Violence in School


Imagine holding parents criminally responsible for a child that steals the family car and hurts people with it.  In principle, this is the essence of many aspects of Governor Abbot’s plan to address school shootings.

Allow me to explain, but first consider this old story: Once was a king who did not like to take baths. Finally, after one year without a bath, even the king could not stand his own smelliness. He bathed in the river to the great relief and excitement of all the village. When he stepped out of the river, his feet were immediately dusty again.  Supposing that he forgot to wash them during his bath, he stepped back into the river to scrub them clean. Each time he gout out of the river his feet got dirty again. When the King finally realized that the dust of the land is the problem, he ordered his servant Gabu to get rid of the dust. Gabu had three days to accomplish the task, or he will lose his head! With the help of the villagers, Gabu tries first to sweep away the dust. Next they try to wash away the dust. Finally, they sew scraps of carpet together to cover all the earth in the village. The King is pleased with this solution until a wise old villager reminds the king that as long as the earth is covered, nothing can grow. The animals will starve and the people will go hungry in the land. The old man shows the king a better way to keep his feet clean; he cuts the carpet to the right size so that he can cover his feet with carpet. This is how shoes came into being.

There are several components of his proposal that are about as realistic as carpeting the whole of the land instead of wearing shoes.

Let’s consider the dangerous things children could be exposed to or use to harm others: Flammable substances? Gasoline? Medicine? Rat poison? Rats? Temperamental dog(s)? Knives? Axe? Hammer? Rocks and slingshots? Car keys? Each of these has various warning labels and laws about who all can buy them, but once inside the home it becomes a different story.

If someone had a pet tiger, we’d expect it secured. It’s common sense that you don’t put loaded weapons next to a child who doesn’trespect the danger. Same for exposed electrical wires. Same for snakes. If someone did such a thing, it would surely fall under some sort of child abuse or similar. As far as I know, we have plenty of laws covering child abuse already.

Perhaps there needs to be a law requiring people to have common sense? If so, I hope it’s not an unfunded mandate.

The relevant portion of the current law follows:

Sec. 46.13. MAKING A FIREARM ACCESSIBLE TO A CHILD. (a) In this section:

(1) “Child” means a person younger than 17 years of age.

(2) “Readily dischargeable firearm” means a firearm that is loaded with ammunition, whether or not a round is in the chamber.

(3) “Secure” means to take steps that a reasonable person would take to prevent the access to a readily dischargeable firearm by a child, including but not limited to placing a firearm in a locked container or temporarily rendering the firearm inoperable by a trigger lock or other means.

(b) A person commits an offense if a child gains access to a readily dischargeable firearm and the person with criminal negligence:

(1) failed to secure the firearm; or

(2) left the firearm in a place to which the person knew or should have known the child would gain access.

(c) It is an affirmative defense to prosecution under this section that the child’s access to the firearm:

(1) was supervised by a person older than 18 years of age and was for hunting, sporting, or other lawful purposes;

(2) consisted of lawful defense by the child of people or property;

(3) was gained by entering property in violation of this code; or

(4) occurred during a time when the actor was engaged in an agricultural enterprise.

(d) Except as provided by Subsection (e), an offense under this section is a Class C misdemeanor.

(e) An offense under this section is a Class A misdemeanor if the child discharges the firearm and causes death or serious bodily injury to himself or another person.

(f) A peace officer or other person may not arrest the actor before the seventh day after the date on which the offense is committed if:

(1) the actor is a member of the family, as defined by Section 71.003, Family Code, of the child who discharged the firearm; and

(2) the child in discharging the firearm caused the death of or serious injury to the child.

(g) A dealer of firearms shall post in a conspicuous position on the premises where the dealer conducts business a sign that contains the following warning in block letters not less than one inch in height:

“IT IS UNLAWFUL TO STORE, TRANSPORT, OR ABANDON AN UNSECURED FIREARM IN A PLACE WHERE CHILDREN ARE LIKELY TO BE AND CAN OBTAIN ACCESS TO THE FIREARM.”

While there are other issues, my comments on the most problematic portions of the governor’s proposal are below. The actual proposal points are in red text.

1.) Firearm storage law should be changed to include 17 year olds. Under current law, “child” means a person younger than 17 years of age. The murderer at Santa Fe high school was already 17, and thus his parents were not obligated to securely store their firearms under this law. Changing this definition to include persons under 18 years of age would enhance the safe storage requirements of the law. Oklahoma and fifteen other states already use the age of 18 for this requirement. This law could also be expanded to cover preventing access to firearms for children under 18 year olds who have been adjudicated as having engaged in delinquent conduct in the juvenile justice system, or have been convicted of crimes of violence as an adult.

