EDITORIAL: School Kids, with Guns, Part Four

Read Part One

Authorities have yet to uncover a motive in the Las Vegas massacre nearly four months after gunman Stephen Paddock loosed a barrage of bullets on those attending an October country music festival on the Las Vegas strip…

— January 2018 article in the New York Daily News

We found out on Monday evening that the Archuleta School District will be writing a grant to the Colorado Department of Education’s BEST program to help fund approximately $50 million worth of proposed new school buildings and renovations.

The rest of the plan is to ask Archuleta County property owners to pay for the portion that BEST doesn’t cover. That local portion would amount to maybe $35 million… or more. We didn’t get a breakdown of how much of that dollar amount would be used for “Life Safety and Security” in all of the buildings mentioned in the proposal — in fact, we were not even told what, exactly, the phrase “Life Safety and Security” means.

But it obviously has something to do with keeping our children safe.

Architect Stuart Coppedge discusses the cost of “Life Safety and Security” upgrades in our public schools. February 5, 2018.

In one case, however — the case of Pagosa Springs Middle School — the “Life Safety and Security” upgrades were quoted separately: $4.4 million. If additional “Life Safety and Security” upgrades at Pagosa Springs High School, and at the proposed new elementary school, were priced similarly — and that’s an assumption on my part — that would mean that the District would be spending in the neighborhood of $12 million to try and keep our children safer.

But we have scant evidence that such upgrades would do anything of the sort. In fact, we know very little about how to keep children safe from gun violence, in 2018. And we can thank the U.S. Congress for our ignorance, according to a 2017 article in The Washington Post, written by reporter Todd Frankel following a mass-shooting incident in Las Vegas last October.

Frankel writes that gun-violence research in the United States essentially came to a standstill in 1996, when the Republican-majority Congress threatened to strip funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unless the agency stopped funding research into the prevention of firearm injuries and death.

Frankel writes that the National Rifle Association (NRA) had accused the CDC of promoting gun control with such research. As a result, the CDC stopped funding gun-control research, thus drying up funding for related public health research everywhere in the U.S.

From that article:

… “In the area of what works to prevent shootings, we know almost nothing,” Mark Rosenberg, who, in the mid-1990s, led the CDC’s gun-violence research efforts, said shortly after the San Bernardino shooting in 2015..

.. Researchers in search of private funding say they know to avoid the word “gun” or “firearm” in the titles of violence-prevention studies to avoid blowback.

That hasn’t stopped the rallying cry for “common-sense gun control.” But, as Rosenberg pointed out, we don’t know what that looks like. Maybe background checks are not the answer. Maybe allowing guns on college campuses makes those places safer. Maybe there is a way to stop a single gunman from killing and wounding hundreds of people at a concert in Las Vegas.

But, many advocates say, it’s impossible to have an honest debate about preventing gun violence when we can’t study the issue.

Everyone agrees the Las Vegas shooting was a tragedy. But no one knows what might work to prevent the next one…

The man leading the campaign to stop CDC funding of gun-related public health research was Jay Dickey, a Republican congressman from Arkansas. Since then, Congress has reauthorized the so-called the Dickey Amendment year after year.

From Todd Frankel’s article:

… Dickey, before he died earlier this year, changed his thinking. After the successive waves of mass shootings, he saw that something needed to be done. Dickey said he changed his mind: Gun violence needed to be studied by the CDC. He wanted solutions — ones that, he said, also protected gun rights. It might be possible.

“We need to turn this over to science and take it away from politics,” Dickey said.

Apparently, that has yet to happen. 20 years after the Dickey Amendment was first passed, we have little research-based understanding about the causes of gun violence — or how to prevent it.

On Monday, in Part Two of this editorial series, I mentioned my sense of surprise when Jimmy — a graduate of Pagosa Springs High School — showed me the new AR-15 semi-automatic rifle he had assembled from parts purchased online. I came to understand that his intended use of the weapon was deer and elk hunting, and further research suggests that the AR-15 is often used by wild game hunters here in Colorado, despite its military appearance.

From a 2017 article on the NBC website.

Nevertheless, we have examples of sociopaths using such semi-automatic weapons against innocent victims — in schools, in churches, in post offices, at country music concerts. In places where people gather.

And we realize there are a fair number of such weapons in the possession of people whom we might characterize as mentally ill — especially, whom we would characterize as mentally ill, ‘after the fact.’

Here’s a chart illustrating the number of firearm-related murders in the U.S. compared to some other ‘developed” nations:

According to this chart, your chance of being murdered with a gun is about 1-in-28,000, if you live somewhere in America. To relate that statistic to Archuleta County, it would suggest that one person will be murdered with a gun every two years. On average. Statistically speaking. But such homicides commonly involve gang- or drug-related violence, or romantic relationships gone sour. They almost never involve school-age children.

The chance that the person murdered will be a child, at school? In an analysis of school-related gun violence by reporter Zach Winn, writing in Campus Safety Magazine, he quotes from a joint U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education report called the Safe Schools Initiative, published in 2004:

A 2004 Secret Service report dubbed the Safe Schools Initiative put the odds of a high school student getting into a fight at school at 1 in 7.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned 2015 report counted just 31 homicides of students aged 5-18 that occurred at school or while traveling to or from school between July of 2012 and June of 2013. That puts the likelihood a student will be killed at school at less than one in a million…

… The CDC counted 123 instances of students using guns in school-related homicides or suicides between July of 1992 and June of 1999.

And with that quote, we move into even more frightening territory. Self-violence. Suicide.

Read Part Five…

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Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.