One week after a mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut that left 20 children and six adults dead, the National Rifle Association broke its silence with a question-free "press conference" that featured a number of inaccurate claims about school safety and the role of entertainment in violence.
The media has a responsibility to evaluate the truthfulness of the claims made the NRA and should not merely pass along statements made in the press conference as fact.
During the press conference, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre claimed that gun free school policies make students less safe, misled about the Obama administration's position on school safety funding, and suggested that increasing armed security at schools is a comprehensive policy to stop violent attacks. LaPierre also falsely suggested there exists a link between violent video games and actual acts of violence while ignoring the documented link between gun availability and violence.
Gun Free Areas Do Not Lead To Increased Gun Violence
In his remarks, LaPierre suggested that politicians who favor gun free schools were responsible for telling "every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk."
How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?
The only way to answer that question is to face the truth. Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them. They post signs advertising them. And, in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.
In fact, primary and secondary schools -- where firearms are typically prohibited -- are much safer environments for young people than the surrounding communities, even taking into account horrific school shootings. Since the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics began recording homicides at schools in the 1992-3 school year, the proportion of youth homicides that occurred at school has never exceeded 2 percent of total youth homicides. Suicide was also much more likely to occur away from school:
Even gun advocate Gary Kleck noted in his 1997 book Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control that "Both gun carrying and gun violence are thus phenomena almost entirely confined to the world outside schools."
School Shootings Occur In Spite Of Armed Security Presence
On December 18, the NRA announced that the pro-gun organization would offer "meaningful contributions to help make sure this [the Newtown mass shooting] never happens again" during its press conference. The primary policy advocated by LaPierre in his statement was the placement of armed guards in schools; a proposal that he claimed "we know works." LaPierre did not mention that a significant proportion of schools already have an armed security presence.
However, research suggests it is unclear whether armed guards in schools actually stop shootings. Notably, the 1999 Columbine High School massacre and 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech demonstrate that LaPierre's proposal cannot be the end-all solution to school violence.
An armed police officer present at Columbine attempted to fire on one of the shooters, but was quickly pinned down by the greater firepower of the shooter's assault weapon. At the time of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, the school had an accredited police force with an emergency response team that was described in a report on the mass shooting as "like a SWAT team."
In his remarks, LaPierre focused only on solutions that would address the moment that a gunman arrives at a school prepared to kill. In doing so, he carefully ignored all discussion of any policy changes that could prevent dangerous individuals from easily obtaining high-powered firearms.
LaPierre Distorted The Obama Administration's Position On School Safety
LaPierre accused President Obama of "scrapp[ing] Secure Our Schools policing grants in next year's budget," while failing to mention that Secure Our Schools is not the only federal government proposal to fund school safety initiatives.
In fact, the Department of Education has requested nearly $200 million for a proposed Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students program to address school violence among other issues. According to the Department of Education, the impetus for the proposed program is that "the existing array of authorized programs in this area is too fragmented to provide school officials with the tools they need to provide the conditions for learning." The proposed budget calls for $48.6 million to "help improve student safety and reduce drug abuse" and $6 million to local education agencies to "prevent and mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and crisis events."
LaPierre Made Unscientific Claims About The Link Between Video Games And Homicide
LaPierre also spoke at length about violent video games at the expense of discussing gun policy, claiming that members of the media have been "complicit co-conspirators" in violent culture as they work to "conceal" the existence of violent video games.
And here's another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal. There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like "Bullet Storm," "Grand Theft Auto," "Mortal Combat," and "Splatterhouse."
A child growing up in America today witnesses 16,000 murders, and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18. And, throughout it all, too many in the national media, their corporate owners, and their stockholders act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators.
But according to The Washington Post's Max Fisher, "Looking at the world's 10 largest video game markets yields no evident, statistical correlation between video game consumption and gun-related killings." In fact, Fisher found if anything a correlation exists between higher consumption of video games and lower rates of gun homicide.
There is, however, a provable link between firearm availability and homicide. According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, "states with higher levels of household gun ownership had higher rates of firearm homicide and overall homicide."