Sandy Hook and Social Policy on Guns in Schools

Cedar eloquently discussed the application of psychology to the debate of guns in the schools in a recent post. I started to make a comment, but realized it was running awful long for a comment. The post was really about how people look at things, and how they may not be seeing clearly when they suggest that we put guns in the schools. So here it is:

As someone with training in social work, as well as psychology, one thing that really strikes me that runs parallel to this is that social policies, especially sweeping ones, almost always have unintended impacts. The very nature of personal and group bias is such that we do not usually see the unintended consequences until they happen (if we were aware of it, it really would not be bias.) Some unintended consequences, in this case, may be easy to see if we bother too look for them. For example, someone is going to have to pay for guns, training with guns, and track the use of guns. Another potential problem is this means there are guns already on campus, available for those who can get control of them. What impact on society would it have to raise all of our children to see guns roaming around the halls as normal and desirable? There will likely be accidents related to firearms in schools, because people are humans and mistakes happen. What if the accidents are higher than the number of deaths at Sandy Hook? Would that make it better that there are more kids dead and injured, but at least it was at the hands of their overzealous PE teacher instead of a lunatic? The list can go on and on.

I have a friend who has kids in a school where the parents are not allowed on campus. This allows for much tighter security. One downfall is that parents cannot interact with the teacher when they are dropping their kids off or picking them up from school. No one said, “let’s devise a way to keep parents from having relationships with their child’s teacher,” however this was the effect from “let’s have tighter security.” I am not saying there are no other solutions, or whether this security is right or wrong, but it is important to understand that every sweeping social policy always has unintended effects.

I think we see a horrible thing like this, and especially imagining what those poor little children went through in their last moments, we want to find some quick cure. The sad reality may be that we cannot prevent all tragedies completely. And sometimes the cost of prevention is not worth the risks. Every year there are numerous deaths and injuries related to pedestrians, but should we stop all people from walking out of doors as a result?

Also we have to be careful about where we put our resources. What I mean by resources, is that we always only have a finite amount of resources. To most of us, a billion dollars is a lot of money, and seems like an endless amount. When you apply a billion dollars to the entire US economy, however, it is just a drop in the bucket. So resources might seem infinite to the individual person, but when applied broadly they only go so far.

20 children died in an attack on elementary school students at Sandy Hook. In 2010, 129 people 19 and under were killed in gun accidents. 749 kids 19 and under fatally shot themselves with a gun they took from their parents. In 2011, 565 children under age 18 were murdered using a gun. When you look at the numbers, are school shootings even the place we should focus our resources? More children die at the end of their own parents guns than at the hands of a deranged killer at schools, yet no one is talking about mandatory gun safety classes for parents or some other similar legislation that would impact this much larger number of deaths and injuries.

As I understand it, there were armed guards at Columbine, that were just more deaths on the long list of tragic outcomes.

It is emotional when we see such a horrible tragedy, and it feels awful to sit on our hands and do nothing. At the same time, we also have to be aware of bias in our thinking, and move forward carefully. Including injuries, thousands of children are shot each year, and most of it happens at home. So just from a numbers perspective, why are we wanting to put all of these resources into arming our schools, when statistically, they are much more likely to be injured or killed by a gun at home?

I am not saying we do nothing, those little souls deserve our best efforts. I am saying we should tread carefully and not react emotionally.

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