December 23, 2012

The Graphic That Broke The Camel's Back

Assuming I'm the camel, that is. I've been seeing a lot of friends and colleagues posting graphics on facebook lately that try to make some political point. I'm always disappointed because they are always posted by people I respect, and who are--most of the time--fairly intelligent people...and the posts are always horrible. They're often illogical, biased, and usually fall apart under the slightest scrutiny.

I've decided to cover some of them here. I don't usually respond to them on facebook, primarily because I work in a place where most people are on one side of the political aisle, and I'm usually on the other. Therefore, I don't advertise my politics most of the time. That said, while most of the ones I choose to cover will likely be from the left, because most of my graphic-posting facebook friends seem to be from that side, if I see an egregious one from the right, I have no problem covering it here.

I thought I'd start with this one, for no other reason than it was the one that finally made me say "enough!" It's in response to the NRA's suggestion that schools employ armed security in the wake of the incident at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.

My initial thought was "wait...didn't President Clinton provide funding for placing police officers in schools in the wake of Columbine?" (Hint: he did.) I only bring that up because the two friends who posted it were both Clinton supporters. But apart from noting the hypocrisy, I thought I'd examine it closer, to see if maybe there was a valid argument there.

Clearly, the insinuation is that an armed presence in a school would not prevent a mass killing there, since it was unable to prevent these. And that's pretty much the only point it's making.

All three of these statements are true. There is no arguing that. The problem arises when you look further into the circumstances behind each statement.

Columbine had an armed guard:
Deputy Neil Gardner was the deputy in question here, and most days he would eat his lunch in the cafeteria with the children, but on that day, in a stroke of bad luck, he was eating his lunch in his patrol car when the custodian radioed him to go to the back lot, where a female student had been shot. By the time he got there, the shooting was well underway, but even so, he engaged one of the killers for a few minutes, which may have given a few more students time to escape. Regardless, though, he was not inside the school, which really negates the implication made in the posting.

Virginia Tech had their own police dept.:
Again, true, but hardly comparable given the size of the campus (over 30,000 students on 2,600 acres) in relation to the size of a typical elementary, middle, or high school. Of course they'd have their own police dept. It's only slightly less populous than Virginia's most populous town, Blackburn. That's not the only context that makes the statement deceptive, though. The VA Tech shooting was odd in that two students were killed initially in one building, and then the shooter cleaned up, and two and a half hours later, chained himself inside another dorm across campus, where he killed 30 other people. The police were having a meeting about the first shootings, which they thought were a "domestic dispute," when the second set happened. "By the time officers arrived, the shooting had stopped and the gunman had killed himself, the chief said." This situation is really more akin to the problem of police response time in cities and towns, which would seem to me to be more supportive of the push to allow law-abiding citizens to carry guns to protect themselves. Virginia Tech was a gun-free zone, as were all three places referenced here, as well as the Aurora Theater in Colorado.

Ft. Hood was a military base:
One might forgive this one, because any normal person might assume that "hey, it's a military base! There are guns everywhere!" I won't bother making the tired joke about what happens when you "assume" something. As it turns out, Ft. Hood was--as I mentioned--a gun-free zone. Yes, they have weapons on the base, but "soldiers at Fort Hood don't carry weapons unless they are doing training exercises." Even the shooter's own weapons were not military issue. So for the third time, it turns out an armed presence was not in the actual building(s) where these horrific events took place, which completely belies the one and only point being made in the graphic.

I'm not above having a debate about how to make our schools safer, and whether or not we should have an armed presence in our schools*, but if we're going to have that debate, let's make sure it's not one based on intellectually dishonest information.

*I'm not quite sure where I stand on this issue. I find it a little sad that we would even have to consider placing armed guards in our schools, but on the other hand, there are two pieces of information that I keep thinking about. The first is that almost without exception, these kinds of killing take place in gun-free zones, where the killers are certain they won't be confronted with any opposing firepower until the police eventually show up, which can--literally--be a matter of life or death for some. The second is that anytime we have something of value, or something that we want to protect, what do we do? How do we protect banks? Armored cars (besides the armor, of course)? Even our government buildings, including the White House? We protect them with an armed presence. How can we not even consider protecting one of our most valuable resources--our children--that way? 

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