LOTT: Trump Administration’s Report On School Safety Passes — For Government Work

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John Lott President, Crime Prevention Research Center
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The “Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety” — signed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Attorney General Matthew Whitaker — was released Tuesday afternoon, and it contained findings that may please both sides of the gun control debate. Unfortunately, the report will do little to improve school safety.

The report included some good ideas, such as ending the Obama administration’s racial-discipline guidelines, which viewed any time children were disciplined at different rates as racist, and making it easier for schools to share student disciplinary records. Existing policies likely prevented authorities from properly treating the Hispanic Parkland, Florida high school shooter before his attack in February. But it’s very unusual for a shooter to have had so many warning signs, and the school was obviously not the only institution that failed to do its job.

Another recommendation is for all government communications to avoid using mass killers’ names. This is a useful idea that may help prevent mass shooters from getting the fame they desire. But it won’t lead to any additional constraint on the part of the press.

The report also suggested improving mental health resources. This may do a lot of good for society, but it isn’t likely to stop mass public shootings. In the last two decades, 60 percent of mass public shooters already saw mental health-care professionals prior to their attacks. In only one case was the killer previously identified as a danger to himself or others.

An entire academic literature exists by psychiatrists and psychologists describing their inability to identify these types of risks. The main reason for this failure may simply lie in the extreme rarity of individuals who are actually on the verge of committing such a shooting.

On average, the mentally ill are actually less likely to commit violence. They are also more likely to be victims of violent crime.

The report suggests that schools consider allowing teachers to carry guns, particularly in rural areas where police response times are slow. It recommends so-called “red flag” laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders, whereby a person’s guns can be taken away without a court hearing. The report wisely shies away from calling for a raise of the minimum age for gun purchases, and cites studies that find no benefit from doing so.

But the commission could have taken a much stronger stand on arming teachers. Twenty states have teacher carry, and the report ought to have taken a look at how well the practice has actually worked. The commission calls for evaluating “what potential liabilities exist” for arming teachers and whether schools have the “ability to maintain insurance coverage.” If the authors had looked at actual practice, they would have seen that insurance premiums stay the same or even fall after schools institute teacher carry.

The report doesn’t discuss the limitations of armed guards and why there is no substitute for concealed carry. The point is simply that guards are easily identifiable, and that attackers will aim to kill them first before targeting defenseless victims. Concealed carry is a game changer because attackers don’t know who will be able to shoot back, or in what direction that return fire will come from.

While a slight majority of Americans oppose arming teachers, a Rasmussen survey this year found that 59 percent of parents with K-12 age children supportPresident Trump’s proposal to give financial incentives to schools and teachers that participate.

But the report doesn’t defend Trump’s proposal. The closest it gets is saying that states and school districts “should consider offering incentives” to recruit veterans and law enforcement into educational careers.

The extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) that the report suggests instituting are reminiscent of the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” in which people are caught before they commit crimes. Under current law, people must be subject to a court hearing before they can be involuntarily committed. ERPOs allow courts to confiscate people’s guns merely on the basis of “reasonable grounds” for believing that a person is a danger to himself or others. Sometimes, the higher standard of “probable cause” has to be met. Neither standard requires believing that there is even a 50 percent chance of violent behavior.

The laws never spell out exacting criteria for meeting these evidentiary thresholds. It is left to the eye of the beholder (in this case, a judge) to determine if someone poses a danger. Those who are involved in enforcing these laws will identify people based on violent histories, or even on the basis of age or gender. But people who are convicted of felonies are already prohibited from owning guns. If gun control advocates think that people should lose the right to self-defense because of a simple arrest, let them make that case. My initial research on this subject shows no benefits in terms of suicides, murders or other violent crime, or mass public shootings from these laws.

The commission report may pass for “government work,” but it doesn’t make sense to talk about school safety without examining the actual experiences of schools. Our children deserve more than politicians and bureaucrats who are afraid of taking stands.

John R. Lott is president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author, most recently, of “The War on Guns.”

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller