Armed Guards at Schools

It works. (Why is it that they are called “resource officers?” It’s an odd use of the word.) I think a lot of  the people who oppose putting armed guards in schools do so because they don’t really want to believe we live in a society where there’s a perceived need to do such things.

I’m not personally convinced of the urgent necessity, because mass shootings in school are rare, despite all the press attention they receive. If you made a cold, hard calculation, you’d probably save society more violence if you used that money to get more cops chasing criminals, rather than use it to park one in a school all day waiting for a mass killer who will, except through very long odds, never come. But many people are unwilling to accept that there are tradeoffs; that policy decisions, any policy decision, will have unintended consequences.

Institutionalization was often cruel, and there were many abuses, but there’s a cost to letting dangerously mentally ill people roam freely in society. Perhaps we ought to start institutionalizing again, or perhaps hiring “resource officers” is lower than the cost of institutionalization. You have to pick your poison. A big problem I have with many gun control advocates is the idea that there’s no downsides to any policy choice, particularly gun control. The same could be said for hard-core libertarians who oppose institutionalization. There’s always tradeoffs. Gun control doesn’t necessarily make for a crime-free utopia, and deinstitutionalization could, over the long term, drive the population to supporting more gun control in response to crazy people getting guns and doing crazy things that make headlines.

17 thoughts on “Armed Guards at Schools”

  1. I think a lot of the people who oppose putting armed guards in schools do so because they don’t really want to believe we live in a society where there’s a perceived need to do such things.


    More and more I’m reminded that a whole lot of political demands and policy suggestions are signaling behavior rather than actual attempts at problem solving.

    Armed security might ameliorate this problem (which as you say is not really that significant) – at very least it’ll help with the copycat/fame-seeker problem if it works even part of the time; nobody wants to be “that nameless jerk who shot at someone and then got arrested”.

    Refusing the idea, however, signals that one Just Doesn’t Live In A World Where That’s Necessary.

    And that does one (or both) of two things:

    A) It lets people live in blissful ignorance of the fact that the world is dangerous.

    B) It lets people who believe in magical thinking think that they’ve actually Changed The World! Be the Change and all that hippie crap…

  2. “The same could be said for hard-core libertarians who oppose institutionalization. . .”

    I might be classified as such, but really what I oppose is the denial of anyone’s rights without proper and thorough adjudication of their status, of deserving to have their rights denied. Denial of rights should always require due process, and mere testimony and the strokes of the pens of one or two “experts” should never be sufficient.

    A piece of ancient history that guides me: Back in the very early 1950s one of my father’s best friends was harassed by the FBI (over a petty but federal crime his brother had committed) until he did indeed have a nervous breakdown. He was then incarcerated in a mental hospital of that era, where he was killed using electro-shock “therapy.” The only thing that made it different from what went on in the Soviet Union was, that it happened here.

    1. Yeah, I’m not suggesting we go back to making it easy, or go back to the practices that made people reject institutionalization, but I’m open to the idea that we’ve made it too difficult. I also tend to think institutionalization won’t be necessary for the majority of people adjudicated because in most cases you can treat mental illness with medications successfully as long as they are taken.

      I think the key is that you can contest the claim you’re crazy in an adversarial system, same as you would a criminal charge, and continue to have access to the system to get your rights restored if you get better. I’d be willing to accept the downsides of the current system, but I’m not sure a lot of other people will, and it’ll come down to either treating or locking up the mentally ill, or making the whole world a proverbial padded cell we all have to live in.

    2. Could you give a little bit more background on exactly what circumstances were that led to his hospitalization? And I’m a little skeptical that anyone was killed using ECT. ECT is still used today because for some severe forms of depression, it is still an effective strategy when pharmaceutical approaches are unsuccessful.

      I won’t claim that institutionalization due process was perfect in 1960. In Maine, a person who was committed for observation could be held forever. But in most states, there was something recognizably like due process for long-term commitment. Some states required at least a judge’s approval; many states provided for jury trial; some states used commissions of lunacy which involved a lawyer and two psychiatrists, and again, there was usually some method for disputing the claims.

