Playground Policy

By the

March 15, 2001

The last few weeks have brought news of yet another rash of school shootings. However, the question still remains for the American public and our policymakers: What steps can we take as a nation to ensure that we are not confronted with stories of children killing children on the front page? Unfortunately, President Bush and his Education Secretary, Rod Paige, seem content to punt this issue away. Appearing on the Sunday talk shows this past week, Paige announced that the administration was willing to consider providing funding to help schools in dealing with this crisis. This was the right move to make, and Bush, Paige and the current administration should be lauded for making that decision. Unfortunately, when pressed, Paige hesitated to express his support for a national campaign to increase safety measures in schools. Instead, he retreated to the familiar Bush mantra of “devolution of power.”

Using similar logic, supporters have consistently declared that the states are better equipped to deal with issues and problems than the federal government. “Local control,” as they call it, is in fact preferable in some situations. The powers-that-be in Washington cannot and should not be expected to deal with all of our nation’s problems.

But to play politics with this question is almost unthinkable. By citing “local control,” Bush and Paige avoid having to make tough decisions that demand federal attention. This problem does not demand that Bush and Paige take a stance on gun control that runs counter to their party’s platform. While guns are at the root of the problem, a more immediate question needs to be answered. How did guns get into our schools?

If Charleton Heston and James Brady can agree on one thing, it is that the schoolyard is not the place for weapons. Bush and Paige can implement policies to eliminate guns from our schools without having to call for stricter gun control. Yet they hesitate to, in the name of deference to the states. For example, the Bush administration knows that introducing metal detectors in all schools will be a controversial policy.

But by simply offering money to the states, and not mandating the implementation of policies, we cannot ensure that our schools will be gun-free. The one school that avoids stricter enforcement will be the school that we read about in the newspaper after the next shooting takes place. We need to take comprehensive action to ensure that no weapons can enter our nation’s schools. By passing on this decision in the name of states’ rights, the Bush administration implicates itself in the next tragedy. And we will know that, as a nation, we could have done something to stop the violence, but our president passed so as to avoid trampling on the toes of his governor friends.

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