Another school shooting, another simple-minded GOP ‘solution’
In the aftermath of this week’s school shooting in Nashville, the decades-long debate over gun rights versus gun safety continues. And potential 2024 presidential candidate Asa Hutchinson is trying to stake out what, at first glance, appears to be the political middle ground, calling for armed guards in every school.
“Ideally,” he said on Tuesday, “it’s a school resource officer or a trained law enforcement officer, but in Arkansas we have allowed some of our rural schools to have training for the personnel there so that they can be able to respond in the event something happened.”
These policy prescriptions sound nice. Imagine sending your child to school knowing that an official with a gun would be stationed in the school, ready to take out a would-be murderer.
If only it were so easy. One might justifiably argue that such a policy proposal is akin to the pre-programmed “thoughts and prayers” dropped casually into communities torn apart by gun violence. Saying “I’m for armed officers” is like saying, “I’m anti-crime.” Great. Now what?
Because politicians proposing armed guards probably haven’t thought through the issue. Let’s break it down.
There are roughly 130,000 primary and secondary schools in the United States. According to salary.com, the median salary for a security guard in Arkansas is $41,069. Arkansas has one of the country’s lowest standards of living. So, we can assume the average security guard nationwide would cost more, and perhaps considerably more.
However, to keep things conservative, let’s say all 130,000 schools will have a $40,000-a-year security guard. After all, maybe the nine- or 10-month pro-rated cost would be that low. The total annual expenditure would be $5.2 billion a year, plus benefits like health insurance, 401(k), etc.
We’ll be ultra-conservative and assume guards won’t be permitted to take vacation days during the school year. However, sick days are a must. A 2022 study shows that 6 percent of adults took one sick day in the previous 12 months, while 15 percent took 2-3 sick days. Another 11 percent took 4-5 sick days, while 7 percent took 6-10. Another 4 percent took 11-20 sick days, while 5 percent took more than 20.
Interestingly, these percentages are fairly consistent with the seven previous studies issued on this topic. So again, conservatively speaking, we might say the average armed guard will be out sick about three or four times a year. Let’s call it three, assuming these guards have sturdier constitutions than the average worker.
Of course, sick days often are announced that morning. So, if a typical school has 180 school days, they’ll need an emergency replacement armed officer 1.7 percent of the time. Who at the school will call around at 7 a.m. to try to hire a replacement? Where will that new armed guard come from? Who will have been responsible for training them before they arrive? What if they don’t?
Then there’s the matter of having one armed guard in every school. One person with a gun. Who will be accountable for that officer’s mental health, as well as ensuring that the officer receives the support that she or he deserves? For example, approximately 2.3 million Americans are bipolar. That’s about 0.7 percent of the population. If the same percentage holds for these armed officers, it would equate to nearly 900 school security guards nationwide suffering from just one particular mental illness — and one with risks of violent behavior if untreated.
Then there are the school entrances. Most have more than one. Some have four or more access points. An armed guard stationed at the south entrance of an elementary school cannot immediately stop an assailant at the west entrance. This is common sense.
Also common sense? There might be more than one assailant. One armed guard versus two or three guys with AR-15’s. Frightening.
So yeah, I guess we need multiple armed guards at each entrance, plus one or two officers patrolling the perimeter for would-be murderers looking to break a window or scale the roof and perhaps enter from above. Now we’re up to about $40 billion or $50 billion a year — conservatively speaking, of course.
And we still haven’t discussed how schools plan to march their students safely from the building to the school bus, or to the parking lot or pick-up lane, where parents await. Because as strange as this might sound to some, would-be murderers don’t have to enter a school — and encounter an armed guard — to do what they set out to do.
Hiring one armed guard for a school is like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. It’s a knee-jerk reaction to a clear-as-day problem that requires a far more thoughtful solution.
Hutchinson’s well-meaning-yet-empty proposal reminds us that policy making is serious business, while politicking often isn’t.
While an armed security guard in every school might make for nice politics, it’s a policy proposal befitting a child, not that of an elected official.
B.J. Rudell is a longtime political strategist, former associate director for Duke University’s Center for Politics, and recent North Carolina Democratic Party operative. In a career encompassing stints on Capitol Hill, on presidential campaigns, in a newsroom, in classrooms, and for a consulting firm, he has authored three books and has shared political insights across all media platforms, including for CNN and Fox News.
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