The National Rifle Association outraged many when CEO Wayne LaPierre blamed the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre on violent video games, natural disasters, and corporate media. Deflecting calls for tighter gun regulations, LaPierre also attacked school security and demanded more armed guards in schools. Since LaPierre’s incendiary press conference, the NRA’s approval rating has plummeted.
Though the NRA’s image has suffered, the gun lobby’s proposal to put more armed guards in schools has become one of the most popular ideas in the gun violence debate. According to a new NYT/CBS poll, 74 percent of Americans believe more security guards would help prevent mass shootings in public places like schools, movie theaters or malls. President Obama’s comprehensive plan to prevent gun violence also called for hiring as many as 1,000 more “school resource officers,” or law enforcement officers with the power to arrest students.
About a third of all public schools already have armed security guards, and the demand for school policing has made it the fastest growing area of law enforcement. But studies have been unable to show that armed guards make schools any safer. Two of the most deadly shootings in US history, at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech, occurred on campuses with security guards.
While no discernible link between safer schools and armed guards has been established, there is one clear impact. Student arrests shot up when school resource officers became more prevalent in schools after the Columbine shooting. Even controlling for poverty level, schools with armed officers have nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct. As states beef up their security after Sandy Hook, more students are at risk for being treated like criminals. One Pennsylvania county immediately hired armed guards who are reportedly searching childrens’ lunch boxes. Local governments in Utah, Florida, Tennessee and Texas also started hiring armed guards after the NRA speech.
A new influx of SROs into schools prompted by Sandy Hook will only worsen the nation’s already robust school-to-prison pipeline. Shortly after Mississippi Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves announced a $7.5 million plan to hire law enforcement officers to patrol schools, several civil rights groups released a harrowing new report detailing Mississippi students’ abuse at the hands of these types of officers:
The report, which is to be released Thursday, found that in one Mississippi school district, 33 of every 1,000 children were arrested or referred to juvenile detention centers; that in another, such referrals included second and third graders; and that in yet another, only 4 percent of the law enforcement referrals were for felony-level behavior, the most often cited offense being “disorderly conduct.”[…] In addition to statistics, the report described episodes in which a child was taken home by the police for wearing shoes that violated the dress code, and a school where misbehaving students were handcuffed for infractions as minor as not wearing a belt.
Black students were far more likely to be punished by these officers, even in racially mixed schools. The Justice Department is currently pursuing a lawsuit against Mississippi over the abuse of these armed guards, and the state’s House of Representatives held a hearing on the report on Thursday morning. Still, Obama and state lawmakers are rushing to send in more armed guards who will likely make the problem even worse.