You're upset about armed guards in schools?

22 December 2012

For those of you who haven't been paying any attention to the news lately (and why should you? it's the holidays.) the president of the National Rifle Association gave a press conference yesterday about what he thought of the recent shootings in Sandy Hook. Predictably, half the Internet blew its buffers and the petitions and sarcastic remarks are flying like paper airplanes when the teacher's back is turned. Once, common sense was the first casualty of tragedy; in recent years common sense ran out of regenerations and was given a viking funeral (video contains spoilers for new season number six of Doctor Who; just take my word for it). Wayne LaPierre, vice-president of the NRA remarked that a comprehensive national database of the mentally ill was necessary to prevent unstable people from acquiring guns - as if nobody ever bought a stolen gun on the black market, nor stole a gun. On this matter, there is a quote which speaks more eloquently than I: "Gun control is the theory that people who are willing to ignore laws prohibiting rape, torture, kidnapping, theft and murder will obey a law which prohibits them from owning a firearm."

What really caught my attention was LaPierre's assertion that armed guards were necessary in schools to protect children. That seems to be what really lit the fuse on this controversy.

My question is this:

There are schools that don't have armed guards?

For new readers, I don't talk much about my past. Between the overly litigious society that the United States has become and, well, not wanting to talk about it I figured that it made more sense to just let things lie. However, on this occasion I think I have to break that policy.

In 1996 I graduated from a public high school in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I'd attended the schools of that district for thirteen years, kindergarten through escape graduation. In 1990 or 1991 the middle school I attended had a cadre' of armed local police officers on patrol. There were two fully garbed local cops in the cafeteria during lunch periods, and another four whom one might see if one were in the hallway - blue uniforms, caps, pistols (Glocks - I forget which model, probably a seventeen), and nightsticks. I clearly remember wandering up to one of the officers once and asking some fairly detailed qustions about his sidearm, including why it didn't have a safety (Glocks don't). Much to my surprise, he answered them to the best of his ability, but that's neither here nor there. During my sentence tenure at the high school it was similarly not unusual to see fully uniformed and armed local police officers in the school keeping an eye on things. There were even armed local police at the graduation ceremony in 1996 (though probably more due to rumors of shenanagains planned for the ceremony than anything else).

The reasons for the police maintaining a visible presence were pretty obvious if you were a student. There were a couple of gangs (maybe proto-gangs, depending on your experience and opinion) active in the schools I attended. Everybody knew who they were but if you were smart you kept your mouth shut and forgot to notice anything. They sold their share of drugs (pot, alcohol (if they wanted your money but didn't particularly care for you), acid, and a little heroin) and they carried weapons (I had a semiautomatic pistol pulled on me once and it wasn't unusual for one to flash a knife if they thought you were disrespecting them). A few times a year the school administration would announce that the police would be bringing a K-9 unit in to search for drugs (plenty of time for everyone to move their stashes); that they announced it meant that the rest of the student body treated it like a joke because that gave the dealers plenty of time to move their inventories elsewhere. A few students (not necessarily gang members) sold weapons if you knew who to ask and how. I recall small revolvers (probably .38's) going for between $450us and $600us (depending on whether or not the seller considered you a friend or a threat, whether or not they took you seriously, and how much they thought you could pay). The odd semiautomatic pistol was also for sale but I don't remember how much they charged for them. I'd be shocked if the guns in question weren't stolen. They'd sell you ammunition as well (I recall shotgun slugs going for $50us to $75us per box, probably because they were stolen as well; I knew they had handgun ammunition as well but those prices were never blown my way on the winds). Knives could be bought, but it was easier to go to the local flea market or sporting goods store and buy your own for a lot less.

For the record I don't recall any shootings up until the time I graduated, but there was the (very) occasional stabbing in school. Beatdowns were much more common.

It is my understanding that they installed metal detectors at some but not all of the entrances to the schools after I graduated in 1997 or 1998. I make a point of not going back there if I can help it (STEM talks be damned). Knowing the high school's administration they probably covered only the front and some side doors but did not cover all of the side or any back doors thoroughly (though the cafeteria's doors should still be within that prison-style chainlink fence-enclosed courtyard). Also, metal detectors do little for weapons that are already on the premises.

So, my question to those of you who are up in arms at the suggestion of armed guards in schools in the year 2012, where were you in 1990 or 1991? Did you honestly not know what was going on? And why didn't you do anything back then?