Uncertainty No Excuse for Inaction

When I look at the reactions to recent school shooting incidents, I am struck by two things. First, lots of people seem to have opinions about what will and won’t work to reduce violence in the nations’ schools. Second, nobody really knows.

I count myself in this: my 0pinion is that we should outlaw assault weapons, strengthen background checks, reduce the age limit for purchases, and so forth.1 But that’s just an opinion; I don’t have data to support it. And, as somebody said once, unless you have data, you’re just another person with an opinion.

I hear legislators jumping on one bandwagon or another: they have their beliefs, but they generally don’t know much about the causes of school violence. That doesn’t surprise me: what does shock me is that they haven’t taken any action to learn more. That would seem to be a no-brainer: We’ve been averaging one school shooting a week; outside of war zones, no other country has this problem.

Congress loves to investigate, so where are the Congressional hearings on school violence? The only document I’ve been able to find is a post-Columbine FBI paper prepared nearly twenty years ago. (You can read and/or download it here.) You would think that nineteen years later, somebody at the federal level would say, “Hey, this doesn’t seem to be right. Why is this happening, and what can we do about it?” But no. They’d rather opine.

So when I contacted my federal legislators, I didn’t ask them to fix the problem; I don’t believe they are capable at present of fixing it. Instead, I asked them to use their authority to find the fix.2 Here’s my letter; feel free to copy it and paste it into your own.

Dear [sent individually to Congresswoman Marcia L. Fudge (D-OH11), Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Senator Rob Portman (R-OH)]:


In 2019 we will observe the twentieth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre. In those years, hundreds of American communities have been torn by a uniquely American epidemic of school violence that has only gotten worse.

In the aftermath of last week's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, I'm sure that you are receiving countless calls and emails asking for specific steps: better background checks, reducing the firearms purchase age, arming the teachers, hardening the sites, enacting a ban on assault weapons, etc. I'm not doing that.

I confess that I am not sure what will cure this epidemic of school violence. What I am sure of is that the epidemic is not normal.

I call on you and your colleagues in the [House,Senate] to begin the steps necessary to create a national commission on school violence. The purpose of the commission would be to explore the evidence about why we have such a high level of school violence and what we can do to reduce or eliminate it. This commission should operate at the highest level of government, involving all three branches of the federal government, state and local officials, and educators, parents, and students. It should work quickly and make its results public as soon as possible.

Two previous examples are instructive: "A Nation at Risk" in 1983 and "The 9/11 Commission Report" in 2004. Both documents and the commissions that created them were responses to a national sense that something was deeply wrong. Of the two, the 1983 report was flawed by ideology and politics, while the 2004 report is generally regarded as a model for such projects. It is important that the commission be properly constituted and that its report follow the example of the latter.

No consensus presently exists about what we can do to end school violence. Even so, it is unconscionable that the highest authorities in the nation have done essentially nothing to find out why we have this problem and what we can do about it.

Sincerely,
William S. Lavezzi
  1. I confess gun control isn’t my topic. I fired some .22s at summer camp, but nothing since then. I’ve never owned a gun or felt the need to own one. I’m not anti-gun: I would probably enjoy target shooting, but I don’t need another hobby.
  2. No substantive responses so far. No reply from Senator Portman or Representative Fudge. Senator Brown sent a form letter, but it didn’t address my specific question.

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