After the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde in which 19 children and two adults were killed, many people and policymakers are calling for new strategies to make schools safer.
The current suite of solutions to on-campus gun violence, including increasing the presence of law enforcement, haven’t worked, said Odis Johnson, the executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools. He spoke to Texas Standard about school safety trends and other policy solutions for school shootings.
Listen to this interview in the player above or read the transcript below.
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This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity.
Texas Standard: Has anything the U.S. done so far slowed the occurrence of school shootings?
Odis Johnson: No. Now, there is a possibility that some school shootings have been thwarted by the use of police within school systems. But the data from the National Center of Education Statistics suggests that actually injuries and deaths related to gun violence within schools have been on the rise, particularly in the last seven years. So it seems as though the presence of law enforcement within schools hasn’t been a deterrent to the occurrence of these of these tragic events.
I can also hear people thinking in their heads, well, if if one life is saved, then having a law enforcement presence is worth it. Does the data show that perhaps that’s not the case?
Right now, the data is suggesting that the presence of law enforcement within schools has actually heightened the arrests within schools of students, more so than it has stopped the rise in the occurrence of these events. So we’re going to have to think differently about our approaches to stopping these tragic events, because law enforcement, often schools, doesn’t seem to be making them less frequent.
So what is a better solution? You’ve researched gun access, for example.
Well, there are a number of ways to think about this, but all of them require us to think of our schools as embedded within society and within the U.S. society in particular, where gun ownership rates are pretty high. So while we are not suggesting that we should strip people of their Second Amendment rights, we are suggesting that there are ways to make sure guns are in the hands of people who are responsible and not within the hands of of young kids. One of those, of course, would be biometric locks on guns, which would keep those guns inoperable when kids are in possession of them. And then other common-sense gun reforms where we can close those gun ownership or gun purchase loopholes and make sure that they are not in the hands of those who have mental illness or a history of problematic behavior.
We are still in the early days of the aftermath of this shooting. But the early indications are that the shooter was 18 years old and may have obtained the gun legally himself. Are there instances that could have prevented this? Do you have any ideas?
Well, this one might be one of the more difficult cases to address with policy? There may be other ways that we can assist kids, especially those that are adolescents and transitioning to adulthood, to feel connected, to feel like there are resources available for them. And so we’re going to have to look deeply into the profile here and understand where we went wrong with this particular person. And I don’t know that this to be the case –just following on recent events from Buffalo – but if there’s hate involved in this situation, then we’re going to have to look into that, too, as a pattern that needs greater response from our federal agencies.
Is there anything else, any other messages you would send to our our listeners across Texas right now?
Well, I’m already hearing that we should double down on the presence of law enforcement within schools. And actually, my thinking is – and the research supports this – that law enforcement also need protection from gun violence. And in this case, the best way to protect our law enforcement is not to put. I am in harm’s way, but actually think about how we can have common sense gun reform, where those guns would be less likely to be in the hands of irresponsible individuals and individuals who are young like this shooter was.