(This article first appeared in the American Spectator: https://spectator.org/uvalde-ii-will-we-ever-apply-empirical-lessons-learned/)
By: John C. Wohlstetter, Senior Fellow
The Main Roadblock: Politics. Put simply, the Left’s ultimate goal on guns is not merely making schools safe. Rather, it is evisceration of the Second Amendment, by subjecting gun rights to the proverbial “death of a thousand cuts.” As straightforward amending the federal Constitution to eliminate the Second Amendment is a political non-starter, there being too many Red states to allow this to pass, death by oppressive regulation is a logical fallback play for the diehards.
It has become clear that hardliners will use any mass shooting to undermine the Second Amendment personal right to “keep and bear” arms, a goal it made clear the president would pursue from the start.
One top Democrat who openly advocates this strategy is Hillary Clinton. Another top Democrat, Chuck Schumer, offers nostrums—banning so-called assault weapons, limiting magazine clip size (to as little as 10), making it harder for “mentally unstable” people from buying guns—that have proven ineffective in the past. Speaker Nancy Pelosi called again for more extensive background checks.
For his part, President Biden initially responded to Uvalde by stating the obvious, i.e., that the Second Amendment is not an absolute—“you can’t own a cannon”; at the same presser, vice-president Harris called for taking on the “gun lobby.” Jonah Goldberg shreds the “gun lobby” argument:
In 2020, the NRA gave less than $1 million directly to candidates — putting it 996th on the list of top donors. It spent $5.4 million on lobbying, making it the 169th most lavish lobbyist. As Stephen Gutowski, founder of The Reload, a site focused on gun issues and politics, wrote in The Atlantic, since 2012, “the NRA’s highest contribution ranking has been 294th, and its highest lobbying ranking has been 85th.”
Over Memorial Day Weekend, the president indicated a desire to ban 9mm (38 caliber) handguns, owned by 57 percent of gun owners (as of 2019). The president is apparently ignorant of the physics of bullets: high-powered rifles have a much higher muzzle velocity than that for handguns, and thus rounds fired from high-powered rifles do far greater damage than those fired by handguns. (One violator of gun laws Joe ignores: Hunter Biden.) Incredibly, the White House press secretary publicly stated on May 31 that the president does NOT favor hardening schools, nor does he favor legislation dealing with mental illness issues. She said that Biden believes that guns are the problem, and gun control the remedy. But Sen. Biden, in 1985, believed the polar opposite:
During my 12 and a half years as a member of this body, I have never believed that additional gun control or federal registration of guns would reduce crime. I am convinced that a criminal who wants a firearm can get one through illegal, nontraceable, unregistered sources, with or without gun control.
June 4 cometh, enter Biden Gun Control 3.0: He decided that he now supports hardening the schools. Biden 3.0 announced that he will sign the June 12 compromise package reached by 10 R and 10 D senators, paving the way for probable passage. The bill would encourage adoption of “Red Flag” laws, provide a first-ever federal ban in gun trafficking and straw purchasing, and establish enhanced background checks for purchasers under 21. It would be, if passed, the first major federal legislation since the 10-year “assault weapons” ban enacted in 1994.
Background checks are very popular with the public despite their dubious effectiveness; a poll taken after Uvalde showed 88 percent public support. A new ban on “assault weapons” won’t work; raising the age for purchase from 18 to 21 would have marginal impact at best. Banning bump stocks, mandating background checks for ghost guns at point-of-sale, adding restrictions on gun trafficking, are laws we can live with. (One GOP policy endorsed by most voters is arming teachers.)
Trying to limit access to mentally unstable people is much harder to accomplish than at first blush it may seem. Federal law already makes it a felony for anyone to knowingly sell or transfer guns to adjudicated mental defectives or those who have been confined to a mental institution, as procedural due process safeguards would initially be bypassed. President Trump called for (2:36) pre-empting due process during a Feb. 2018 meeting after the Parkland massacre. He issued an executive order two days after that meeting instructing the attorney general to draft rules banning bump stocks. Constitutional scholar John Yoo warns that some proposals would violate the Second Amendment (6:51). Fox News legal analyst Greg Jarrett explains why some of Biden’s original gun-control measures violate the Supreme Court’s 2008 Heller decision which held that private citizens have a constitutional right to own guns for personal-self defense, upon which undue burdens may not be placed.
Kevin Williamson notes that Democrats juxtapose crackdowns on lawful owners/merchants, while being increasingly more lenient on career criminals, who are either not prosecuted at all, or rapidly released if convicted of gun crimes carrying long sentences under federal/state law.
