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Armed Guards in School? Fact Check: Kids are Safer in School than out of School

In the Bangor Daily News of December 20 2012, Daniel Patterson of Presque Isle Maine writes that armed guards should be posted in all public schools:

"We need armed guards where masses of people, especially children, gather because crazed gunmen target masses of people. I know we might not like the image of soldiers at our schools and malls, but I’d rather see that than lifeless bodies of children."

The next day, National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre called a national press conference at which he also called for armed guards to posted in all public schools:

"The budget of our local police departments are strained and resources are limited, but their dedication and courage are second to none and they can be deployed right now.

I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.

Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work — and by that I mean armed security."

Do guards armed with guns belong at schools? The answer to that question might be “yes” if schools are especially dangerous places. If on the other hand schools are not especially dangerous places, then there is clearly no safety or budgetary reason to put armed guards in schools.

It’s time for a fact check: are schools in the United States dangerous places for kids to be? Are they more dangerous for kids than they used to be? Is being in school more dangerous for kids than being out of school?

Existing data from the National Center for Education Statistics and a new report released just yesterday by the the Bureau of Justice Statistics address these questions succinctly and definitively.

NCES’ most recent data on the number of homicides in school and out of school, combined with Census Bureau data on the number of school-aged children in the United States, allow us to chart the rate of homicide in the United States in school and out of school:

Homicide Rate for Youth Aged 5-18 from 1992-2009

The youth homicide rate in schools is negligible at the national level, consistently less than 1 in 10,000,000 people. If you’re going to worry about children being killed, worry about the still-small but much-bigger youth homicide rate outside of school, which is far, far higher. Schools are safe places for children. Schools are havens from murder — and they have been getting safer, not more dangerous, over time.

What about other serious violent crimes, like rapes, robberies and aggravated assaults? The National Crime Victimization Survey asks people aged 12 and older about the crimes like these that they’ve suffered in school and out of school. A report by Janet Lauritsen and Nicole White of the University of Missouri, released on December 20, 2012 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, includes data on the rape, robbery and aggravated assault rate in school and out of school:

Serious Violent Crime Rate per 1,000 Youth aged 12-17 from 1994-2010

As with homicide, the rate of these serious violent crimes is quite low in school, higher outside of school than inside school, and decreasing over time.

Schools are safe. The call to stuff the schools with armed guards is not based in reality.

27 comments to Armed Guards in School? Fact Check: Kids are Safer in School than out of School

  • Tom

    Here’s an interesting argument: by the actual definition of terrorism, “using a violent act to advance an agenda” that was hung on Osama bin Laden (when he didn’t actually blow up any buildings himself) – we can now see that the NRA, Daniel Patterson (from above) and specifically Piers Morgan (according to this video) are possible terrorists!
    http://www.youtube.com/user/dutchsinse

  • Tom

    Yep. The definition is so vague it can apply to anyone trying to capitalize on a trajedy to advance any cause. Prison Nation marches forward (well, actually backward).

  • manning120

    The statistics are mudded by the fact that many schools have armed security, or are located close to law enforcement offices.

    I find it very interesting that a number of mass shootings occurred in schools that had armed security, such as Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Also, when New York police took down a shooter at the Empire State Building on August 24 of this year, nine bystanders were injured by bullets shot by the police, not the bad guy (who had shot a co-worker). Jared Lee Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords while armed officers were nearby; he was arrested right after the shooting.

    The NRA argument for more armed officers on school campuses, floated by Wayne LaPierre on December 21, if it has any validity, would help by deterring shooters who wouldn’t go to school grounds out of fear being shot before they could hurt anyone. But as far as I know, all of the mass murderers who used assault-type weapons in recent years didn’t make rational calculations about armed officers. With Sandy Hook Elementary being locked down, Adam Lanza probably suspected there were armed guards, too. If a shooter ignored the risk and an armed officer was present, the chances are good that the officer, in addition to offering a must-kill target, would injure or kill innocent people trying to shoot the bad guy.

    I think a more practical answer is something virtually unmentioned in all the discussions and reports about Sandy Hook. There should be a law to hold someone like Nancy Lanza strictly liable if he/she negligently or intentionally allows someone to gain possession of their guns, and the person then uses them to commit a crime. Such a law wouldn’t require banning any weapons. It would result in millions of people making sure their guns are properly secure. It could save thousands of lives – even those of gun owners like Nancy Lanza.

