Exploiting High School Students

By Jeff Knox

(March 23, 2018) My brother Chris and I were invited to submit an “Opposing View” editorial to USA Today newspaper last week, in advance of the student “March for Our Lives” events scheduled for March 24.

We’ve done these types of editorials in USA Today a few times in the past, and appreciate the opportunity to share our side of the story with a wider audience.  Still, it is always a somewhat troubling experience because of the tight space we are offered — typically only 300 words. That’s not much space to really make a point.  On top of that, the Editorial Board gives themselves almost twice as many words to express their view. And while they insisted that we provide links to validate our claims, they don’t seem to be quite as worried about showing chapter and verse for their own assertions.

The biggest problem with the USA Today Editorial Board’s position proceeds from a seriously flawed assumption:  that gun control laws can reduce “gun violence.”

They begin their editorial questioning whether the students can “push an immovable Congress to do more to fight gun violence?”

To reply directly to the question, it’s very possible that the political pressure being generated may result in changes in the law, and those changes might be intended to “fight gun violence.”  But we hold that most of the laws being pushed so far will never reduce crime, and in fact could have negative effects.

No gun control law anywhere has ever been definitively linked to a statistically significant reduction in violent crime, or even “gun crime.”  The specific proposals being touted by the Editorial Board and the students (with a whole lot of help from other media, gun control groups like Mike Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, and leftist groups like MoveOn.org and the Women’s March) have been tried, and failed, in numerous states, and in the case of the “assault weapons” ban, at the federal level.

As Chris and I pointed out in our op-ed, the students and much of the nation have been misled, and worse, their grief exploited for political gain in the wake of the atrocity in Parkland, Florida.  The “solutions” being fed to well-intentioned people will do nothing – can do nothing – to prevent another attack like Parkland. We feel the same grief and frustration. The difference is that we understand that the gun control proposals being put forward won’t save a single life.  Not one.

A crazy idea isn’t crazy if it works, but even the most brilliant idea is foolish if it doesn’t work.  When you know it doesn’t work, and you implement it anyway, that is beyond foolish.

Banning “assault weapons” – a made-up marketing term – has never been proven to work. Witness mass shootings with “assault weapons” from Mumbai to Paris to Sandy Hook (all of which had “assault weapon” bans in place), and a 10-year experiment by Congress.

We were able to link to the most widely quoted study of the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban, a 2004 research paper by Christopher Koper of the University of Pennsylvania for the National Institute of Justice.  But we didn’t have room to detail its findings or its shortcomings.

This was actually the third of three reports that Koper and his team generated, and in it he concluded that there was no clear evidence that the ban had resulted in any detectable reductions in the incidence of murders or mass murders, or any clear reductions in the number of people killed or injured or the number of shots fired per incident.  But he suggested that the data left room for doubt because of the large number of “assault weapons” that were already in circulation and not subject to the ban.

Koper suggested that given a longer time frame, the ban might have proven effective.  We have to look at this conclusion with suspicion, especially given Koper’s admission that “assault weapons” are involved in such a small number of criminal incidents, and that mass shootings are such relatively rare events, that completely removing them from the record would have very little statistical impact.  His “mixed results” conclusion, along with his insertion of data from what he called “High Capacity Magazine weapons,” appears to be more about seeking additional grant money for future studies, than about accurately reporting statistical findings.

We also pointed out that “strengthening background checks” is really about prohibiting private sale or transfer of personal firearms, and that those laws are unenforceable, and easily ignored by criminals, while often entrapping innocents.  Again, we didn’t have room to debunk the claims from pollsters that 80% to 90+% of Americans support these laws. While their polls with artfully-worded questions continue to register high numbers, actual votes on these proposals have been defeated, or barely passed, despite strong support from media, and massive, 8 to 1 spending from billionaires like Bloomberg.  When people know the details of these laws, they stop supporting them.

On the subject of “gun violence restraining orders,” we noted that they ignore the real problem – the person.  Every state already has provisions for involuntary mental health evaluations. Why take away guns, rather than treat the person who is a danger?  Does anyone actually believe that calling a suicidal or homicidal person on the phone, or knocking on their door, and telling them that they must turn their guns in to authorities within 24 hours, will prevent tragedies?  Who wants to volunteer to knock on those doors with that news?

Restricting magazine capacity is just silly, ignoring the fact that a person intent on doing significant harm can carry multiple magazines or even multiple weapons.  It also overlooks the existing stock of millions of magazines, and what a simple gadget a magazine actually is – a box with a spring, and the fact that it works like a PEZ candy dispenser.

We concluded by calling on everyone involved to stop rushing to “solutions” that don’t work, and instead focus on what we know does work:

  • Hardening schools against attack with barriers and surveillance
  • Involving law enforcement when threats first arise
  • Having the means to quickly stop an attacker.

A recent shooting in Maryland was stopped by an armed school officer.  A school murderer in Pearl, Mississippi was stopped by (illegally) armed principal Joel Myrick.  USAToday linked to a New York Times story about him with a headline saying he opposes armed teachers.  But buried in the piece is that he supports armed security:

“Despite Mr. Myrick’s firm stance against arming faculty members, he has long advocated placing trained personnel, possibly retired law enforcement officers, in every school, as a deterrent. ‘We protect our banks that way,’ he said. ‘We protect things we love. America protects things it loves. We don’t care if it’s expensive.’”

Locked doors have saved lives.  Guns in the hands of the right people have saved lives.  Disarming good guys does nothing to make anyone safer.

But supporters of gun control can’t stand to let a crisis go to waste.