An attendee at a rally against Initiative 594 at the state capitol in Olympia, Washington December 13, 2014. (Reuters/Jason Redmond)

The right's big gun lie: Debunking the phony case that more guns will stop crime

The NRA and some researchers claim we just need more good guys with guns. The math shows they're all dead wrong


Firmin DeBrabander
May 24, 2015 6:30PM (UTC)
Excerpted from "Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society"

The existence of gun-free zones has become a topic of debate. While they were conceived with good intentions, to safeguard our most vulnerable locations, gun rights advocates maintain that the effort has backfired: gun-free zones advertise themselves to would-be shooters as places where they will encounter little or no resistance. That’s why, the argument goes, Adam Lanza targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School— he knew he would not be hindered there. Gun rights advocates point out that James Holmes, the Batman-obsessed shooter who targeted a packed midnight screening of the Batman film The Dark Knight Rises, could equally well have gone to six other theaters in Aurora, Colorado, that were showing the film that night. Why did he choose that one theater, when two other potential targets were actually closer to his home? It turns out, John Fund writes in National Review, that the theater he chose was the only one of the seven that “posted signs saying it banned concealed handguns carried by law-abiding individuals.” Fund suspects that was the deciding factor for Holmes. The Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, attacked by shooter Wade Michael Page in August 2012 was also a gun-free zone, as gun rights groups reminded us at the time. The president of the temple was armed with only a butter knife, and heroically employed it to save others before he was shot and killed. If, however, the temple had permitted guns, some argued, members of this religious minority, often mistaken for Muslims and targeted for prejudice since 9/11, could have protected themselves better.

As law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds wrote in an opinion piece in USA Today following the Newtown shootings, “Policies making areas ‘gun free’ provide a sense of safety to those who engage in magical thinking, but in practice, of course, killers aren’t stopped by gun-free zones. As always, it’s the honest people—the very ones you want to be armed—who tend to obey the law. . . . Gun-free zones are premised on a lie: that murderers will follow rules.” Citing a study by the celebrated gun rights researcher John Lott, Reynolds claims that the vast majority of mass shootings take place in gun-free zones. He reminds us of cases where victims with access to guns were able to stop mass shootings early on. Lott’s findings were no mystery, or mere coincidence, Reynolds maintains. They support Lott’s broader claim that more guns mean less crime.

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It is a favorite saying of the gun rights movement that “An armed society is a polite society.” I have long taken this to mean that arms ensure that citizens will think twice before provoking a confrontation or acting offensively. Gun rights advocates reveal a further meaning, that guns force bearers to behave responsibly: the more people that are armed, the more they will act responsibly, both with their weapons and in their dealings with others. Lott provides data and studies that claim to back up this assertion. Where guns are more pervasive and gun ownership less onerously regulated, he has argued, there is less crime. Gun control groups call for tighter regulations in the belief that they will make us all safer, but Lott turns that argument on its head. Gun rights advocates cite him frequently. Lott’s is the decisive word on the subject, they maintain, providing scientific proof of the crime-fighting and freedom-preserving virtues of an armed society.

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In his 2000 book "More Guns, Less Crime," Lott presents the findings of his study of nearly three decades of crime data from jurisdictions across the country—states, cities, counties—and the impact of various gun control laws on crime. The data compel him to assert that states that pass “shall issue” nondiscretionary concealed carry laws have the most success in combating crime. Such laws, he writes, are “the most cost-effective means of reducing crime. The cost of hiring more police in order to change arrest and conviction rates is much higher, and the net benefits per dollar spent are only at most a quarter as large as the benefits from concealed-handgun laws. Even private, medium-security prisons cost state governments [more].” Dollar for dollar, in Lott’s view, arming responsible, trained citizens will produce more effective crime fighting and deterrence. Concealed handguns are also “the great equalizer among the sexes” because they offer women the means to fend off rapists or, if they are battered, to shoot or warn off their abusers. Lott maintains that his studies reveal a halo effect of concealed carry laws: “Citizens who have no intention of ever carrying concealed handguns . . . get a ‘free ride’ from the crime fighting efforts of their fellow citizens,” as evidenced, for example, by the “drop in murders of children following the adoption of [nondiscretionary concealed handgun] laws. Arming older people not only may provide direct protection to these children, but also causes criminals to leave the area.”