    The liability should be both civil and criminal. There should be no requirement that someone intend that injury occur, or be reckless about that, when they allow their guns and ammunition to be in possession of someone like Adam Lanza. DWI laws hold people who become legally intoxicated, and then drive, strictly responsible for bodily injury and property damage caused thereby, even though they might try (as best they can while intoxicated) not to hurt anyone. The reason for this is that automobiles are inherently dangerous. They cause severe injury, death, and damage if misused. There’s no reason similar strict liability laws shouldn’t cover guns that are also inherently dangerous.

    Such laws could be passed quickly and would require no funding. The savings realized by people keeping their weapons away from criminals, the mentally ill, children, etc., would easily cover the cost of the few prosecutions that would be necessary.

    My home state of Texas, and I’m sure many others, have unlawful transfer laws that limit selling, renting, leasing, loaning, or giving weapons to certain persons, such as children and criminals. However, I don’t know of any such laws that have the strict liability feature of DWI laws. The Texas law wouldn’t have held Nancy Lanza criminally responsible in the Sandy Hook case. I also don’t know if any case law that would make Nancy Lanza civilly liable for her adult son’s actions.

  • manning120

    The statistics are mudded by the fact that many schools have armed security, or are located close to law enforcement offices.

    I find it very interesting that a number of mass shootings occurred in schools that had armed security, such as Columbine High School and Virginia Tech. Also, when New York police took down a shooter at the Empire State Building on August 24 of this year, nine bystanders were injured by bullets shot by the police, not the bad guy (who had shot a co-worker). Jared Lee Loughner shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords while armed officers were nearby; he was arrested right after the shooting.

    The NRA argument for more armed officers on school campuses, floated by Wayne LaPierre on December 21, if it has any validity, would help by deterring shooters who wouldn’t go to school grounds out of fear being shot before they could hurt anyone. But as far as I know, all of the mass murderers who used assault-type weapons in recent years didn’t make rational calculations about armed officers. With Sandy Hook Elementary being locked down, Lanza probably suspected there were armed guards, too. If a shooter ignored the risk and an armed officer was present, the chances are good that the officer, in addition to offering a must-kill target, would injure or kill innocent people trying to shoot the bad guy.

    I think a more practical answer is something virtually unmentioned in all the discussions and reports about Sandy Hook. There should be a law to hold someone like Nancy Lanza strictly liable if he/she negligently or intentionally allows someone to gain possession of their guns, and the person then uses them to commit a crime. Such a law wouldn’t require banning any weapons. It would result in millions of people making sure their guns are properly secure. It could save thousands of lives – even those of gun owners like Nancy Lanza.

    The liability should be both civil and criminal. There should be no requirement that someone intend that injury occur, or be reckless about that, when they allow their guns and ammunition to be in possession of someone like Adam Lanza. DWI laws hold people who become legally intoxicated, and then drive, strictly responsible for bodily injury and property damage caused thereby, even though they might try (as best they can while intoxicated) not to hurt anyone. The reason for this is that automobiles are inherently dangerous. They cause severe injury, death, and damage if misused. There’s no reason similar strict liability laws shouldn’t cover guns that are also inherently dangerous.

    Such laws could be passed quickly and would require no funding. The savings realized by people keeping their weapons away from criminals, the mentally ill, children, etc., would easily cover the cost of the few prosecutions that would be necessary.

    My home state of Texas, and I’m sure many others, have unlawful transfer laws that limit selling, renting, leasing, loaning, or giving weapons to certain persons, such as children and criminals. However, I don’t know of any such laws that have the strict liability feature of DWI laws. The Texas law wouldn’t have held Nancy Lanza criminally responsible in the Sandy Hook case. I also don’t know if any case law would make Nancy Lanza civilly liable for her adult son’s actions.

    • manning120

      [Sorry about the duplication. If the first comment can’t be erased, ignore it!]

    • Carter77

      @ manning 120. You are incorrect. There is a Texas law called The Child Access Prevention Law. It requires owners to store guns in a place not readily available to minors under 18. If a child obtains an improperly stored gun the adult owner is criminally liable.

      • Charles Manning

        Carter77: Don’t know if you’ll see this so long after the comments were run. The Texas law (Penal Code Section 46.13) doesn’t have a strict liability feature, making the adult responsible for damages occurring because of the act of a child. So it wouldn’t have applied to Nancy Lanza. It would, however, have slapped Nancy Lanza with a possible one year in jail and $4,000 fine — for letting Adam Lanza, when he was younger than 17 (not 18), do what he did in Newtown. Nancy would have to have done this with criminal negligence, which means the prosecution would have had to show that she should have been aware of the risk to the extent that the failure to perceive it constituted a gross deviation from how an ordinary person would have acted. Do you think the parents and relatives of the Sandy Hook victims would have thought justice was done if Adam had been 16 or younger and Nancy got a year in jail for enabling the 26 killings?