    3. I would also add that I’m one who thinks we need to look seriously about what we should do to help the mentally ill. Deinstitutionalism has resulted in many mentally ill people being sent to jail or prison, because they deteriorate to the point where the commit petty or serious crimes, and are then convicted of them. Once in jail, they still don’t get the treatment they need, and they are a problem for those who are in jail, but aren’t mentally unstable, either.

      For some of these people, their first crime can be very deadly, and very gruesome.

      If we could get help for many of these people before they get into prison, it would be a great benefit for everyone! Especially for those whose illness is still treatable, and who won’t even be institutionalized if they can get the treatment (in some cases, even be forced to have the treatment) they need.

      Having said that, I am *very* wary of “emergency” legislation that is pushed because some madmen shot up some kids in a school or a theatre. We need to be very deliberate in pushing forward, to do our best to make sure we are respecting the rights of the patients as much as reasonably possible.

  3. I’ve noticed too that anti-gunners tend to be idealists, which is great and all, I have ideals too, but we live in reality. I think it’s just a natural part of trying to think with your heart and not your brain.

  4. I’m not personally convinced of the urgent necessity [ of “resource officers” ]….

    How about their necessity WRT keeping our RKBA?

    Sure, we can talk all we want about reversing deinstitutionalization, but prior to wresting the control of the country from liberals in a very big and overwhelming way it’s just not going to happen, e.g. on “civil liberties” and government spending grounds. For the latter it’s a very poor way of buying votes, in fact, as these atrocities show, it makes a case for bigger government to protect you, gun grabbing to protect you (yes, these are contradictory, see the above point about liberals), etc.

    1. I completely understand the importance of this issue in terms of controlling the narrative, and throwing a bone to the “Something must be done!” crowd on a topic where there’s broad agreement. But that’s not to say when you really look at the data, it’s urgently necessary.

      1. Errr, let me be more clear: enough elementary school massacres (Columbine wasn’t, and was unusual in all sorts of ways) and it’s very unclear how much of the RKBA we’ll retain. We lost big after the first one in Stockton, it remains to be seen how bad in this one but for me it’s the biggest fight since Stockton.

        If we put enough of them in schools, not only will that have a deterrence effect (not that it would make the Stockton or Newtown shooters change targets from what I’ve read, don’t know what would have happened instead), it will, cross our fingers, prevent another extreme massacre where the shooter is allowed to run free for more than 10 minutes. (Anyone know how long the Stockton shooter took? In a very quick check I didn’t find a reliable source.)

        It also addresses the “Fight Back” vs. “Cower Under a Desk” conflict, which the DHS just weighed in on (in all fairness to them, it’s not their fault almost all workplaces forbid guns).

  5. The problem with armed guards at $some_place, is the possibility that the number and types of locations we choose to protect will increase. Armed guards will become ubiquitous – the local Walgreens, the supermarket, more banks (they are scarce in banks in these parts, FWIW), Post Offices, theatres, Taco Bell, 7-11, and on and on.

    Eventually we will be living under the very police state most of us do not want in the first place. And we will be living under it because we *asked* for it.

    1. Maybe. K-5 or a bit more schools have uniquely vulnerable populations, and all public schools are especially vulnerable due to the Gun Free Zone act and the attitudes that go along with them, they’re run by and large by reality denying anti-RKBA types.

      With the exception of Post Offices, none of the other locations you mentioned are “Gun Free Zones”.

    2. Harold is right. I wouldn’t need to support armed guards in schools if the .gov would just give me permission to carry. Since they are denying me the ability to protect myself and my kids, though, they darn well better provide something.

  6. I don’t mind the idea of armed guards in schools, even if they are seldom used against the things we fear the most–like a mass shooting. What does bother me is that once you have an armed guard there, there is going to be a temptation to *use* that guard–perhaps for purposes we haven’t yet imagined. And given the mission creep that has come along with SWAT teams … let’s just say I’m a bit trepidatious. Not opposed, just wary.

    1. I still think repealing the “Gun Free School” nonsense and letting the faculty and visiting parents have CCW guns in the school is the better and cheaper alternative.

  7. The term “resource officer” was created to point out that the police officer was a resource to the school administration in handling criminal, mental or other issues such as drug education (DARE) at the school.

    Less threatening than telling parents their kids were in schools so ridden with drugs and crime as to require frequent police presence.

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