McClaughry: Reducing future school shootings

By John McClaughry

In the wake of a Florida school shooting and a thwarted attack targeted on Fair Haven High School, the Legislature and governor have embraced a bill touted by its advocates as “gun violence prevention.” Its main features are background checks for firearms transfers among all but immediate family members, a ban on standard capacity magazines, and no sale of firearms to anyone under 21, unless that person has completed hunter safety training.

John McClaughry

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

The bill is founded on the view that guns are the problem, and if the government can keep guns out of the hands of the people that the government determines shouldn’t have them, there will be less “gun violence.”

Well, yes, probably so, but it’s not likely there will be a significant reduction in gun violence no matter how intense, expensive and intrusive the government’s enforcement of these provisions may become.

In a nation with 300 million privately owned firearms, determined people will acquire firearms to commit illegal acts, like murder. The Florida school shooter bought his guns after passing a background check. The Sandy Hook shooter in Newtown, Connecticut, acquired his by killing his mother and taking hers.

Diminishing sudden violence by demented individuals is in some ways a more intractable problem than thwarting and apprehending criminals and terrorists. The too-simple solution of confiscating firearms from persons suspected of violent tendencies raises very serious policy questions.

Vermonters have a constitutional right to “keep and bear arms for the defence of themselves and the state.” That right can be taken away for commission of a felony, or for involuntary commitment to psychiatric care. But it can’t be taken away just because somebody reported that a person exhibited threatening and potentially dangerous behavior, any more than freedom of speech can be restrained because the speaker might say unpopular things.

The conservative Heritage Foundation has just published a thoughtful Backgrounder (No. 3295) called “Focusing on School Safety After Parkland.” First, it explains that despite highly publicized school shootings, “statistically, schools are the safest place for America’s children to be at any given time.” And it dismisses most purported “gun violence prevention” measures as unlikely to accomplish their ends.

The report then advocates fast, armed responses to active shooters, ending “gun free school zones” that invite gun violence, and reversing Obama-era policies that threatened schools with the loss of Federal funds if they disciplined too many non-white students.

Then the report goes to the heart of the problem: the identification and reorientation of potentially dangerous individuals, usually young males who come from broken homes and lack a moral compass, and who have become variously undisciplined, unstable, alienated, angry, unbefriended, overdrugged, hopeless and delusional.

In some schools, the report says, “behavioral intervention teams” have shown promise in addressing disruptive and potentially dangerous student behavior. (Such programs can be expensive.) The authors support judicial gun violence restraining orders to remove firearms from individuals if law enforcement convinces a judge that it has clear and convincing evidence of impending dangerous behavior. In Vermont, such “red flag” orders — with safeguards that, hopefully, will prevent over-zealous enforcement — will soon be authorized here by S.221, a bill that passed the Senate 30-0 and the House 136-0.

Beyond steps taken by governments, there are numerous encouraging examples of non-governmental efforts to divert potential shooters from their path to murder. Philanthropists Foster and Lynn Friess recently matched the first $2.5 million contributed to the Return to Civility Fund to support local initiatives to salvage the lives of disturbed young persons inclined to violence.

Among the local efforts they laud are Elevate Phoenix, an initiative working to deliver “life changing relationships with urban youth” by mentoring young people to develop character, life skills and leadership; Rachel’s Challenge, founded in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting to help children dealing with broken families and school bullies; and Sandy Hook Promise, a group that trains school staff to recognize mental health problems and build positive relationships with at-risk individuals.

The bottom line here is this: Passing more laws aimed at further restricting firearms ownership offers little prospect of preventing more gun violence, and it threatens the constitutionally protected right of self-defense by law-abiding citizens. Instead, schools need to make it difficult for an armed assault to succeed, stamp out bullying, and provide the intervention support that potentially dangerous youths need.

Finally, the institutions of civil society need to multiply their efforts — such as the three cited above — to help disturbed, hopeless young people overcome their demons, while their lives can still be turned around.

John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Public domain and John McClaughry

11 thoughts on “McClaughry: Reducing future school shootings

  1. John is addressing the increase of gun violence head on, working with those who have violence in their heart. Our constitution hasn’t changed. Our gun laws haven’t changed. Our access to guns haven’t changed either. What has changed and drastically is our climate, family, civic and national.

    For example, the term assault rifle. When you look objectively in how all the guns are used, by civilian or police in our country, my bet is 99.97% of the time they are used as defense rifles. In England, the mayor of London is looking to ban knives, because people are killing others on the street with knives and nobody needs a knife in public. So has suddenly your kitchen knives become assault knives? Knives of death?

