With the U.S. Senate geared up to debate gun control, the National Rifle Association fired more diversionary shots on Tuesday. An NRA task force called for armed police officers, security guards, or staff members in every U.S. school. It also urged states to loosen gun restrictions and allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons.
These proposals are way off-target. Many central-city schools, with metal detectors and police officers, already resemble prisons. Nearly one third of all public schools have armed security on staff. Locally, Toledo Public Schools has armed police officers in some schools.
Flooding schools with more guns by arming school staff members -- turning schools into armed fortresses -- not only undermines education but also increases risks that students will get a hold of guns. An armed guard did not stop the Columbine school massacre; nor did an armed police team prevent people from dying at Virginia Tech.
What’s more, teachers and school staff have enough on their hands without added security responsibilities.
These ideas are so over-the-top that they almost appear to be planted by the NRA to make opponents of sensible gun-control measures appear moderate by comparison. Congress, and state legislatures, ought to focus on real solutions to gun violence, such as expanding background checks.
When U.S. Senators take up gun legislation, starting next week, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, won't, unfortunately, be part of the main debate. Even so, advocates for reasonable gun-control measures – and that includes most Americans – can still hope, and push for, life-saving changes to the nation's gun laws.
Still on the table include measures, approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, to expand federal background checks for firearms buyers and stiffer penalties for illegal gun trafficking. Both measures are more achievable, politically, than an assault weapons ban; what's more, they're probably more effective than the ban in reducing violence. Handguns – not assault weapons – are used in the vast majority of gun homicides. Up to 40 percent of gun transfer are now done privately, some of them at gun shows.
Universal background checks would close a gaping hole in the system that allows guns to flow from legal to illegal hands. They would not, of course, eliminate illegal purchases, but they would make them more difficult. Even under the current system of background checks, more than 2 million prospective purchasers have been denied.
Without questions, gun-control and safety laws reduce violence, as gun-homicide rates in England and Australia have demonstrated. Universal background checks would mark a real step forward.
The American people remain far ahead of their elected representatives in Congress on the issue of sensible gun control. In the next few weeks, U.S. senators should listen to them -- not the extremist wing of the NRA that won’t be satisfied until no place in the nation is not awash with guns.