Commentary: Burly guards in schools ... or bipartisanship?

The National Rifle Association has finally issued its recommendations in the wake of the Newtown massacre, where 20 children and seven adults were murdered. The 225-page report misses the target by a mile.

The NRA's main recommendation for curbing gun violence in schools? Designate a school staffer to carry a firearm, mandating that the staffer receive at least 40-60 hours of professional firearms training. Seriously.

That's not much of a change from December, when the NRA proposed Congress appropriate funds to put police officers in every American school. In a bit of play-acting, though, the NRA presented the proposal at the National Press Club where, as Associated Press reporter Alan Fram noted, the "news conference (was) watched over by several burly, NRA-provided guards." That is not standard practice at the Press Club. And Buzzfeed's White House reporter tweeted that the NRA security guards confiscated reporters' plastic bottles of spring water.

Really? About the only thing political reporters shoot are the drinks at the Press Club bar.

Of the NRA's eight primary proposals, one -- improving school cooperation and coordination with local police -- seems worthy of support. But the report as a whole, well, misfires: The target isn't just gun violence in our schools; it's gun violence against children.

On April 3, Marian Wright Edelman posted a blog titled, "Listen to the Children. President of the Children's Defense Fund and a decades-long advocate of reducing gun violence by selective gun control, Edelman writes that less than 2 percent of "fatal gun violence against children takes place in schools."

Edelman referenced a 2008 National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence that "found that more than one in five 14- to 17-year-olds had witnessed a shooting."

Another study found that "43 percent of low-income black school-aged children had witnessed a murder," according to Edelman.

"Behind those children are millions more who have seen pieces of news stories on television or passed armed guards or policemen at their school and wonder whether the grown-ups they know will ever be able to protect them and keep them safe," she continued.

Even confining the discussion to guns in schools, though, the NRA's teacher-as-gunslinger approach has problems. While school guards, or toting teachers, may rarely encounter gun danger, the NRA proposal promotes an "itchy trigger finger" mentality. When a 6-year-old boy in Silver Spring, Md., is suspended for pointing his finger like a gun, we may rightly mock the overreaction.

But consider the next step, the case of a 10-year old boy in Alexandria, Va. He took an orange toy gun to school in his backpack; another child on his school bus saw it and reported him. He was arrested, had mugshots taken, fingerprinted, and taken to court. What might have happened if the boy had looked through his backpack in his homeroom, and took his toy gun out in front of his armed teacher or the school guard? Gunfight at the OK Schoolyard?

It's naive and dangerous to think armed guards can be the Wyatt Earps of our schools. The truth is, massacres have occurred in schools in which there were armed guards. And, despite what NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre says, the good guy with the gun doesn't always shoot the bad guy with a gun. Sometimes, as widows of too many policemen can testify, the good guys get shot. And a teacher's pistol versus a madman's assault rifle -- the math is elementary.

There is a saner, more comprehensive approach, as Connecticut proved this week, when it passed what The New York Times called "the most far-reaching gun-legislation package in the country." In terms of scope, there is nothing in the U.S. Congress that comes close.

Significantly, the Connecticut gun bill was passed with bipartisan cooperation. "What I'm proud of is that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, understood that some issues, and this one particularly, should rise above politics," said Connecticut's Senate minority leader, Republican John McKinney. "I wake up in the morning and put this green ribbon and pin on my jacket lapel to remember those we've lost," he said.

As for the rest of the country, we may hope -- there are areas of agreement between the Connecticut law and the modest provisions Congress is considering, such as universal background checks for all gun purchases, a proposal even the majority of the NRA's members support.

We can choose to have "burly NRA-sponsored guards" in our schools. Or we can choose, like Connecticut, comprehensive, bipartisan legislation to control gun-violence.

Elaine Zimmerman, the executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children, told a forum at Harvard, "I am haunted by the child who said, 'There is nothing you can do or say that will convince me that this will not happen again.'"

I know which choice has the best chance of convincing that child -- and every child -- that we are serious about their safety.

(Donna Brazile is a senior Democratic strategist, a political commentator and contributor to CNN and ABC News, and a contributing columnist to Ms. Magazine and O, the Oprah Magazine.)


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