When tragedy struck Parkland, Fla., last week, parents, students and children across the nation were both stunned and exhausted at yet another senseless massacre — one that common-sense gun regulations could have made far more unlikely.
Some conservative pundits and policymakers who have come under fire for their opposition to gun reform have proposed a different solution: Put police officers in public schools. But if the consequences of increased police presence at low-income schools tell us anything, it’s that implementing law enforcement in a school setting makes students more likely to end up in the criminal justice system and creates an atmosphere of fear at schools.
Those turning to police as a solution to these shootings are forgetting that in the many schools that already employ School Resource Officers, or on-campus law enforcement officers, this practice has had severe adverse consequences. A 2009 study in The Journal of Criminal Justice found that schools with SROs had a higher arrest rate for disorderly conduct — which could likely be dealt with by teachers — and a lower arrest rate for assault and weapons charges. Another 2013 study in Justice Quarterly found a similar conclusion: When schools increased their police presence, they reported a higher percentage of less serious offenses to law enforcement. The evidence suggests a startling consequence of increasing law enforcement in schools: More children are finding themselves in the justice system for relatively minor offenses, which significantly increases their likelihood of unemployment and dropping out of school. Moreover, the arrests made by SROs disproportionately affect black and brown young people.
Meanwhile, research also doesn’t establish whether SROs are even effective at reducing gun violence. And Republican lawmakers who claim to support increased school security have no leg to stand on while President Donald Trump released a budget proposal that cut $25 million for school violence prevention programs last week.
“The research that is available draws conflicting conclusions about whether SRO programs are effective at reducing school violence,” Nathan James and Gail McCallion wrote in a 2013 report by the Congressional Research Service. “In addition, the research does not address whether SRO programs deter school shootings, one of the key reasons for renewed congressional interest in these programs.”
Metal detectors at school gates and law enforcement officers searching children for weapons sounds more like a prison than a school. Children should feel safe and comfortable at school, and law enforcement presence can have the opposite effect — especially for students of color who might be more likely to be regarded with hostility by police.
Our instinctual response to a crisis of violence is often to turn to security. Anyone who has flown out of a U.S. airport since Sept. 11, 2001, can tell you that that tragedy dramatically changed the way we fly. Yet, increased security in response to a threat of violence is so often nothing more than a costly, Band-Aid solution to a systemic and evitable problem. Trying to solve today’s wave of mass shootings by putting law enforcement in public schools is yet another one.
Even after the brutal massacre at Newton, Conn., in 2012, Congress has not passed meaningful reform to reduce gun violence six years later. And so people concerned with the slew of mass shootings, especially at schools, have turned to another solution: increased law enforcement. But this policy is more likely to have severe adverse consequences than reduce mass shootings in the way that safer gun laws would.
And so, a nation distraught with the uniquely American phenomenon that is the school mass shooting should resist the urge to find a substantial workaround, and instead fight the National Rifle Association, which has used its economic clout to create devastating gun laws. We can pass common sense reform to reduce gun violence if we can agree that background checks would ensure that those with a history of violence should not be able to buy guns; high-capacity magazines are not useful except to fire dozens of bullets in rapid succession, and assault-style weapons have no other purpose than killing people en masse and should simply be banned.
The New York Times,Washington Post and CNBC have all posted lists of the members of Congress who receive the most funding from the NRA. On Tuesday, Nov. 6, let’s vote them out of office — because we should no longer allow a small, powerful, rich interest group to control weapon policies that affect all of our communities.
The problem facing us is not that schools are too open. It is that policymakers’ reluctance to regulate the use of guns has enabled the large-scale massacres that have pierced the heart of our nation. Let’s not forget that. And come November, let’s not let them forget that, either.
Sonali Seth is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.