Thursday, October 22, 2015

Dissection of an argument.

Yesterday, I came across this particular picture on Twitter.  It was brought to my attention when @ShawnTheAtheist retweeted it as a means of discussing a particular point contained therein.

Now, like anyone, I want to put an end to as much gun violence as possible.  However, there are several problems with this scenario, and I'd like to address a few of them in this post.

Let's start with some facts.  Sources: NCES 2014-2015 for public schools information, The United States Veterans Administration for all veteran-related data.  CAPE for private schools information.  Also, here is a quick NCES index including mixed statistics.

There were approximately 98,217 public schools in operation for year 2014-2015.  There were approximately 50 Million students enrolled in those public schools.  We must add in an additional 30,861 private schools (with approximately 5.27 million students, 2011-2012 school years).  We must then add in all Post-Secondary Title IV institutions, around 7,234 (which involves another 20.6 million students).

According to the VA, there was approximately a 6.9% poverty rate among veterans, totaling 1.47 million veterans.

Raw numbers crunch

This gives us a total of 136,312 schools (the graphic says 'every school,' and indeed mass shooting happen at every type of school) with a total population around 62.5 million students.  On average (and we can use averages here), that means that there are 458.5 students in each school.  However, some of those institutions have far more than that number, and several will have perhaps only a few dozen.  On average, that's about 115 students per person protecting them.  Now, in some schools, those four people will be protecting perhaps 28 people (as in Mackinac Island, Michigan).  Virginia Tech has a modest 31,000 students, compared with Ohio State University's 64,000 for example.

But ignoring the burden some of them would have, let's assign four per school.  That gives us approximately 545,250 veterans we would need to enlist for this job.  That's approximately 1/3 (37%) of the impoverished veterans. Using information from the Census and crossed with the information from the VA, we can see that 9.3 Million veterans are aged 65 or older.  4.8% of that number is 446,000.  That is 30% of our total candidates.  Roughly half that number are disabled.  Of the ideal age group, approximately 18-34, there are only around 1.6 million total veterans, and with a poverty rate of only 11.9%.  This means that, at maximum, 190,000 potential candidates, of whom 14% or so are disabled.  So, this means, that of our approximately 545,000 veterans necessary to serve in this role, a maximum of around 170,000 can possibly come from veterans under 35 years old.  

Hours and Wages

Citing this page specifically for some facts.  The maximum average school day for primary and secondary education falls right around 7 hours.  We can safely presume that at least an additional hour or two would be necessary for the average day, as students would be arriving and leaving before and after this time.  We need also to remember that students gather at times outside of this normal schedule, for any number of extra-curricular activities.  Luckily, the school year is only around 180 days.  Unfortunately, this doesn't include weekends.  We can presume that the majority of schools are going to have activities from approximately 7am to perhaps later than midnight (sporting events, dances, social events, band practice, FFA, library access, debate club, teachers and faculty preparation, and so forth).

Let us then presume that we need to cover perhaps 16 hours a day, 9 months per year.  We can presume that the average person over 65 years old is not going to be able to withstand 16 hour days for very long, so we'll need to have shifts set up.  If we presume a four-hour shift per person (remember, four people per school, not per shift), we get 1,248 hours per year.  That's 1,080 hours per year per person.  If we presume a simple $10 per hour with absolutely no benefits (although, working in a public school, that number's likely to be much higher with full benefits), the cost of a single employee would be around 10,800 per year.  Extrapolated to 545,250 is approximately 5.9 billion dollars per year, not including administrative costs.  To put that in perspective, the entire department of education only had a budget of 71.2 billion last year.  

Training and Certification

We will need to institute a system of qualifying what kind of people should and should not be included in the roster of potential candidates for these positions.  First and foremost, there would most certainly need to be psych evals for anyone interested, in exactly the same way as typical law enforcement would have to perform.  If we were not careful and stringent here, it would be no better than simply arming anyone and letting them roam the schools freely.

Apart from the massive cost this would add, there would also be a significant waiting period.  Evaluating and certifying 545,000 people would not be a fast task.  This could potentially take years.  

Large vs Small government

The typical argument for this sort of action is that laws simply aren't enough.  Essentially, expanding the influence of government via legislation is seen as the antithesis to this idea.  However, this would be one of the most disruptive things to the idea of minimizing government regulations.  It's terribly hard to argue that the government is ineffective and should be limited (because, as they argue, new laws are ineffective or something, even though we've not really had new laws in a long time), while attempting to force that same government on every individual, increasing the oversight of that government.

The other side of this argument is that criminals are simply going to be criminals, so new laws will be ineffectual.  The counter to this argument is as above, stating that somehow having guards (a police presence, etc) will deter criminals.  This has simply proven to be wrong in the past as well.  Laws, much like the presence of guards, will deter only the people it will deter.  Also, this standpoint is actually a beautiful argument for why removing gun laws and not posting guards is a great idea.  If the simple presence of guns is enough, then simply let everyone carry a gun.  It's not a great argument, per se, but it's at least logically consistent.

Average School Size

The average school is a pretty big place.  There are typically more than just a couple entrances to any given school.  It's going to be nearly impossible for four people to cover a school of most any size.  This is compounded by the fact that at any given time, there will likely be only one person on patrol at any given time.  A single person cannot effectively patrol and respond to situations in a timely fashion in a building that spans potentially a square mile or more in some cases.  This is just an exercise in futility.

Alternative Viewpoint

As anyone with a cursory knowledge of history of our country can attest, the simple fact that someone is a veteran does not automatically endear them to this cause.  The Fort Hood incident brings this to the forefront for this specific argument.  This also brings us back to the evaluation part.

Most veterans, like most people in general, are wonderful people.  Within every group there are going to be deviants, and we typically can't hold a given facet of a person as a reason they commit crimes like this.  The main problem we have is mental health initiatives.  The people who commit these crimes are not representative of the groups others might try to label them as.  We need to recognize that it's time to invest in making this country as healthy as possible.  Each person who has committed a crime like this has been shown, in hindsight, to be suffering from some sort of debilitating mental illness.  PTSD, depression, and other severe disorders can cause people to act violently.  Often times these behaviors will be ignored.  I argue that this is the essential root cause.

So, instead of spending upwards of perhaps 10 billion dollars on putting guards in schools (that's not the only place shootings happen, for example), perhaps we could spend that money on mental (and physical) healthcare.  Part of fixing mental health is getting people into better situations.  

I urge everyone to take a step back, and not rush to such quick judgement.  We need to discuss this like the civil country we are.  We need to help fix this ailment as best we can, as a group.  Divisive language every time these incidents happen is not helping the issue.  Staunch opposition to anyone who disagrees with oneself is not helping.  It may be that we need more than one thing.  More regulations doesn't mean stripping every gun from America.  Arming every public school in America doesn't mean we can't think about working on mental health initiatives, or maybe introducing regulations in other areas.  This sort of false dichotomy is ruining our ability to think as rational people.

Can we now start working toward a better America?  I hope so, for the sake of us all.  Remember most of all, the people you're shouting at online are real people.  We can do this, America.  I believe in us.