One of the more remarkable features of Lott’s work is his use of stirring narratives where guns helped individuals fend off violent criminals—or where the lack of guns meant the opposite. One such story concerns an eighty-year-old man in West Baltimore who was strangled to death after his home had been invaded. It turns out that this man, James Edward Scott, had had a gun, but after he shot a previous intruder, police took it away—presumably in observance of local gun laws (though Lott does not say). Lott quotes a neighbor as saying “If [Scott] would have had a gun, he would be OK.” Other neighbors noted that the old man’s house had been broken into many times, and he had often been harassed while working in his yard. According to Lott, this case shows that “our legal system cannot provide people with all the protection that they desire,” and actually undermines our security insofar as it prevents individuals “from defending themselves.”

Yet this case also suggests that individual gun ownership is not an enduring solution for security and is quite flimsy even as a temporary solution. Clearly, other factors need to be addressed first if we would promote Scott’s safety and that of his neighbors—and the children on his street. Lott says that guns in the hands of private citizens cause criminals to flee an area. But Scott lived in a rough part of town: his home had been burgled repeatedly, and he was harassed outside his house. West Baltimore is notoriously dangerous, and his neighborhood is the kind that spawns criminal behavior. The dearth of viable employment options and the abundance of negative social factors lead residents into lives of crime—which, in Baltimore, principally means the drug trade. If Scott had had a gun, it would hardly inspire criminals to “leave the area.” In Baltimore, where gang members are already well armed, they will know sooner or later that they only require a more powerful weapon if they wish to invade the old man’s home. Mr. Scott’s gun would not deter any desperate drug addict from breaking into his home. Would he have saved himself on that fateful night if he had had a gun? Perhaps. But because his home was obviously a target in the neighborhood, he most likely would have been outgunned or outmaneuvered sooner or later. Hardened, resolved, well-armed criminals—or strung-out drug addicts—are hardly fearful of guns in the hands of private citizens. The latter are no more than an inconvenience, and no real obstacle to what criminals do or want. In Baltimore’s most desperate neighborhoods, where opportunity is bleak and social afflictions vicious, armed citizens will not suddenly cause criminals to wise up, get a job, or move out. If we would really aim for less crime, which Lott claims is the objective of his book, there are broader social conditions that must be addressed. Scott’s gun is no better than a tenuous and temporary salve. I don’t think for one second he would say it made his life safer, and evidence suggests the contrary. It was a last resort in a desperate situation.

Of course, Lott’s solution suits libertarians like David Kopel, as well as the gun rights crowd. He does not broach the messy, expensive, and arduous task of fixing the education system in poor urban centers like Baltimore. Smaller class sizes, better trained and compensated teachers, more thoughtful curricula and testing, and updated facilities would help produce graduates better prepared for the workplace. That would be a boon for inner-city neighborhoods, relieving residents of having to resort to the drug trade, and help them escape the poverty that inspires so much crime. A better set of economic incentives for employers would improve the job opportunities for such graduates. Barring that, we might consider arming and training urban police forces better, and giving them more personnel and funding. Many police officers will tell you that we must also address the nation’s drug problem. The United States consumes fully a third of the illegal drugs on the planet, and the drug trade is at the heart of much crime. Baltimore, for example, allocates few resources to drug treatment even though nearly one in ten residents is addicted to drugs. Lott’s solution—just arm citizens—is simple and straightforward, and cheaper than any alternative. It avoids complex, expansive social policy. It teaches individual responsibility. And it scares criminals straight.

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But if we do not address the real drivers of crime, then individually owned guns are at best a stopgap solution. They may occasionally save some lives, but they do not on the whole make us safer. In a world where more and more people must walk the streets armed, I wager, they would hardly consider themselves safe. Guns are a sign of insecurity—at the very least, they are no deterrent to criminals who are resolved, ruthless, and well armed. If we do not address the underlying causes of crime, it is not hard to see that a plethora of guns is a toxic ingredient added to the mixture.

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I have presumed thus far that Lott’s study stands up: that it is basically correct in asserting that guns offer citizens a modicum of improved safety, even if it is at best tenuous and temporary. It turns out there is much wrong with his work.