  • Daniel Patterson

    Jim, next time try to actually not take my words out of context. The first thing I wrote was, “School rampage killings are now a part of our lives and another will happen again.” Your stats only reflect history, not a projection of the future. That is highly ignorant and unfair.

    • School rampage killings are not a part of my life. They are not a part of the life of any significant portion of the American population. People getting panicked and hyperventilating about school rampage killings that aren’t happening any more than they were a generation ago — now that’s a part of American life.

      Take a deep breath and stop freaking out about a phenomenon that is less threatening than unsafe skateboards.

  • Daniel Patterson

    I’m not freaking out; you’ve misinterpreted my tone. Not surprised by that. If I’m “panicked” and “hyperventilating,” then how are those police officers doing, the ones now training inside actual schools for future shootings? Are they freaking out?

    All you’ve done here is abused statistics to your convenience. Using your stats without a projection based on current trends is highly misleading. Which is why I called it ignorant. I guess, since for a long period of time in our country’s past that there were next to no acts of terrorism on U.S. soil, that we can just ignore those unattended backpacks. You see the problem here?

  • What do you mean, current trends? The current trend is for there to be fewer school shootings than in the past, and for within that mild trend the overall amount of school shooting to remain incredibly low. I’ve cited these longitudinal statistics in the past; go look them up for your self from the National Center for Education Statistics.

    You live in Maine; I live in Maine too. We both know that in our state armed guards are not being deployed in significant numbers. And golly, look: no massive wave of school shootings in the state/

    You are hyperventilating.

    • Daniel Patterson

      You’re using statistics to predict the intentions and actions of terrorists and nuts. That’s impossible.

      “What do you mean, current trends? The current trend is for there to be fewer school shootings than in the past”
      -You found a homicide rate and relied on that to form your opinion. Look at this. Here’s a list from Wikipedia on school shootings in the U.S. This is a list strictly of shooting incidents, not injuries or deaths.

      1960s: 15
      1970s: 21
      1980s: 23
      1990s: 33
      2000s: 37
      2010s: 40

      Fortunately, the list also estimates the school population to keep things in perspective. But that doesn’t work in your favor because…

      Four years into the 2010s and we’ve already surpassed all the shootings in the 2000s. THAT trend, Jim. The nuts and terrorists are influenced by these attacks and the lengthy media attention is, I would argue, very appealing to them. But you rely on the raw number of deaths, the homicide rate in your statistics. Yet no one can predict how any future shooting is going to play out, especially given how insane these monsters are. The recent incident at Decatur, Georgia, for example, saw a man enter an elementary school with an AK-47. No one was killed. So that wouldn’t show up in your statistics, either. Unfortunately, the way you’ve resorted to understanding statistics means that since no one died, security would’ve been unnecessary there, in spite of the fact that things could’ve been much worse. Look at the Columbine Massacre. They had a deputy on hand, but they’ve had to since adjust their response doctrine (containment, delay action for negotiation, etc). The military doctrine (seize, retain, and exploit the initiative) should’ve had a different (and I would argue much more positive) outcome. That’s because the training of police is civilian level, which is insufficient for these attacks. Which is why the doctrines have been adjusted and many have started training on site. But whatever the case as far as that goes, schools need more security.

      Our schools should’ve had the kind of security I’m advocating a long time ago to prevent as many shootings as possible in the first place. But people, like you, have become habituated to it. You looked at some statistics and have decided that the rate is not going up. That’s very dangerous. The position should be taken that there should not be ANY shootings, not a comfortable and steady rate of shootings. Ultimately, the rate is irrelevant as long as children are dying. I’ve never been in a car accident, but I still put on a seat belt.

      Will there be another school shooting? Of course. Can we use past statistics to anticipate how the next one turns out? I’ll let you take that one.

      “We both know that in our state armed guards are not being deployed in significant numbers. And golly, look: no massive wave of school shootings in the state”
      -You could’ve said the same thing before December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Before almost three dozen people were shot to death.

      “You are hyperventilating.”
      -After telling you I’m not, you write this. After pointing out that police across the country are taking related precautions in response to these attacks, you write this. I suspect you’re trying to elicit an emotional response so you’d have something to support your impression of my tone. This is a common tool of trolls.