But determining who, among those not already identified, is mentally ill and dangerous to others, is often notoriously hard to establish. And if, as in New York, Red Flag laws on the books are not enforced, no legislation will work. The predicate for passing new laws is that either there are no existing laws, or that existing laws do not fully cover a new situation. Assessing how well laws are being administered is a task for legislative oversight; but unlike oversight hearings, talkfests that rarely attract voter interest, introducing a new bill shows voters that those they elected are “doing something.”
One view is that we are missing the "REAL Red Flag“: the corrosive socio-cultural climate that generates a growing number of violent, under-socialized males. Shining exceptions recently came from two Florida sheriffs, who upon learning of a minor making an adult threat to commit murder, immediately arrested them—a policy they follow whether the threat is real or fake. A not-so shining counter-example is California, where the State Senate has passed a bill relegating student threats made against schools solely to the school administrators, with no state involvement.
Draconian magazine-clip limits are worth resisting, as under the extreme stress of a home invasion or a burglary, many shots miss, even at close range. Criminals will get high-capacity magazines on the street; new magazines can be reloaded in seconds. By one tally, only once, in a 2011 mass shooting, were intended victims able to rush the shooter during reloading, and that was because the shooter dropped the replacement magazine. Finally, imposing stringent storage rules on homeowners could deny them access to their weapon in event of criminal entry.
Consider the realities of home self-defense, using the most recent area data available for each category (nationwide unless specified otherwise): The average residential home size is 2,300 sq. ft.; the average urban apartment size is 882 sq. ft. They range from Seattle’s 711 sq. ft. to Florida’s 1,038 sq. ft. The single family suburban home depicted here is a duplex, which would make for 1,150 sq. ft. per level. The typical assailant, according to a noted police calculation, covers 21 feet in 1.5 seconds, the amount of time a typical police officer can draw a gun from a holster and be ready to fire. In round figures with a square configuration urban units would range from Seattle’s 27 ft. per side to Florida’s 32 ft.; for houses, assuming a square shape, each floor would have 34 ft, diagonals. (Per Pythagoras, using rectangles would change the numbers, but not by much.) In no case would the homeowner have more than three seconds to aim and fire.
Now add in time factors (all rounded figures). In a typical suburban burglary, the burglar spends one minute casing the property, then once inside, 8 to 12 minutes, assuming the home is vacant. Most burglaries occur between 10 AM and 3 PM, when people are usually outside the home.
If someone is home, the burglar will of course deal instantly with the encounter—attack, demand compliance or flee. The Dept. of Justice estimates that out of 3.7 million annual burglaries, in 27 percent of the one million committed with people home, the occupant is victim of a violent crime.
Police response times vary widely. For household burglaries, 14 percent within 5 mins., 22 percent between 5 and 10 min. For 14 selected cities, none were less than 5 mins., 10 were between 5 and 10 mins., and four were over 10 mins.—for LA, America’s largest urban area, 20 min.
Finally, factor in gun-use metrics: There are from 500,000 to 3 million uses of guns by residents facing home invasion or burglary. Intended victims fire the gun only 8 percent of the time, otherwise using the gun to scare the intruder. Of 40,000 gun deaths per years, suicides were twice as often the cause of death, versus homicides; only about 2 percent were accidental deaths. Add gun-fight metrics from an article in the International Journal for Police Science Management:
According to the article abstract:
All subjects were tested for accuracy at target locations from 3 to 75 ft. For all locations, no difference was found in accuracy between expert and intermediate groups (p > 0.30). Experts and intermediates had better results than novices on all locations (p < 0.05) except from 3 to 15 ft. Alarmingly, experts were only 10% more accurate than novices between 3 and I5 ft. Finally, novices and intermediate shooters were more likely to hit head locations from 3 ft (57%), whereas experts mainly hit the body location (78%). The results of this study indicate that officers had no advantage over intermediate shooters and a small advantage over novices. (My italics.)
As further evidence of how Democrats historically have approached gun issues, consider what transpired in 2013. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced a pair of bills (5:26); In his own words, when recently interviewed by Jesse Watters:
In 2013, I introduced legislation that would spend $300 million on federal grants to harden schools to make them safer, to make them more protected. The Democrats filibustered that legislation. I’ve introduced legislation to say schools like this elementary school behind me can get federal grants to harden their security, to put in bulletproof doors, bulletproof glass, to put in armed police officers to protect kids (at a cost of $1.3B].