In an article in the Stanford Law Review, legal scholars Ian Ayres and John Donohue attack the work of Lott and David Mustard, Lott’s collaborator on a paper that prefigured "More Guns, Less Crime" and which provides the book’s basic premise. One famous example Lott cites is that of Suzanna Hupp, who in 1991 survived a massacre in a Texas cafeteria in which her parents and twenty-one other people died. Hupp had a gun in her car but was barred from carrying it on her person (this was before concealed carry was legal in Texas). Had she been able to carry her weapon into the restaurant, she claimed afterward, she might have stopped the killer and saved her parents’ lives. Ayres and Donohue counter that if more people in the restaurant had been armed when the shooter started his spree, it may well have “added one or more victims” to the death toll. Many gun owners bridle at the suggestion that they might contribute to the carnage—they consider themselves especially responsible, careful individuals—but as we saw in the Empire State Building shootings in August 2012, when police officers inadvertently injured several bystanders while trying to halt a shooter, even trained individuals make errant shots in the heat of the moment. Ayres and Donohue write that “while Lott and Mustard have energetically catalogued the situations in which armed citizens have protected themselves or others, they never acknowledge cases on the other side of the ledger where the presence of guns almost certainly led to killings.” Lott’s reliance upon statistical analysis to anchor his argument is supposedly the decisive element, but Ayres and Donohue are not alone in taking issue with that aspect of Lott’s work. After examining Lott and Mustard’s data and extending their dataset over time, Ayres and Donohue conclude that “the statistical evidence that [concealed carry] laws have reduced crime is limited, sporadic, and extraordinarily fragile. Minor changes of specifications can generate wide shifts in the estimated effects of these laws.”

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Lott, through two colleagues, issued a response to Ayres and Donohue in which he extended the dataset and claimed to save his thesis. Ayres and Donohue, examining Lott’s rebuttal, discovered “severe coding errors that, when corrected, thoroughly obliterated the attempt to confirm the More Guns, Less Crime thesis. Similar coding errors . . . have cropped up elsewhere in Lott’s work.” Chris Mooney, writing on the controversy in Mother Jones, says that “a charge of coding errors, while not unheard of, is embarrassing, since it implies that only by using mistaken data can Lott preserve his thesis. The errors might have been accidental, but since the Stanford Law Review exchange, Lott has continued to defend the erroneous work.” In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences weighed in on the controversy and found that Lott was not justified in drawing the conclusions that he did. In its press release, the National Academy of Sciences stated: “There is no credible evidence that ‘right-to-carry’ laws . . . either decrease or increase violent crime.”

The credibility of Lott’s claims has been thrown in doubt by other strange incidents. “Pressed by critics,” Mooney explains, Lott “failed to produce evidence of the existence of a survey, which supposedly found that ‘98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack’—that he claimed to have conducted in the second edition of More Guns, Less Crime.” Lott said he lost the survey data when his computer crashed. In a later work, The Bias Against Guns, public health researcher David Hemenway writes, Lott claims that changes in state gun laws resulted in “a 72 percent [reduction] in Indiana’s violent crime rate and a 102 percent reduction in Indiana’s auto theft rate.” But this is another case of dubious statistics, for Hemenway points out that this would have required “a crime miracle . . . a negative car theft rate, which must mean thieves returning cars.” Perhaps the most bizarre turn of events came when an avid online supporter of Lott’s work—one “Mary Rosh”—turned out to be Lott himself. As the editor-in-chief of Science magazine commented, “In most circles, this goes down as fraud.”

In their edited book "Reducing Gun Violence in America," Johns Hopkins public health researchers Daniel Webster and Jon Vernick provide summaries of several studies on the impact of widely available and unregulated guns on crime and safety. Their findings undermine many of Lott’s arguments, and certainly his overarching suggestion that more guns make for a safer society. Examining the data, the authors of one of the book’s chapters state that “the U.S. is not a more violent country than other high-income nations. Our rates of car theft, burglary, robbery, sexual assault and aggravated assault are similar to those of other high income countries.” But “when Americans are violent, the injuries that result are more likely to prove fatal” thanks to the easy access to guns. “For example,” these authors continue, “the U.S. rate of firearm homicide for children 5 to 14 years of age is thirteen times higher than the firearms homicide rate of other developed nations, and the rate of homicide overall is more than three times higher.” This runs counter to Lott’s supposition that more guns in the hands of responsible adults would make our children safer; the contrary is occurring. The authors say their findings reveal that “states with higher rates of household firearm ownership had significantly higher victimization rates for men, for women, and for children,” and that “gun ownership was most strongly associated with an increased risk of homicide by a family member or intimate acquaintance.” Guns don’t reduce crime, but they do transform it—and not for the better. They make violent outcomes more likely.

