Last Friday, a gunman killed twenty kids and six adults at an elementary school in Connecticut. From Columbine to Sandy Hook, there have been several tragic shooting at schools across the United States. Many parents wonder if they should pull their kids out of schools. Are schools a dangerous place for kids?

How dangerous are schools?

There are about fifty five million students attending the more than one hundred thirty thousand schools across the country. Add in three and a half million teachers and various other employees, and more than sixty million people could be in schools at any point and time. That’s nearly one in five Americans.

How safe are schools? Let’s look at some statistics from The Institute of Education Sciences within the National Center for Education Statistics. Between July 1, 2008 and June 30, 2009 (latest period for which full statistics are available) seventeen students were killed at school or school related functions. That’s seventeen too many.

During the same time, 1562 kids between the age of five and eighteen were victims of homicide (citation: Wow.  That’s the equivalent of more than 50 Sandy Hooks in a year. As incredibly tragic as school shootings are, they tiny fraction of the total number of kids being murdered every year.  It’s the very tip of the iceberg.  A child is far more likley to be killed by a parent than by a gunman at school.

Veterans in schools

One suggestion I’ve seen from Republicans friends of mine is to employ 3-4 veterans as security at every school.  At first glance, that’s a very interesting idea.  Let’s take a moment to run the numbers.  Let’s assume four at each school.  Let’s assume an average salary of $25,000 with total employment costs (health insurance, FICA, etc) at around $35,000.  This would add  more than a half million people to government payrolls, at a cost of $18 billion.  That’s an interesting suggestion from the party that believes in smaller government.

I’m also not sure how effective it would be.  Would shooters just decide not to kill anyone?  Or would they just move on to softer targets?  If you take a moment to think of all the times when groups of children are in vulnerable situations, you may not be able to sleep tonight.  Would heavily guarded schools simply transfer the death toll elsewhere, with the net outcome to society the same?  I don’t have a good answer to that question.

Take away all the guns

Should we just ban all guns?  Even if we wanted to do this, it’s not feasible. While one could go online to trusted sites and buy complete AR-15 rifles, there are still a considerable number of unlicensed weapons being circulated in this country with number scratched off to avoid trace. .  Weapons have always been a part of American life, and many guns have been handed down from generation to generation.  Tracking down all these guns would be impossible.

Of course, the criminals would keep their guns … and would probably employee some machine shops to manufacturer guns for them.  The manufacture of the most basic guns is not exactly rocket science.

Guns don’t kill people.  People kill people

This is true.

However, guns make it easy to kill quickly, and from a distance.  In China last week, someone injured 23 people in a knife attack.  How many died?  Zero.  It takes far more effort to kill twenty people with a knife than with a gun.  First, you must get close to the victim, which allows them to fight back (or others to tackle you).  Second, it takes more time to perform the actual kill.  It’s not just a matter of pulling a trigger.

While it’s not practical to ban all guns (and would violate the 2nd amendment), let’s spend a moment discussing guns with high firing rates / high capacity.  I’m not a firearms expert, so I’m not going to give a specific definition for this.  A simple revolver won’t with this category, an AK-47 will.  At some point between those two weapons, there is a line of demarcation.

I’m not a gun expert, but my thought is that there are three basic uses for a gun:

  • Defense – Includes self-defense and many law enforcement situations.
  • Hunting/Sport
  • Offense  – Includes military, extreme law enforcement situations (siege), and homicide.

My basic question is the purpose of high capacity weapon in these situations.

In a self-defense situation, it seems a bit unlikely that one of these weapons would be more helpful than a more traditional weapon.  If you have to fire a hundred rounds in a defense situation, you have some very serious problems (such as being under attack by an entire regiment of the Canadian Army).  Maybe there have been real life situations where someone has needed this sort of capacity in a defense situation.

I also wonder about the need for such a weapon in a hunting situation.  If you have to fire a hundred rounds to kill an animal, doesn’t that diminish the skill aspect of hunting a bit?  I’d also consider sport uses of firearms to be secondary to safety concerns.

So, then, is there a need for high fire rate / high capacity firearms in the hands of civilians?  And if so, what is that need?



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Kosmo is the founder of The Soap Boxers and writes on a variety of topics. Many of his short stories have been collected into Kindle books.

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