The ridiculous and terrifying sight of dozens of police dressed and packing assault-style weapons as if they had just stepped out of a combat zone in Iraq or Afghanistan in Ferguson, Missouri was horrifying enough. Now we find that an increasing number of America's school police are packing semiautomatic weapons.
In the past two years, school districts in eight California communities and in Topeka, Kan., Gainesville, Fla., and Granite, Utah have approved their use. The Compton, California school district drew headline news recently when it joined the parade of school districts that authorized its police to pack these high caliber battlefield-style killing weapons. The danger and absurdity of school officials' rush to arm their school police to the teeth is that there is absolutely no need for these weapons.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics did a 10-year study, from 2002 to 2011, of mass shootings in America. It found that less than one-fifth of one percent of all shootings in the country involved four or more victims. Let's fine tune this more. Noted criminologist James Alan Fox crunched the numbers on shootings on all school campuses in the nation and found that less than one percent of all shootings involved multiple victims. Let's fine tune the numbers even more: the Centers for Disease Control, in two separate reports on K-12 school shootings, found that the chance of a child dying in school in any given year from a homicide or suicide was less than one in one in one million in the early 1990s and one in two million in the later 1990s. This probability has remained unchanged in the decade since. The numbers and percentages tell one glaring fact. Despite the horror, hysteria, and media sensationalism over the Newtown and Columbine massacres, mass shootings in America's schools are not just rare, but rarer than ever.
Now consider this. There has been no reported mass shooting at any school in any predominantly black or Hispanic neighborhood in the country ever. Now consider this even more. A federal judge in Maryland in a ruling in a suit brought by gun rights groups to overturn Maryland's ban on assault weapons bluntly said that military-style weapons cause more injuries and fatalities when they are used. She specifically cited AR-15s as the most lethal of these weapons. She made no distinction about whose hands they were in, criminals or law enforcement. They are still weapons of mass killing. She further noted that the weapons pose an even deadlier risk to law enforcement because of their enhanced penetrating capabilities.
Despite the overwhelming evidence that an AR-15 poses a grave threat to all who handle or come within its striking range, these school boards have still barged ahead to allow its school police to arm themselves with these weapons of mass killings. They tore a page straight out of the playbook the NRA has used to beat back any congressional effort to ban assault weapons and claimed that they give cops a weapon to take out the bad guy presumably faster and more permanent in a shoot-out on a school campus.
This imaginary, self-serving, and farcical rationale has served the NRA well. But for school police to have them where the prospect of a Newtown-type school massacre is almost nil is beyond ludicrous. It is horrific.
The heavy handed overkill by the poorly trained, wannabe GI Joes in Ferguson, Missouri prompted President Obama and even the Pentagon to promise to review the military's wholesale giveaway of a dizzying array of tanks, body armor, and assault-style weapons to big and small city police department. Obama was rightly aghast that the gobbling up by police departments of weapons of mass destruction had gotten way out of hand and the nation had taken a dangerous step toward the establishment of a full blown national security state that posed a mortal threat to the lives and constitutional rights of Americans. Obama also noted that the review would determine whether police departments were given proper training in the use of any of these weapons.
School officials insist that their officers will be well-trained in the use of their military-style weapons. But this misses the point. Military-style weapons are designed for combat, and they are designed to spray a field of battle wreaking mass carnage against the ranks of enemy soldiers.
Opening up on a mythical shooter in a grade school could cause the same mass carnage. The difference is the victims would not be enemy soldiers on a battleground, but 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders. School officials haven't said how they would avoid that carnage. In ordering his review of the military weapons programs, Obama said "there is a big difference between our military and our local law enforcement and we don't want to blur those lines." School officials that have armed their police with assault-style weapons have done more than blur that line. They have sent the horrific message that weapons of mass destruction have a place at their schools.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is a frequent MSNBC contributor. He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on American Urban Radio Network. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KTYM 1460 AM Radio Los Angeles and KPFK-Radio and the Pacifica Network.