If we’re going to have requirements and laws around children in the home, then same requirements for children being able to stay at home should apply to firearms. If a child is not mature enough to left alone at home, then age is not the issue. Moving the age to 18 accomplishes nothing other than giving the appearance of doing something.

The law offers a defense for “lawful defense by the child of people or property;” but what if the child is home alone? The law seems unclear to me and could introduce complications with a parent being put in prison if a child happens to have access to a firearm for defense of the home. If I’m confused, surely others will be.

2. Clarify “readily dischargeable” statutory definition. One barrier to prosecution may be the requirement that the firearm be “readily dischargeable” in order to create any criminal liability. This requires prosecutors to prove that the firearm was stored loaded with ammunition when it was accessed by the child. This requirement is difficult to prove, absent an admission by the parent or child. A better practice would be the elimination of the “readily dischargeable” requirement. This would require the secure storage of a firearm around children, whether it is loadedor not. This is also consistent with the best practice of storing a firearm separately from ammunition, as encouraged by the U.S. Concealed Carry Association and firearm manufacturers.

This component effectively guts the value of having a firearm in the first place by requiring that it be kept under lock-up during critical moments when someone might need it most. Let’s put it another way – since the schools aren’t adequately secured and are apparently helping create monsters who like to shoot the place up, the state figures it will fix the problem by requiring ALL parents to lock up their guns. Also, I suspect that there might arise some contradiction in the law where it concerns acceptable defenses for making a firearm available to a child.

3. Increase the penalty level to a 3rd degree felony when access results in death or serious bodily injury. The penalties for a violation are currently low. Studies on the effectiveness of child access protection laws have demonstrated that the highest reductions in firearm fatalities are seen in states that provide for felony prosecution of violations. These penalties should be enhanced under certain situations to emphasize the danger that unauthorized possession of a firearm poses. Currently, if a child does not cause death or serious bodily injury with the firearm, it is only a Class C misdemeanor, punishable by a maximum of a $500 fine. Even if the child causes death or serious bodily injury as a result of gaining access to the firearm, it is only a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in county jail. This penalty should be raised to the level of a 3rd degree felony when access results in death or serious bodily injury. Other possibilities include penalty enhancements if a firearm is subsequently brought to a school or if access is the result of knowing or reckless conduct by a parent, rather than simple criminal negligence.

Studies say all kinds of things and can often be used to make them say whatever the sponsor wants them to say. I’d have to read these ‘studies’ to see if there’s a bit of politickin’ involved.  Regardless, if the State plans to make the parents at fault, consider that many  children are MORE under the influence of the state than of the parents. Does the state itself bear a measure of responsibility for creating environments hostile enough to generate school shooters?

Perhaps THAT is the fundamental problem?

It could appears that the state is merely attempting to shift its failure as a custodian of children onto parents. Are home-schooled kids running around shooting places up? Not everyone can afford that I guess, but perhaps shifting some of those property taxes into home school incentives would help? Just thinking out loud.

On the flip side, some of us want to arm the teachers. This may be like simply allowing people to wear proverbial shoes rather than carpeting the whole land, and while there are risks on both sides, it does at least have the advantage of moving the challenge of securing a school back onto the school. Securing court houses and banks doesn’t seem to be an issue and I don’t really see anyone challenging such protections. In Texas, a licensed carrier can walk around the capital building – and guess what, there are school children in that building all the time due to field trips and what not.

Abbott’s recommendations include measures to “harden” campuses such as creating vestibules where doors must by remotely unlocked before visitors enter, installing metal detectors and having an alarm that would signal there’s an active shooter.

It could help, yet, this still doesn’t treat the root issue, in my opinion, and if the roots lack stability, outbursts and rage can be expected – in other words, when the storm hits, without roots or an anchor, things fall over. The anchor in this case is the family, the parents, the guardians, and lately … the school, I’m sad to say. Whether the state or an actual parent is their parent, I bet many of these kids need to learn to channel aggression, so it doesn’t build up. I’ve seen Chuck Norris do wonder with many kids and it often costs the school nothing. What is martial arts other than learning to master one’s self? Don’t like martial arts? How about something more traditional such as adding football leagues to allow more opportunities for positive aggressive expression.

Further, part of me asks: are government backed incentives to help families in conjunction with the war on drugs indirectly causing families to fail by antiquating marriage and putting fathers in prison, indirectly contributing towards some sort of vicious cycle of less fathers in the home, and ultimately, less discipline and ability to handle emotions?

In the mean time,  Abbott is also recommending an expansion of a program that identifies students at risk of committing violence and provides help for them. He also wants to increase the number of people trained to identify signs of mental illness and increase awareness of a state system that allows people to report people who may be a threat and suspicious activity.

I like that this part focuses on identifying risks of committing violence. I like that it offers to provide help. I wish there was direct mention of learning to channel aggression and violence.