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News Opinion Editorial

Teachers packing heat

It is easy to dismiss the report released Tuesday by the National Rifle Association-financed school safety task force as nothing but an effort to change the topic from the broader issue of gun violence or especially gun control (even the watered-down stuff that's still alive in the U.S. Senate). But that would be a mistake, as it's really much worse than that.

Granted, much of the "National School Shield" report is pretty benign stuff about the need to make security assessments of schools and coordinate with local law enforcement agencies how best to respond to security threats. Most school systems are likely already engaged in such efforts — if they weren't long before the massacre in Newtown — and it's hard to argue with any of it. If the organization wants to help finance further studies of how best to evaluate school safety threats, closed circuit cameras or buzz-in entry systems, or assess pre-incident "indicators" or judge a student body's mental health "climate," well, more power to them.

But what a good chunk of the report also does is pick up the line of reasoning voiced so outrageously by the NRA's Wayne LaPierre last year in the wake of the Connecticut shooting. What's needed, the report's authors argue, is sufficient training so that teachers and other school staff can carry firearms in school.

While that doesn't precisely echo Mr. LaPierre, who envisioned armed volunteers (a so-called "good guy with a gun") recruited off the streets to hang out in school buildings, it does embrace the central premise that the more guns, the better. And while 40-to-60 hours of training won't make the gym teacher a police officer, it should be helpful, the task force concludes.

It's difficult to know where to begin with such an egregious line of thinking. Certainly, it reflects one of the core beliefs of the NRA and its ilk that the problem with America is not too many guns but too few chances to carry them around. But it also implies that the kind of crazed loner who would don body armor and shoot up a school might be deterred by the potential presence of an armed assistant principal or social studies teacher. How do we know somebody bent on murder and suicide wouldn't, in fact, welcome the chance for a hallway shoot-out?

And that's just for starters. If schools might be made safer by having teachers packing heat, why stop there? What about day care centers? Are 4-year-olds not worthy of similar protection? Why not shopping mall sales clerks, movie theater ushers, or the guy taking orders at the fast-food drive-through? Kids hang out in all those places, too.

Surely, if there's any deterrent value to strapping a sidearm on the school librarian, it's bound to make the alternative venues more vulnerable. There only logical conclusion is to go one step beyond those small towns in Georgia where gun ownership is mandatory and require everyone to carry loaded weapons around wherever they go.

Might this boost accidental shootings and suicides? Might this cause more guns to fall into the hands of criminals, youngsters or the mentally ill? Almost certainly, but that doesn't seem to enter into the task force's thought process in the slightest — although "thought process" may be a too-generous description of what's going on here.

What makes the task force report so outrageous is that it totally ignores the school security threat posed by the nation's lax attitude toward guns. What if you could take a gun out of the hands of a potential assailant? Wouldn't that be far better than an armed confrontation on school grounds? How could it not be?

Universal background checks for gun purchases (and improving the database on which such checks for criminal convictions or serious mental health issues are based) would seem like the least that could be offered. Polls still show strong public support for that idea. Yet that common sense measure is under assault in the U.S. Senate — abandoned not just by Republicans but some Democrats, too.

What a charade Washington's post-Newtown public conversation about gun violence is turning out to be. Republicans make hay with pro-gun constituents by resisting everything while Democrats talk big but may not even force a vote. In the end, the NRA wins, and the victims of Sandy Hook — and the tens of thousands of Americans shot to death each year — are gradually forgotten.

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