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These researchers also dispute Lott’s suggestion that guns are the great equalizer of the sexes. They report that “a gun in the home is a particularly strong risk factor for female homicide victimization, with the greatest danger for women coming from their intimate partners.” Lott might be right in theory, that women could conceivably use guns to protect themselves if the weapons are available in the home, in their purse, or on their body, but it seems he is not right in practice, and it is easy to see why: if there is a gun in the home, the batterer is just as likely to use it as the victim—indeed, the batterer, with a tendency toward violence and abuse, is more likely to use it if available. Further, a gun is at least as likely to escalate an instance of abuse as to defuse it. If the batterer sees a gun raised on him, he may simply know better for next time and prepare himself accordingly. In a situation with repeated, nonrandom encounters, it is silly to think that a gun makes one “safer.” It largely elevates the degree of personal risk.

Webster and Vernick provide a host of studies from other nations, such as Australia and Great Britain, which have both succeeded in reducing violent crime and firearm mortality by imposing greater restrictions on guns. In his essay on Brazil’s experience regulating firearms, Antonio Rangel Bandeira writes that “of the nearly 30 countries that have promoted voluntary disarmament, none is a dictatorship. Democracies seek to reduce the level of armament in their society, depending instead on good police and a strong rule of law to achieve public safety.”Bandeira appears to be mindful of arguments put forth by American gun rights groups: regulation, he argues, is carried out by and in democracies and has not led to totalitarianism, contrary to NRA predictions.

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There is no shortage of arguments and studies like those compiled by Webster and Vernick. It does not take much imagination to understand why these researchers found what they did: more guns in the hands of more people, and regulated loosely, equal more gun-related deaths and greater temptation for violent criminals or violent avengers. These are deadly tools that children might get their hands on and experiment with. Or they might emulate the characters they see on television and in video games. Guns needlessly escalate violent encounters; what might culminate in a fistfight instead may lead to a shooting. Brandishing a weapon in the heat of an argument elevates the dispute to another level. It is a definitive, and ominous warning that peaceful negotiation and persuasion may be beyond reach. Gun advocates value their weapons on precisely this account: the gun on my hip says “don’t mess with me.” But it also tells the other party that this person is not of a mind to negotiate. If he is to be dealt with roughly—by a criminal or an adversary—it will have to be with a gun. A visible gun amounts to a dare; it says, “if you want to challenge me, this is how.” And in an armed society, that challenge is more likely to come.

Lott suggests a correlation between permissive concealed carry laws and greater safety, but public health researchers maintain that looser gun laws mean more violent crime, and more gun-related deaths, including suicides. I suspect that gun rights advocates would say that the gun-related deaths in America, excluding suicides, are by and large not the work of trained and responsible gun owners but of negligent folk, or better yet, criminals. What Lott really tells us, then, is that more guns in the hands of trained and responsible gun owners will make for fewer gun-related deaths. As LaPierre might say, we just need more trained and responsible gun owners to make society safer. Yet even trained individuals—police officers—sometimes make grave mistakes. It is difficult to imagine what level of training would have made the Aurora movie theater safer when James Holmes barged in, threw two teargas canisters, and unleashed a barrage of bullets. The armed, responsible individuals—“good guys with guns,” in LaPierre’s famous phrase—would have been shooting at a target obscured by smoke and darkness, in a crowded, frenzied room. Gun rights groups suppose that “bad guys” are readily identified, but they are not. In the 2011 shooting at a shopping center in Tucson, Arizona, where eight people died and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was gravely injured, it turns out that one individual in the crowd actually had a gun and drew it to kill the shooter. But he identified the wrong man and nearly pulled the trigger on an innocent bystander.

More guns mean more gun-related mistakes, even if they are owned by people with training. For example, Adam Lanza, the Newtown shooter, got his weapons from his mother, who frequented shooting ranges and had earned NRA training certificates. He used his mother’s guns to kill her before going to Sandy Hook Elementary School. Gun rights advocates like Harlan Reynolds object to increased regulations on the ground that they are an affront to responsible gun owners. Gun rights advocates also complain that public health studies on gun-related violence suggest that guns are symptomatic of some kind of disease, or brand their owners as sick in some way. Reynolds calls gun-free zones “an insult to honest people.”Increased regulation and gun-free zones do not necessarily imply that gun owners are dishonest, just that they are human and liable to the occasional mistake, or more important, that their weapon might fall into the hands of people who are dishonest and prone to mistakes. When the latter persons are armed, the presence of armed and honest NRA members will not make us appreciably safer. The honest gun owner is liable to be gunned down too, especially when he draws his weapon on the shooter—making himself target number one and endangering everyone near him.

