremendous pressure – if they reject NRA's good guys with guns notion, fear mongers will have them ousted from their jobs or political offices. If they succumb and put armed guards in schools, or worse, let their teachers carry, tragedies are likely to increase. Under such damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don't pressure, what can school boards and school administrators do?
Maybe they can start with what we know to be true.
Violent videos and movies surely don't have any beneficial effects to society, but considerable research suggests that they do no harm. It is hard to accept this counterintuitive conclusion. The NRA should support additional research into this subject matter, if for no other reason than to determine whether media has a differential effect on those who are prone to mental illness. It will probably tell us what we already know: People who are mentally ill in other countries use violent media as much as our children, but they rarely commit mass murders. Games don't kill; guns do.
The ranks of our mental health community, including school counselors, have been decimated by budget cuts over the last three decades. Those still working are overwhelmed and exhausted. Despite epithets of socialism, our country's safety net, mostly aide to impoverished families and children, ranks 19th among industrialized countries. Surely, we need to do better. Maybe the NRA can help fund an expansion of that work. People with mental illness don't kill; people with mental illness with access to guns might.
The NRA claims that research does not link guns and violence. It has blocked such research, but some findings are available. What do they tell us? For example, will armed teachers create safe schools?
A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used to kill a friend or a family member, or the gun's owner, than it will be used for self-defense, according to MSNBC. Why will a gun in a school be different?
Gun laws work. Reports by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence show a strong correlation between the availability of guns and homicide rates. States with lax laws have more gun deaths, including among children, these studies have shown.
Educators naturally are concerned about their students and some alarming trends. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence promotes smart gun laws and tracks data related to firearm-related injuries and deaths. Among the data contained in its November 2012 report, the nonprofit shows gun-death rates among U.S. children are nearly 12 times higher than 25 other industrialized nations – combined. During the last decade, firearm-related suicide rates for children in our country are nearly 11 times higher than other industrialized countries. Over the last 10 years, guns were used in nearly 44 percent of suicide deaths among children and adolescents. In the U.S., 18 children die from firearm injuries every day. Children and adolescents constitute 38 percent of all firearm-related deaths and non-fatal injuries.
In the U.S., more than 1.69 million children and adolescents live in households with loaded and unlocked firearms, while 55 percent of homes have multiple unsecured guns. More than 75 percent of the guns that were used in children's suicide attempts and unintentional injuries were stored in the residence of the victim, a relative, or a friend. Eight percent of unintentional deaths resulted from shots being fired by children under the age of six, the November study shows.
We do not need to arm teachers; we need to give them a hand to keep our children safe. More funding for mental health services for families and children would help. With it, we can provide community- and school-based therapeutic education instead of crisis teams.
Mostly, however, we need far less guns.
Joseph Rogan, is professor of teacher education at Misericordia University in Dallas, Pa. He has been a professional educator for 45 years.