Cruz later added:
In 2013, I introduced legislation called Grassley-Cruz, which targeted felons and fugitives and those with serious mental illness. It directed the Department of Justice to do an audit of federal convictions to make sure felons are in the database. It directed the Department of Justice to prosecute and put in jail felons and fugitives who try to illegally buy firearms.
Cruz went on to say that a majority supported the bill, but the Democrats, led by Speaker Harry Reid, blocked a cloture vote to end his party’s filibuster, thus killing the bill. Cruz concluded that passage of the bill was viewed by Democrats as a threat to their agenda of stripping law-abiding gun owners of the personal right to posses firearms for self-defense. It is hard to gainsay his assessment, as undeniably his legislation would have helped matters.
Immediately after Uvalde Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer quickly blocked a bill introduced by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), named after two victims of the 2018 Parkland massacre, which would have set up a website presenting school safety “best practices”; schools could individually elect which practices, if any, to adopt. Johnson had been so sure this bill would be accepted that he sought unanimous consent for its adoption. A presidential commission appointed by President Trump issued a massive report in Dec. 2021. It includes a section detailing best practices for schools security. Its recommendations are in line with the ones cited in this article—access control, armed presence, networked information sharing about active shooters who gain access to the school, mental health intervention.
On June 13, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed legislation allowing schools to arm school staff and teachers, after appropriate training.
But no security system can work if best practices are not implemented; one security expert details the challenges since Columbine in getting smaller communities to adopt such practices (4:03). Trump DHS secretary Chad Wolf said that local commanders can override orders from superiors given certain emergencies, of which Uvalde was an example (4:04). Former homicide detective Ted Williams said that the local commanders waited far too long for a SWAT team to arrive, and that they should have gone in quickly (4:26). Indeed, the local commander said at 11:33 am—three minutes after the shooter entered the school—it was no longer an active shooter situation; this was flatly false. There were seven officers on the scene at 11:35 and 19 by 12:03, when they held off, calling it a barricade standoff. Students in the room with the shooter risked their lives to inform police outside that there were more shots fired inside the room. When the last 911 call came at 12:47, 27 officers were on the scene. In the end, it took an elite Border Patrol unit to storm the school, after being delayed 30 minutes by the local police. Hardly reassuring is that the city of Uvalde is resisting disclosure of information about Uvalde police performance.
Andrew Pollack, who tragically lost his daughter in the Parkland massacre, writes that parents are the key in stopping mass shootings. Door access should be single-entry, multiple-exit; armed presence inside the schools can help; parents should confront schools and if the schools are not responsive, they should run for the school board to effect changes.
Can We Afford Securing the Schools? We cannot afford to let things be. The National Center for Education Statistics tallies 131,000 K-12 schools in the U.S. Using $400,000 per school (see above) yields $52 billion; adding 6,000 four-year colleges, at the same price, yields $2.4 billion. Combining costs would be equal to less than one percent of FY 2022 federal spending. The funds needed nationwide would surely be spread over several years.
President Biden’s FY 2022 budget called for $6TR in federal outlays, of which 65 percent—$4TR—was for so-called “uncontrollables”; these cover entitlements like Social Security & Medicare. By comparison, the $715B for military spending—is 12 percent of the budget, and is “discretionary,” and hence an easier target for budget cuts. These dwarf any costs that would be incurred to protect our schools nationwide.
To add historical perspective, take a gander at the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio over the past century, from 1929 forward. In 1929, U.S. public debt was $17B, equal to 16 percent of GDP. In 1946, after the end of World War II, the debt was $269B, or 119% of GDP. In 1974, fueled by the postwar economic boom, the debt, at $475B, stood at a record postwar low of 31 percent of GDP.
That year marked passage by Congress of the Budget and Impoundment Control Act of 1974, overriding an-impeachment-weakened President Nixon’s veto. The new law shifted power from the executive to the legislative branch—where, to be fair, the Constitution vests the taxing and spending powers. The law also set up the Congressional Budget Office, and moved the federal fiscal year from July 1 to October 1, to give Congress more time to respond to executive branch budget proposals.
Congress did this not to spend less money, but to spend more. And did Congress ever succeed. In early 2022, the total federal debt outstanding surpassed $30 TR, putting the debt/GDP ratio at 124 percent of GDP.
No one knows when the financial merry-go-round will stop; as new trillion-dollar milestones were reached—$1TR, $5TR, $10TR, $15TR, $20TR, $25TR, $30TR—voices called for fiscal restraint, lest the country’s