Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), President Pro Tempore of the Senate and Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, plans to introduce his Students, Teachers and Officers Preventing (STOP) School Violence Act early next week. Lawmakers in the House of Representatives will introduce similar legislation, sponsored by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Rep. John Rutherford (R-FL). The bills to be introduced in the wake of the vicious Parkland, Florida school shooting on February 14, look to spur bipartisan support through appropriating federal funds for 1) training programs designed for school faculty and staff, students, and law enforcement (including School Resource Officers) to prevent violence by detecting early warning signs; 2) improved school security infrastructure via improved technology and hardware equipment, including locks on classrooms, perimeter controls (fences and reinforced entryways), and anonymous reporting apps; 3) threat assessment and crisis management/intervention development; and finally 4) increased resources for local law enforcement and School Resource Officers.
In sum, the Hatch STOP School Violence Act focuses on hardening schools at the point of entry and classrooms; it also provides more support and resources for early detection of potentially troubled students. With this bill, Senator Hatch redirects the current gun control narrative, relieving mounting pressure on the National Rifle Association (NRA) as well as Republican Members of Congress, who receive NRA campaign donations each election cycle, including Senator Hatch. The STOP School Violence Act shows the American public action and determination to end school shootings. As Congress considers both the Senate and House bills, the motives behind the bills come into question when examining the political calculus. The bills are designed to draw attention away from guns and gun control and bring it back to something more appetizing to Congress, if not the American people who support assault rifle bans. Constituents and the American people can now see Sen. Hatch and other leaders as problem-solving.
In reality, hardening targets against criminals (and terrorists) produce mixed and unintended results. Hardening targets increase transaction costs beyond the extra security installation(s), producing deterrent effects. But hardening also increases vulnerability at points before the increased security installations. As seen in the 2016 Zaventem Airport Attack in Brussels, Belgium, hardening airport security through checkpoints and metal detectors only increases vulnerability in those transition areas. Often, checkpoints must be considered particularly vulnerable spots, even if efficiency is optimized and prioritized. In Iraq, American checkpoints during operations needed to be moved frequently to avoid becoming vulnerable targets for insurgents and militias. Increasing perimeter security will increase bottlenecks and vulnerabilities in schools similar to what we observed in Iraq, Brussels, and many others.
It’s clear that the two bills show resolve and action from Congress when the reeling nation needs it most, but the country also needs a frank discussion about gun control. The conversation warrants participation from both parties across the aisle. Sen. Hatch describes his legislation as “common sense,” but “common sense” needs to include a conversation about guns. Constituents around the nation deserve to have their voice heard when it comes to this pressing issue. Hardening schools and providing more resources for students, teachers, and officers will deter future school shootings and save lives in an active shooter situation; but it will not stop these shootings entirely, nor will it prevent or mitigate against other mass shooting events that have become equally commonplace in newspapers and news shows throughout the country, such as Aurora, CO, Sutherland Springs, TX, and Las Vegas, NV. The Hatch Bill is a first step, but resembles more of a sidestep around gun control, alleviating Congress from tackling this tougher issue.
Increasing school security via the measures found in the Hatch Bill, and the accompanying House bill will certainly provide increased safety for students, teachers, and staff inside a school during an active shooter situation. This bill should indeed be seen as a promising, if reactive, first step in an unfortunate epidemic that continues to be brought to the forefront of the American psyche through tragedies in Parkland, FL, Newton, CT, Columbine, CO, and many others. But the bill also will serve to distract the American public from the ongoing conversations around guns. The current House and Senate bills purport in tone, if not in text, that the gun control debate in the United States is an intractable conflict in which neither side can compromise, giving cover to the current status quo in which buyers under the age of 18 can legally purchase assault rifles. These bills represent a magician’s sleight of hand to distract, divert, and dissuade a conversation about guns.
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