The Arkansas Legislature’s only answer to dealing with the mass shootings plaguing our nation and especially its public schools is to arm the potential victims.
That is in line with the catch phrase of National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” If you put good guys with guns in the schools, churches, movie theaters, etc., maybe they’ll be able to stop, or at least minimize, the carnage.
One of many problems with that mentality is how to tell the “bad guys” from the “good guys” before one decides to attack, especially if you believe LaPierre’s recent testimony, contradicting his previous stand, that universal background checks don’t work.
The many solutions then apparently depend heavily on each person who would be one of the good guys with a gun telling us whether he is good. If so, and if he undergoes the prescribed training, he can qualify as a protector.
That’s the theory behind the guns-in-churches bill, which was headed to Gov. Mike Beebe’s desk after passing 85-8 in the House on Monday, and also a new proposal, House Bill 1231, which would authorize selected school employees to be trained and armed on campus in an attempt to provide protection in case a bad guy shows up.
The bill is sponsored by state Rep. Homer Lenderman, D-Brookland, a former teacher, and I know it has good intent. But it’s just another attempt to deal with the problem of mass shootings at the back end — when the shooter attacks — rather than trying to prevent one from happening.
Such efforts are as pointless as the many proposals to impose new gun controls, such as an assault weapon ban. Those arguments come from opposite ends of the political spectrum and fuel the debate while failing to address the root cause of most mass shootings — mental illness. We’ve seen, after the fact, that almost every mass murderer has some form of mental illness, whether officially diagnosed or not.
The real argument should be how we can better detect and treat mental illness and how we can prevent people with mental illness from getting the weapons of tragedy that in recent years they’ve found easy to stockpile.
Having armed protectors in schools is not a new idea. In the aftermath of school shootings at Westside, Columbine and others, then-President Bill Clinton in 2000 started a program that provided federal funding for police officers to be placed in schools. These “school resource officers” helped children become familiar with and learn to trust law enforcement personnel while at the same time providing an armed deterrent to violence on campus.
Jonesboro and several other area schools took advantage of the program, which worked well. At one time Jonesboro had nine SROs, each assigned to a different school.
Unfortunately, the money was never enough to cover all public schools, and it began to dry up under the Bush administration, which had different priorities. Jonesboro and some other schools, working with local law enforcement agencies, have managed to keep some SRO positions.
Lenderman’s bill would take a different approach. It would authorize a school board to contract with an existing employee to provide security during school hours in addition to his or her other job duties and for additional pay. The employee would have to complete a 40-hour training course and then another 8-hour course annually at an accredited law enforcement training academy.
The employee must also pass a physical exam, but the bill does not say anything about determining mental fitness. Presumably, that would come from another requirement, obtaining a license to carry a concealed handgun. The Arkansas licensing process may include a background check when obtaining a handgun.
Once qualified, the employee “may carry a firearm and a concealed handgun on school property,” the bill says.
The problem is that, as LaPierre says, the background check system, as conducted by the FBI, is not working well, especially in regard to detecting mental illness. According to a recent Washington Post survey, 38 states maintain a database of people who have been adjudicated as mentally defective that is linked to the FBI system. Arkansas is not one of them. Arkansas has a database but is not required to make it available to the feds.
Why don’t our legislators fix that gap first?
Three of our border states — Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi — don’t even maintain mental-health databases.
So finding the good guys to hire for these positions won’t be as easy as it sounds.
Then there’s a matter of money. How many schools have teachers or staff members who need something else to do and who are capable of fulfilling all the requirements, the most critical of which perhaps may be the ability and courage to engage a shooter in a gun battle.
And where do we get the extra money to pay those people?
If we get past all that, each armed guard would actually have to carry a firearm at all times, or the exercise would be pointless. Concealing a handgun is relatively easy, and we may not want a teacher or principal to carry something bigger. But most school shooters have brought plenty of firepower.
Such legislation does nothing more than make us feel better.
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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.