      • Jim Cook

        1. Of course it’s possible to track and explain irrational acts. You’re just saying it isn’t.

        2. The statistics you sort-of cite (wikipedia is not a primary source) are flawed, because reporting in the earlier decades was not as rigorous. The ‘increase’ is a methodological artifact.

        3. Notice the inconsistency in your approach in the above two rhetorical tactics? Think about it.

        • Daniel Patterson

          1. I didn’t say anything about tracking and explaining irrational acts. I said you can’t predict them. You’re still stuck looking at the past. You can’t use stats on insane people to predict their acts. You disagree? Then predict for me the nature of the next attack and the number of children who will die. And while you’re at it, tell me it won’t happen in Maine.

          2. The laundry list of shootings in the article doesn’t have to be a primary source. It functions as a sample, no different in effect of surveys.

          “because reporting in the earlier decades was not as rigorous.”
          -You only go back as far as ’92 with your homicide stat. Thus you can then ignore the earlier decades since you’ve decided for some reason that reporting was “not as rigorous.” I don’t know how rigorous a reporter has to be to report on a school shooting. But whatever. Additionally, we get more media coverage now, much more rapidly, which may amplify the point I made earlier about that influence.

          You only referred to a homicide stat. Let’s look at that. In 1999, 13 people died at Columbine. It doesn’t even show up in the red line. Even Virginia Tech’s massacre doesn’t make a bump. None of the mass shootings do. So, that low red line makes that light green line above it look pretty ominous, huh? Of course, it doesn’t take into account the fact that the school shootings are in a concentrated area of kids, whereas the out-of-school shootings are probably far from concentrated. That’s yet another detail that these stats can’t touch: the fact that maybe a hundred or more children will even be exposed to the mass murders in a school as opposed to the out-of-school killings. Don’t worry kids, you’ve witnessed some of your classmates being shot to death, but statistics have kept you alive. All’s fine. -How in the world can you be so emotionally removed from the trauma of these attacks?

          We can’t really do anything about that large rate and incidence of youth homicides seen in your posted stat in one act of government. But where we could improve the security situation in our schools, looking at that homicide stat as a way of diminishing the relevance of school attacks is indefensible when we can have an act of government to prevent them.

          In the event of an incident where a man walks into a school with guns and ammo, but doesn’t kill anyone for some reason, he gets no point on such a stat. This does not mean that the incident is a safe one and that therefore no security is necessary.

          3. Since you flubbed point one, there is no inconsistency.

          Nonetheless, the one thing you still ignore is the fact that there is going to be another school shooting and no statistics can be used to predict what will happen. I call for deploying our troops into our schools to protect our kids instead of sending them overseas to fight wars that have nothing to do with us or meddling in wars that can’t be fixed with… more war. One saves lives. The other does not.

          • Daniel Patterson

            Also…

            Me: “Using your stats without a projection based on current trends is highly misleading.”

            You: “What do you mean, current trends? The current trend is for there to be fewer school shootings than in the past…”

            -That’s not what I meant. The stat you posted has no projection based on current trends… because there is no such thing for this situation. That’s the problem; you can’t use those stats for the purpose you intend. I shouldn’t have tried to defend your misinterpretation of my statement because, as I ended up doing, all I can give you is a pseudo-survey. But there it is, as limited in scope and use as it is. I wish I had recognized your misinterpretation earlier because I could’ve avoided a long-winded defense of a point that isn’t even relevant and one that I wasn’t even trying to make. Oh well.

          • Jim Cook

            http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_school_shootings_in_the_United_States

            That’s your wikipedia source, and it’s even worse than I thought. It’s not a statistic, methodically measured. It’s a list someone (who? We don’t know) drew up (how? We don’t know) of media reports of school shootings.

            What that list measures is a) the thoroughness of whoever decided to come up with the list, b) the tendency of past information to be lost over time, c) the move from sporadic paper indices of newspaper reports to more extensive electronic records, and d) the changing tendency of the media to report on school shootings.

            The NCES reports I encourage you to read are entirely different in their nature. Please go read them for your own benefit.

            • Jim Cook

              http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=49

              That’s an initial link to a page containing links to further NCES reports.

              • Daniel Patterson

                Wow. I left off explaining how you misinterpreted one of my statements which I inadvertently started to defend as a point I wasn’t even making, and you continue to challenge it. I would still support it because it is a sourced article (which means we CAN find out who reported the shootings and HOW they were reported), and it is a list that compares well with Mother Jones’ US Mass Shootings, 1982-2012 investigation (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/12/mass-shootings-mother-jones-full-data) to 1982. But that doesn’t matter for the reasons I’ve already explained to you. Those two articles support the obvious: there are shootings at our schools, there will continue to be shootings, there will be another mass murder at a school, and no one can predict how violent it will be and how many children will die. As I already said, your stats is a raw homicide rate with two separate lines that can not describe the far-reaching consequences of a mass shooting versus everyday violence and are completely useless for projection of the inevitable future attacks.