    Our systems are promoting hate and have never had such an opportunity to spread it as today. Media matters, occupy democracy…so many organizations can spread facts that push their narrative. Good propaganda never, never lies, they only use truth. For example: if you feed bad police actions to 8 million people on a regular basis you’ll find thousands of them. Say cops being blatantly racist. It’s all true, its all facts. However, what you don’t see is the hundreds, upon hundred of MILLIONS of transactions done by our police department that are good, honorable, just and fair. And usually they are dealing with unsavory, misdirected people all day long. So now we have an entire country divided by propaganda, thinking the most dangerous thing an American of African decent is going to face is being shot by a cop, when it just isn’t remotely true. Propaganda never tells the whole story.

    Our kid’s environment is drastically different than our bringing up. Drugs are now cool, there are many more of them. Families are broken up. We are dysfunctional in many, many of our relationships. We’ve taken away hope, responsibility, more for our young men than anywhere else. A man can’t talk without “mansplaining” or being called some sort of ism, racism, what ever. When we adopt failed ideology even with good intent our youth get on drugs, girls get pregnant, boys get violent, you can see it in any nation. It’s our natural tendencies gone amok, looking for love, purpose and belonging, in al the wrong places.

    John hit the nail on the head. He’s addressing the problem, to which nobody at the state house is looking at. We’re only addressing the symptoms. Well said John. We have programs that solve this problem, True North here in Waitsfield. Steve Harvey’s camp for boys.

  2. This was a good read but he left out one important thing. We need to get back to parenting and disciplining our kids. Today, there are too many of our kids going to school and receiving a free breakfast, free lunch and some get free dinners. Where’s the parents responsibility?
    I didn’t come from a wealthy family but my mother always made sure that I was fed BEFORE I left for school and my parents paid for my lunch at school and there was strict discipline both at school and more so at home. We really need to get that back. Stop the pampering and trying to be their friends instead of their parents.

  3. What these legislators have done in their “feel good” legislation (to protect whom?), will in the long run actually will kill people. Take guns away from people opens the door for criminals that their “feel good” attitude is to attack people that aren’t able to protect themselves and from a tyrannical government. Ref Baltimore & Chicago. These legislators have no clue of what they are doing.

    The legislators and Gov officials are the real imbalanced people. Violated the Constitutions and their oaths. Can’t impeach, Dems won’t impeach Dems. They will go out of their way to keep Reps out (ref Orange Country legislator) and cause grief to anyone Rep.

    Good to see many “quiet” activists become “un-quiet.”

    • DISquieted to the point of seeking out and supporting of qualified opponents to unseat the disingenuous legislators is what we need to become.

      It is unlikely that the mere threat of losing office would be enough to stimulate an actual change of heart — and mind.

  4. How many of the shooters were on Ritalin or Adderal, a.k.a. methamphetamines for any period in their lives? Gun control is a distraction form the real problems affecting and infecting our school systems and society in general.

  5. John,

    Private schools are rarely in the news regarding shootings.

    May be we should have more private schools, encourage them by parents paying 50%, the public paying 50%.

    Annual cost per student not too exceed $15000.

  6. Gun control is only about control. Liberals want complete dictatorial control without worrying about citizen uprising. School shootings have a very intense emotional effect on everyone and liberals use these situations to the benefit of their agenda. I’m not saying that they are not concerned about safety in our schools, but they do possess a two head coin. As said by Winston Churchill, “Never let a good crisis go to waste” If they are concerned about safety in our schools, Make our schools safer !

  7. School Safety , what a joke with all the ” frenzy ” about guns and new proposed gun bills will
    have ” NO ” effect on School Safety !!

    Why, because all these bills are just a way to push an agenda funded by some overly zealous
    anti gun haters, to use these tragedies is shameful . Remember Columbine was 1999 and
    what have we done to protect the schools in 2018 , nothing ?? so lets pass bills to remove any
    sanity that law abiding citizens might just help in these matters.

    Until you fix two major issues, first the security with in the school property by any means
    and that may offend some of the liberal thinkers running our schools, that always state it
    may traumatize the kids, that’s pure BS.
    Secondly mental illness activities need to be reported to authorities no matter how young,
    School Officials see these activities everyday , refuse to do anything !!

    All the knee jerk reactions to the latest school shooting in parkland, hundreds of tell tale
    signs and all were ignored about this perpetrator. Keep letting liberals run these schools

    Well, you see what happens !!!

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