Armed individuals in public, the NRA tells us, are our best hope for a modicum of security in the event of a mass shooting. The problem is, as guns proliferate unregulated, mass shootings may well increase. We thus find ourselves in an odd predicament where the NRA’s argument rings true because we are perpetually facing worst-case scenarios. A 2013 article in the American Journal of Medicine states that “abundant gun availability facilitates firearm-related deaths. Conversely, high crime rates may instigate widespread anxiety and fear, thereby motivating people to arm themselves and give rise to increased gun ownership, which in turn, increases availability. The resulting vicious cycle could, bit by bit, lead to the polarized status that is now the case with the U.S.”

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The NRA might say that armed individuals in the darkened Aurora movie theater, even shooting errantly and hitting innocent bystanders, are at least better than nothing in the midst of a massacre. This argument works well in a dangerous world: guns are our best, last resort. Of course, the NRA has also done a great deal to bring about this dangerous world. In a world where criminals are armed well—even neighbors you might argue with on the street—and mass shootings are possible in even the most unlikely places, a gun seems increasingly like a good idea, as the last measure to ensure one’s personal safety. The NRA is not wrong in this regard, it’s just remarkable how the organization has been so successful in helping to create that world where its arguments ring true. A highly armed society like ours is bound to be dangerous—and in a dangerous society, where rule of law is increasingly eroded and deadly violence more likely, a gun is increasingly the only thing providing a chance of personal security. But who wants to live in that world? And why must we think such a world is inevitable? Almost every other democracy has less deadly violence than the United States. The NRA’s claim that a dangerous world is inevitable seems valid only if arms are widespread.

It is possible that “guns save lives,” as gun rights advocates claim, but they bring no enduring safety. At best, they maintain a tense, fragile substitute, like the electric détente when two warring gangs hold each other off with pointed weapons. When two groups deter one another in this manner, I don’t think we are justified in calling that peace, or security. The NRA’s recipe is not that for a civil society, just the best we can hope for in the “Mad Max” world that LaPierre likes to invoke. But in our American democracy, we have higher ambitions.

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According to NRA logic, because one cannot predict when and where insane killers will show up, it makes sense for people to be armed all the time, everywhere. We must carry guns in our restaurants and bars, hospitals and churches, government buildings and private workplaces—anywhere an attack could conceivably occur. But even if this were not a false security, the price is too high. An armed society, where guns and gun ownership are unlimited, threatens rights that are essential to democracy.

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One way to understand guns’ threat to freedom and democracy is to imagine their effect on academia, where we nurture the civic values our citizens are to embody. Following several mass shootings over the past few years, the debate concerning guns in our schools and on our college campuses has proven especially rancorous. After the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, when a student embarked on a campus shooting rampage that left thirty-two people dead and seventeen wounded, there were loud calls for students and professors to be armed in the classroom to halt such attacks in the future. After the Newtown shootings, LaPierre unveiled the NRA’s master solution: the National School Shield, which called for placing police officers or armed guards in every school in America or, barring that, arming teachers and school staff. The answer to gun violence in our schools and on our college campuses, according to the gun rights crowd, is more guns, not fewer. Several jurisdictions have followed this advice.

Reynolds points out that it took police twenty minutes to show up at the scene of the shooting in Newtown. “Five minutes is forever when violence is underway,” he writes, “but 20 minutes—a third of an hour—means that the ‘first responders’ aren’t likely to do much more than clean up the mess.” We need armed individuals on the scene if we have any hope of halting a massacre. One Texas superintendent instituted a policy of arming staff and teachers in his rural school district years before the Newtown incident. At the time, he justified his decision by saying that “our people just don’t want their children to be fish in a bowl. . . . Country people are take-care-of-yourself people. They are not under the illusion that the police are there to protect them.” Arming teachers and staff in our schools, then, is a sign of self-reliance, a traditional American virtue.