                Your replies are mostly focused on your stats versus my Wikipedia laundry list. The rest of my points you either ignore, misunderstand, or do not appreciate the validity of. Which actually tells me a lot.

              • Jim Cook

                I’ve been polite to ignore the remainder, Daniel, but if you wish, here is my reaction to it. The rest of what you say is to take vanishingly infrequent occurrences and attach to them incredibly large importance. You give the school shooters exactly what they want — respect, attention and immortality. You peg the existence of ANY school shootings as a crisis, allowing school shooters (vanishingly small in number when compared to other dangers we face) to hijack our education policy and continue. Through your irrational, panicked, hyperventilating, wildly out of proportion reaction, you allow school shooters to terrorize many more children than they could possibly on their own, by demanding that policies of lockdown and armed guards be carried out which tell children every day, falsely, that they are in danger.

                In short, because YOU are unable to tell the difference between a statistically insignificant rate of danger and a statistically significant one, and because there are other people like YOU who thrive on fear rather than a proportional response, children are terrorized and budgets are busted, needlessly.

                Shame on you. Now go and look up those National Center for Education Statistics studies, read them carefully, and find out where the much, much bigger dangers to children lie. It’s not attacks in school, which are very rare. It’s getting beat up and abused and occasionally killed OUTSIDE of school that’s the danger … mostly by people kids know, mostly by their own family members.

                I’ve given you the sources. Go look it up. Then get a grip and stop promoting the terrorization of children in our schools. You are an adult and you have the responsibility to ensure that your irrationality does not harm others. Take that responsibility. Read the reports.

              • Daniel Patterson

                That is one of the most disgusting, patronizing things anyone has ever said to me. How dare you. You can keep your head buried in the sand. But don’t think for a second that you can make me feel in any way responsible because I want more security for children. I argued the matter, and you decided that the best you can do is to put this on me, to make this about me, instead of arguing with the points I made. You said all I need to hear. My position is only being taken seriously, you know, by police in many schools now all over the country who have responded exactly the way I have described, sans military presence. Congratulations for insulting them, too. No shame taken because I don’t treat kids like a number. So damn you. You disgust me.

              • Jim Cook

                Guess you won’t be reading the actual studies that document the truth — that children are safer in school than out of it — then. And so you will continue to perpetuate a costly culture of fear.

              • Daniel Patterson

                By the way, I’m not going to bother reading your reply. No sense bothering here anymore since you consistently ignore my points, especially with your cheap shots. I am satisfied with my arguments.

              • Jim Cook

                Of course you won’t read it — you were never going to change your point of view. I would be happy to change my point of view, on the other hand, if the actual methodically collected statistics showed that schools were dangerous places for children. They do not. It’s that simple.

                I’ve written this exchange, not for people like you who refuse to engage with observable trends, but for people who prefer to work from a position of observable reality.

  • Charles Manning

    Jim, it’s hard to understand the intensity of the dispute between you and Daniel. You’re right that far fewer children are killed or injured by gun violence in schools. But that doesn’t mean they’re totally safe in schools. There’s a psychological process at work. We get terribly upset about plane accidents, especially airliner crashes, even though going from A to B by plane is far safer than by car. No one would argue that the new safety measures that go into effect after major airliner accidents shouldn’t happen because plane travel is already safer.

    So I don’t quarrel with those who want more protection against school shootings. But posting armed officers doesn’t do much except increase expenditures on police and firearms, and divert police from where the real problems are. And the bad effects – you mention children feeling unsafe because they have armed guards hovering around them – certainly argue against armed security.

    I don’t have a problem with police working neighborhoods with schools, but not stationed in schools watching for something more rare than a lightning strike. The most effective measure to reduce school shootings would be making guns and ammo less available to the shooters. But that wouldn’t feed the coffers of the NRA and gun manufacturers.

    • Jim Cook

      Thanks for writing, Charles. I agree there’s a psychological process at work, and I guess some people hold on tighter to their fear than others.

    • Jim Cook

      On the intensity, I’m not too surprised; we’re talking about children, and I don’t doubt we both care deeply about children. Daniel accuses me of callousness for not wanting to engage in an action he believes will save a child’s life. I have accused him of promoting an action that I believe would harm millions of children. That’s pretty raw stuff.

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