Originally from Cincinnati, OH, Kate Harsh is a sophomore in the Vanderbilt School of Engineering. She is an Engineering Science major, an Engineering Management minor, and is Pre-Med. Despite the fact that much of her coursework focuses on science and engineering, she has been interested in politics since her freshman year of high school and is particularly interested in the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict. In addition to VPR, Kate is involved in starting up a Vanderbilt chapter of Advocates for World Health, is a mentor in The Afterschool Program (TAP), and is a member of the Society of Women Engineers and of Pi Beta Phi sorority. This is Kate's second year on the Editorial Board and Layout Team of Vanderbilt Political Review.
After a week-long silence, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, held a press conference in response to the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed 26 citizens, 20 of whom were six and seven-year-olds. Essentially, the NRA blamed violent video games for the United States’ high rate of firearm homicides, and proposed a solution which places an armed guard in every school in the United States, saying, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
The NRA proposed the same solution after the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shootings. However, this proposal is impractical and unreasonable. According to the Washington Post, “LaPierre’s simplistic slogan about stopping a bad guy with a gun ignores the reality that mass shootings are usually scenes of mayhem and crossfire, not a movie lot where a hero stops bad guys in their tracks.” The Post brings up other issues with the NRA’s proposal, including questions about how qualified and effective the thousands upon thousands of armed guards in schools would actually be. Additionally, implementing such a program would be a multi-billion dollar financial undertaking.
However, the biggest issue with the NRA’s proposal is not its costs or impracticality. Rather, the biggest issue is that the NRA is advocating an overly simplistic plan for which there is no supporting evidence. History has shown us that the deadliest high school shooting in the United States was not prevented by an armed guard. On April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 15 people and injured 23 more at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, despite the presence of Neil Gardner, a sheriff’s deputy who had been an armed patrol of the school for nearly two years at the time of the tragedy. While it certainly is possible that if Lanza had “been confronted by qualified armed security…26 innocent lives might have been spared that day,” there is no evidence that anything would have necessarily been prevented by an armed guard or an armed civilian.
While the NRA’s plan of having an armed guard present at schools is one security measure attempting to protect citizens from a “bad guy with a gun,” it is certainly not the best or only or way to prevent mass shootings. A more effective way of preventing such tragedies is to ensure potential killers do not have access to such lethal weapons. The U.S. gun homicide rate is 12 times higher than the average rate in developed countries. However, we have similar pop cultures and violent video games, and we spend adequate money on the psychologically disturbed. According to Fareed Zakaria, “the data in social science are rarely this clear. They strongly suggest that we have so much more gun violence than other countries because we have far more permissive laws than others regarding the sale and possession of guns.” Out of the 62 mass shootings in the past 30 years, the killer obtained his weapons legally in 49 of them, and while it is of course naive to think that by tightening gun control laws or banning assault weapons we will magically prevent all mass shootings in future years, doing so can only help. In Australia, gun-related homicides dropped 59 percent over a decade after a total ban on all automatic and semi-automatic weapons was enacted in 1996, so there is hope for the U.S.
The tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School have put a spotlight on gun control laws and the NRA. Two of the deadliest shootings in U.S. history occurred this year with Sandy Hook last week and Aurora, Colorado this July. While the NRA would like to fight mass shootings by placing more guns in schools, this is not a solution, and it ignores the real issue. The only proven way to reduce gun-related homicides and save more innocent lives from the same fate as the 20 six and seven-year olds from Newtown, Connecticut is to tighten gun control laws.