But there are several problems with the NRA proposal. A practical concern is that it is extremely expensive. Many have wondered where the personnel would come from to place armed guards in each of the nation’s 100,000-plus schools. It is an especially galling measure for school districts that are forced to make deep budget cuts elsewhere. The Washington Post profiled efforts by the Butler County school district in Pennsylvania to roll out the NRA’s recommendations: “Butler County had cut 75 teaching and administrative positions in the past five years because of a shrinking budget, but now the district of 7,500 students couldn’t hire armed guards fast enough.”Yet it is worth asking if armed guards are even an effective solution. There was an armed guard at Columbine High School on the day of its fateful shooting, and though he fired at the assailants, he failed to stop them. Furthermore, the guard’s presence failed to deter the shooters. They selected this target, it seems, because they bore a grudge against the school and their peers; they could not have acted out their morbid finale in any other setting. Further, like Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook, the shooters were very well armed and prepared. How is an armed guard supposed to stop such people when they are truly bent on their task? How much training, preparation, and vigilance will guards require? And how is an armed guard to protect an entire school? If he or she is placed at the front door, the shooter may simply bypass the main entrance and shoot his way through a classroom window or blow open a locked side door.

Is the answer then more armed guards? Should we outfit our schools with bulletproof glass? Banish windows entirely, or put a gun in the hands of every teacher? By suggesting that we simply arm our schools, the NRA would put us on a path that grows steadily more untenable and oppressive to freedom. The NRA’s solution is always more guns: if there is a shooting, it’s because not enough guns were there, or enough trained shooters. But where does this end? Critics of the School Shield program argue that it would turn our schools into “armed fortresses,” and it is not clear that is good for anyone except for the businesses arming our schools.

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There is no shortage of such businesses. A Colombian company has designed bulletproof backpacks for schoolchildren, and also bulletproof safety vests that it hopes schools will store in their classrooms in case of a “ballistics emergency.” An American manufacturer has started selling bulletproof whiteboards for the classroom, which teachers might use to protect themselves and their students. Hardwire LLC also produces “bulletproof clip boards . . . as well as a bulletproof insert that can be placed in a child’s backpack . . . [and] a bullet-stopping cover that can be affixed to a classroom door.” Many schools have started installing “Sally Ports,” the secured entrance system typically found in prisons. But at what cost will we turn our schools into fortresses? What is the cost to education, to our children’s emotional development, and to democracy?

Consider a recent New York Times report that increased police presence in schools has led to “a surge in criminal charges against children for misbehavior that many believe is better handled in the principal’s office,” such as “scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers.” Those who are not trained teachers or school administrators may well misjudge student behavior and deal with it in a fashion that escalates the confrontation at hand. One criminologist states that “there is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety . . . and it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

The Washington Post reported that the school district in Butler County, Pennsylvania, had “unarmed guards . . . hired after Columbine,” “metal detectors . . . installed after Virginia Tech,” and “the intercom and surveillance system . . . updated after Aurora.” Following the Newtown shooting, Butler County’s superintendent deemed those measures insufficient and decided to introduce armed guards. The article goes on to describe one such hired guard in his new post—Frank Cichra, a former cop: “He loaded one bullet into the chamber so he could fire instantaneously in case of an attack and 11 more into a magazine. He sat at a desk facing the glass doors, his eyes scanning the parking lot. A sergeant had told him once that a good state trooper operated like a traffic light on yellow, always on edge, anticipating whatever might come.” This is a useful if worrisome metaphor. How “on edge” should he be for the next Adam Lanza? The Post article describes Cichra at his post, greeting and inspecting students as they file in. One ten-year-old girl sets off the metal detector, which prompts Cichra to sift through the contents of her lunch bag: “String cheese. Goldfish cracker. Chocolate milk.” It is no victory for freedom when armed guards check our children’s lunch bags after they have had to enter school through metal detectors. Such developments should give us pause, but instead, the NRA urges us to arm everyone—in the name of freedom.

As if anticipating the adverse impact of his presence on the school’s educational mission, the Post article states, Cichra “had decided the best way to carry a gun in an elementary school was to act nothing at all like a person carrying a gun,” even removing the cover of the book he read at his post, American Sniper, which depicted an automatic rifle. “The kids don’t need to be seeing that,” Cichra said. Why not? Because, as Cichra senses, guns are inimical, even antithetical, to the purpose of our schools. As one superintendent in Massachusetts put it, “To have an armed guard at every school completely sends the wrong message . . . about what schools are about.”

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Excerpted from "Do Guns Make Us Free? Democracy and the Armed Society" by Firmin DeBrabander. Published by Yale University Press. Copyright © 2015 by Firmin DeBrabander. Reprinted with permission of the author and publisher. All rights reserved.


Firmin DeBrabander

Firmin DeBrabander, an associate professor of philosophy at Maryland Institute College of Art, has written social and political commentary for numerous publications, including the Baltimore Sun, Common Dreams, Counterpunch, and the New York Times. He lives in Baltimore, MD.

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