Conventional gun control and punishment policies have done nothing to make American schools safer or American students more secure. Quite the contrary, such policies have been attended by increasingly violent school environments, students living in fear, and no means for protection. This essay will argue that a new research-based approach is needed. More specifically, because the available research clearly demonstrates that right-to carry laws lead to decreases in crime and cause criminal offenders to alter their criminal behavior, it is time for school districts across the country to begin issuing legal permits for guns to students.
Costs of Gun Violence: Students and Society As a preliminary matter, in order to demonstrate why a new approach to school violence is necessary, it is important to understand the true costs associated with gun violence, schools, and students. The most common perception is that guns are responsible for physical injuries and deaths. To be sure, this is true. Such a perception, however, is too narrow and ignores the much broader spectrum of costs associated with gun violence and students. This analytical mistake, focusing too narrowly, has unfortunately crept into the public consciousness and made discussions too narrow in scope.
As has been stated by a leading scholar in the field Victimization statistics indicate that gun violence is highly concentrated within a narrow sociodemographic slice of the population. Yet a consideration of economic costs suggests that the burden of gun violence is shared much more broadly across society, affecting taxes, residential choice, fear, and freedom of movement. (Cook & Ludwig, 2002) What can be seen is a problem that is much more pervasive, and much broader in scope, then what has traditionally been defined as a threat to individual physical safety.
This issue implicates a variety of social and economic issues as well as issues of personal safety and individual well-being. Where gun control policies, whether in school specifically or in society more generally, have failed to attain the desired results an extraordinarily broad spectrum of society has suffered. Society has suffered in the form of higher taxes in order to fund police staffing, judicial proceedings, and school as well as community programs to deal with violence in school.
Society and individuals have also suffered because residential choice and freedom of movement has been constrained by fears of gun violence in certain communities or school districts. In short, the costs associated with gun violence in or near schools are much more severe than previously thought. More troubling, despite huge expenditures of money and effort, conventional approaches to the problem have failed miserably. Gun Control and Punishment: No Solution The most conventional approaches have proceeded as different types of gun control and punishment philosophies.
These conventional approaches have been based on certain assumptions. First, with respect to gun control, those advocating gun control policies proceed upon the assumption that legal limitations and restrictions will necessarily result in less gun violence. Implicit in this assumption is the notion that gun control approaches will decrease access to guns by irresponsible students or individuals. A close examination of the relevant research, however, demonstrates quite clearly the falsity of such assumptions.
In one comprehensive study, relying upon data submitted by the states, it was found that the statistical analysis of the 1999 state data provides no evidence that gun control reduces crime rates. Nor is there any evidence that lax gun laws in neighboring states contribute to higher crime rates. (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006) These conclusions are startling; they are startling because policymakers continue to advocate and implement a tremendous variety of gun control laws despite the empirical evidence that strongly suggests such laws are ineffectual.
In addition to the emphasis on strong gun control laws, the aforementioned conventional approaches to gun violence in schools also tend rather uniformly to emphasize punishment as a penalty rather than more preventative approaches. Such punishment components of larger gun control laws and policies have manifested themselves in terms of no tolerance policies, the elimination of constitutional protections against otherwise illegal searches of students at school, and incarceration rather than education or counseling.
In Colorado, for instance, the state legislator noting that “Newspapers in the state reported almost daily on hand-gun-related incidents involving young people” (Pipho, 1993) decided simply to follow the conventional approach without reviewing the aforementioned research data. The problems remain. What is needed is a departure from conventional gun control and punishment philosophies that have proven to be unsuccessful all across the country. American children, students who should be safe and secure at school, deserve more than political posturing that places them at continued risk of harm.
A Novel Proposal: Legal Permits at Schools Ironically enough, the best way to safeguard students at school, and to eradicate the extraordinary costs associated with gun violence among and between students, may be to grant legal permits allowing students to carry concealed handguns to and from as well as at school. Such a proposal is ironic because conventional theories have always presupposed that more guns equals more violence. Again, however, the research demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.
Conceal and carry laws, for example, have actually led to decreases in crime, both generally and with respect to violent crime, in places where such laws have been implemented. In fact, the available research has found that right-to-carry laws reduce violent crime rates, the reductions are greater in counties with proportionally higher urban populations, and the laws afford relatively greater protection to minorities and women. The latter groups are precisely those that are disproportionately victimized by violent crimes.
Furthermore, Lott and Mustard find that criminals substitute nonconfrontational crimes such as burglary, auto theft, and larceny for robbery and assault. (Moorhouse & Wanner, 2006) These findings are remarkable. Not only have right-to- carry laws, whether implemented through legal permits or otherwise, reduced violent crime rates but they have compelled criminals to alter their criminal behavior. Such findings support the main thesis of this paper; more specifically, because conventional gun control and punishment approaches have proven abysmal failures, a new approach is necessary.
This new approach must incorporate certain realities. These realities are that different types of right-to-carry laws do, in fact, result in lower crime rates and in less violent types of crime being committed. The fear needs to be reversed. School districts, operating through local law enforcement and legislative officials, have a moral duty to consider these research findings and implement legal permit procedures to allow good students to carry guns for their protection. To be sure, such an approach would require careful planning, special gun safety education for students, and diligent monitoring.
The fact that a new approach may be difficult to implement is no reason for clinging to unsuccessful conventional theories. In addition, because “Federal and state laws also prohibit persons of any age from carrying guns without a permit and bringing a gun onto school property” (Brezina & Wright, 2000, p. 82), both state and federal agencies will have to work together to make such a new approach possible. Conclusion In the final analysis, the research is clear on several points. First, the costs associated with gun violence at schools are staggering and pervasive.
Second, conventional gun control and punishment approaches to the problem have failed miserably. Third, because right-to-carry approaches have proven successful in reducing crime rates generally, it is time to incorporate such laws in American schools. References Brezina, T. , & Wright, J. D. (2000). Going Armed in the School Zone. Forum for Applied Research and Public Policy, 15(4), 82. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from Questia database: http://www. questia. com/PM. qst? a=o&d=5001177255
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