Days after California’s liberal Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer gave an impassioned floor speech saying that big steps must be taken to stop gun violence that is killing 87 people a day across America, she proposed a bill to give governors power to deploy National Guard troops in public schools—or assign them to local police departments, freeing them to put police in schools.
“Is it not part of the national defense to make sure that your children are safe?” Boxer said at a press conference, where she unveiled the Save Our Schools Act. “The slaughter of the innocents must stop....”
“Of all the bad ideas I've heard in the aftermath of the Newtown murders, the worst comes from Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-CA, who wants to provide federal funds for states to send the National Guard into schools,” wrote the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Chapman:
"She quotes the Guard as saying it is ‘particularly well suited for domestic law enforcement support missions’ since it is ‘located in over 3,000 local communities.’ Putting Guard troops in each (or many) of them is about as sensible as putting them in every movie theater and shopping mall. It will cost money and divert the Guard from its customary purposes, requiring either an increase in its size or the sacrifice of other needs. Not to mention that school, statistically, is a very safe place for a child to be.”
No shortage of liberal writers noted that there was an armed guard at the Columbine, Colorado, high school where 15 students were killed in 1999.
Chapman's response is part of a growing stream of criticism from the political left and right in the five days since the idea was introduced. But beyond the almost visceral reactions that sending armed officers into schools is inappropriate, or won’t work against assailants armed with military-level weaponry, or is federal overreach, there is a deeper danger.
Every time progressives have ceded some ground in the gun-control debate, the pro-gun right has used their pronouncements to move the center of the gun-control debate onto their side of the aisle.
A generation ago, liberal scholars looked at the history of the Second Amendment and concluded that the Constitution’s framers wanted an armed citizenry—as did Congress after the Civil War so ex-slaves could protect themselves. That uneasy finding gave the Right new momentum to legally fight and overturn gun laws, according to the very right-wing lawyers who triumphed in federal court.
Fast-forward to today: The NRA’s proposal to train and arm teachers in response to the Newtown grade school massacre has been widely ridiculed, yet on the same day one of the most liberal U.S. senators proposed a remedy not all that different, as it places people with arms in schools.
To be fair, Boxer called for other gun reforms right after the shooting, such as “taking the weapons of war and high-capacity clips off our streets,” ensuring local police are more involved in issuing gun permits, closing the gun-show loophole, and “keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.” Boxer closed by saying, “We need to keep our schools safe by utilizing all of the law enforcement tools at our disposal. We have failed our children and we have to stop worrying about our political skins.”
She then introduced the Save Our Schools Act, which would allow governors to deploy state National Guard troops in communities—whether to augment local police—or directly into public schools.
The reaction across the political spectrum has been varied but equally sharp. On the political right, the libertarian pro-gun crowd has said that Boxer’s proposal is an example of the worst kind of federal overeach, because further militarization of local police is what prompted the framers to write the Second Amendment.
“If you’ve been decrying the militarization of law enforcement, hold onto your hats boys and girls—because crap just got real,” wrote the pro-gun blog, UnitedLiberty.org.
Perhaps the biggest problem with Boxer’s idea is that it lends credibility to the notion that a more widely armed society is more immune to wanton gun violence.
A generation ago, a handful of liberal constitutional laws scholars wrote detailed and compelling analyses of the Second Amendment’s roots. The University of Texas’ Sanford Levinson’s readable history, The Embarassing Second Amendment, and more recent work by Yale Law School’s Akhil Reed Amar, reluctantly conclude that the U.S. Constitution’s framers, Congress and many states since then want “strong” gun rights.
The New York Times’ legal reporter Adam Liptak wrote in 2007 how these scholars and other liberals gave new intellectual ammunition to the pro-gun lobby to legally challenge and overturn local gun-control laws. He quoted pro-gun lawyers as crediting the liberal scholars’ more open-minded assessment with boosting their arguments in federal court.
It may be that Sen. Boxer is well aware of this legal history and knows that any new or overly broad gun-control laws will be struck down: i.e., the Second Amendment clearly empowers citizen militias, which implies having military-level weapons available to the public. And so, against the backdrop of an increasingly armed America, the solution that surfaces is placing deterrent force in public schools.
But by proposing this remedy on the same day the NRA proposed arming teachers, Boxer is lending credence to the NRA perspective that the only solution to gun violence is more guns. Progressives would like to believe that civilization is making forward progress beyond the need to have guns at the ready for every nightmare scenario. After all, it’s conservatives who take a dimmer view of human nature and dwell on evil.