President Donald Trump met with the nation’s governors on Feb. 24 to address the previous week’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Among the many ridiculous things he said, was a single gem of wisdom regarding the NRA: “They are doing what they think is right.”
I think that phrase is especially important to remember when discussing controversial topics such as gun violence. It’s so easy to become frenzied finger-pointers. I do not believe there is a shadowy organization on either side of the aisle, plotting and rejoicing at the slaughter of our nation’s children. Nobody wants more of this tragedy, and everyone is responding according to their own moral principles. The only true villain in this story is the shooter.
Regardless of how you might feel on the subject, it’s important to understand what policies shape our relationship with guns, and what potential directions they might take in the weeks to come.
In 1994 former President Bill Clinton signed the original Federal Assault Weapons Ban into law, which banned a list of 18 firearms and military-grade enhancements on those firearms. This list included some models of the infamous AR-15 and AK-47. Other models, however, were completely acceptable for purchase and use. It was not difficult for arms manufacturers to slightly modify their production tactics in order to legally create and sell weapons that functioned as assault rifles in all but name. Additionally, this wasn’t a retroactive ban — any guns produced before the law went into effect were still permissible for resale or use.
While the nation did experience a subsequent drop in gun violence following the law, a study performed by criminologists at the University of Pennsylvania failed to directly link the ban to this decrease. The law expired in 2004.
House Democrats introduced the Assault Weapons Ban of 2018 on Feb. 27, which would make it “unlawful for a person to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess, in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, a semiautomatic assault weapon.” Like its predecessor, this ban is not retroactive. The bill already faces strong opposition from Trump and the National Rifle Association. If it’s anything like the weapons ban that came before it, it will function mostly as a Band-Aid. While there might not be any actual change, lawmakers will be able to say that when school safety was threatened, they did something. Cue a collective pat on the back. Good job, government!
The NRA presents an alternate solution: hardened schools. Through their National School Shield program, educators have the opportunity to receive special training in threat assessment. These trainings are offered free of charge, and in some states they qualify for law enforcement education credits. Schools participating in School Shield may also receive visits from physical security consultants, who will assess the school’s readiness for an active shooter scenario and offer advice. Recommendations could include soft changes such as an improved communications system, or more serious alterations like ballistic glass and armed personnel on school grounds.
Trump has suggested arming specifically “gun-adept” individuals in schools; these would be teachers with military experience or special training. This would allow teachers to defend themselves and their students, as opposed to relying on outside security, but at what cost? A Washington Post report suggested arming and training America’s school teachers would cost between $251 million and $1 billion. That is a steep price for an education system that already struggles to pay educators a fair wage. With the future resting in their hands, I think our teachers might be under enough pressure.
Legislators in Florida have already promised to place mental health counselors in every school, and to fund assessment teams as well as state Children/Family focused programs. They’re writing laws to ensure that if you struggle with mental illness or have made violent threats, you cannot access a gun. Preventative measures are undoubtedly important, but what about damage control? What can be done regarding the guns already possessed by people with an inclination for violence?
And what else can be done? A wider scope for FBI background checks, with an emphasis on mental health screening? Our generation grew up with Code Red preparedness drills as early as kindergarten, but how will we prepare our children for the harshest realities of life in America?