Would Armed Guards Make School Safer?

The Beauty Shop ladies weigh in the ongoing gun control debate, including the National Rifle Association's suggestion to post armed guards at schools. Guest host Celeste Headlee speaks with Maria Teresa Kumar from Voto Latino, Bridget Johnson of PJ Media, economist Julianne Malveaux, and attorney Gayle Trotter.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

CELESTE HEADLEE, HOST:

This is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee, Michel Martin is away. Coming up, some big names are already being tossed around for Oscar consideration. But why are you so few of them female or minority moviemakers? We'll talk more about that with film producer Reginald Hudlin.

But first, we head to the Beauty Shop. That's where we get a fresh cut on the week's news with a panel of women writers, journalists, and commentators. Sitting in the chairs for a new 'do this week: Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for PJ Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Maria Teresa Kumar. Kumar, the CEO and president of Voto Latino.

That's a non-partisan group that encourages Latino engagement in politics. Gayle Trotter is an attorney, writer, blogger and mother of six. And Julianne Malveaux. She's a writer, economist, and founder of Last Word Productions. They all join me here in our Washington studio. Ladies, welcome to the Beauty Shop. Nice to see all your faces here in person.

JULIANNE MALVEAUX: Thank you.

BRIDGET JOHNSON: Thanks for having us.

MARIA TERESA KUMAR: Thanks for having us.

GAYLE TROTTER: Good to be here.

HEADLEE: So let's begin with a topic that's been on a lot of people's minds since the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and that is gun control, of course. The National Rifle Association held a press conference last Friday. It placed the blame for mass shootings on movies, video games, the media and a lack of mental health care.

And the NRA's executive vice president Wayne LaPierre also called for armed guards at every school. He took a lot of criticism for that but then he doubled down on Sunday when he appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press." Here's what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

WAYNE LAPIERRE: If it's crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy. I'll tell you what. The American people - I think the American people think it's crazy not to do it. It's the one thing that would keep people safe. And the NRA is going to try to do that.

HEADLEE: So let me begin with you, Gayle, because you have six kids.

MALVEAUX: Yes.

HEADLEE: Do they go to public school?

MALVEAUX: They're in private school.

HEADLEE: OK. So an armed guard in your school. That would make you feel safer with your kids there?

MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely. Armed security guards increase safety. That's exactly why politicians, celebrities, banks, airports, rock concerts, they all used armed security to keep people safe.

HEADLEE: What about you, Marie? You have a young baby, not yet in school.

KUMAR: Not yet in school.

HEADLEE: But what do you think?

KUMAR: I think that the NRA actually missed a teaching moment to talk about gun safety and the importance of gun safety and to have a conversation. The fact that instead of uniting its membership, it actually divided its membership over this whole comment of armed guards. Really, it sends a signal that they have to come together and recognize who their audience is.

And their audience is saying you know what? Enough is enough. The fact that two days ago a man basically assaulted two fireman when they came to the call of duty tells us...

HEADLEE: He was a felon. He wasn't supposed to have a gun.

KUMAR: Right. He wasn't supposed to have a gun. But it demonstrates of how easily accessible guns are if you are mentally ill, if you're not supposed to have a gun. So they actually missed a teaching moment, the NRA did, about gun safety. And I think that's incredibly disappointing.

HEADLEE: You know, Julianne, let me throw this to you. Because there was, you know, a lot of people mentioning that there was an armed guard at Columbine High School and of course Virginia Tech had a very well trained security force there as well when that mass shooting happened. What do you think about this?

MALVEAUX: You know, the armed guard thing really repels me, especially when you look at things like racial profiling. If you have a teacher with a gun and a young black kid behaves as a kid does, is this teacher or someone else going to take him out? I mean, with Treyvon Martin, very fresh on my mind, I'm just wondering about that.

Secondly, what a lot of people are asking for is not the removal of guns particularly but these assault weapons that have 58 rounds in them. Nobody needs that. And the armed guards in someone's school is not going to have that. So, as you said, in Columbine they had armed guards but the folks had more than the armed guards did.

The third thing is I don't think we should allow the NRA to drive the gun's agenda. There are four million Americans in the NRA. There are 311 million of us. How do they get this disproportionate ability to drive the agenda? And the answer is because we aren't talking back. But not only are we not talking back but among those four million I think there will be a divergence of opinions.

And some people in the NRA are not talking back. I don't want to debate the Second Amendment, which I don't think says every individual gets to have a gun. It talks about a militia. I don't want to debate that but what I want to say is what do we have to do for safety?

Finally, one in five Americans has some form of mental illness. Each of them has not gone to get a gun. So this is not about mental illness. This is about the proliferation of weapons.

HEADLEE: OK. Let me go to you Bridget because another libertarian, Ron Paul, spoke about this and he also really criticized this idea of armed guards in schools. What do you think?

JOHNSON: Well, the Libertarian Party actually came out very soon after the Newtown tragedy and proposed that actually the gun-free zone be lifted from school. So they were actually going further than the NRA and saying, OK, let's start, you know, letting the teachers and everybody else pack heat.

I think when you take a lot of those proposals, you kind of boil them down, you find something that's in the middle that's going to work the best. You know, clearly there's work that needs to be done as far as talking about gun control, talking about mental health issues. I mean, personally I look at the Treyvon Martin case and say why did George Zimmerman have a conceal carry permit if he was on these psych drugs for ADHD?

But we have to look at it in the immediate too of what can be done right now. And it's nice to have a utopian wish for a gun and violence-free society, but the killers are not buying into that lesson plan.

HEADLEE: Let me go back to you real quickly, Gayle.

TROTTER: Yes.

HEADLEE: Since it's been a while.

TROTTER: Yes. I'd love to jump in.

HEADLEE: I wonder what you think about - but Wayne LaPierre, the CEO of the NRA, he said this is the only thing that can be done. I mean, he labeled this as the one thing we can actually do. Do you agree that the one thing we can do to solve mass shootings is armed guards in schools?

TROTTER: It's not the one thing but after 9/11 no one said we should get rid of - totally get rid of airport security because it didn't work. We all worked together to try and improve airport security. So if you ask the politicians and the celebrities who are opposing gun rights right now, how do they assure their own security? They used armed guards. So they know it works.

And they're trying to take away that ability for us to protect our children in schools. They are target-rich environments and the only thing that's going to stop someone who comes in there with a gun is a good guy with a gun one minute away, versus good guys with guns 10 minutes away.

And when I asked my daughter what she thought about having armed guards at her school, she likes it. It protects her. She feels safer with an armed guard.

MALVEAUX: Gayle, you know what? I don't know how many people have been killed because some good guy with a good gun made a mistake. I know in my personal life I had a colleague maybe 30 years ago who had a gun. His wife begged him not to have it in the house. He was playing with it and shot one of his children. Didn't mean to do it. And then because he was so embarrassed, shot himself.

These stories - children, your little brother plays with a gun and shoots another child. I don't know how many statistics we have on that but I know that every good guy with a good gun doesn't do a good thing.

TROTTER: That's true of swimming pools too. I mean, we could ban swimming pools. A lot more children die in swimming pools, accidental drownings than die from gun violence.

HEADLEE: Although that's up to personal choice. I mean, you can choose to have a swimming pool at your house or not. You're...

TROTTER: Right. And I'm not saying everybody should have guns.

JOHNSON: No. And that's a personal choice too.

MALVEAUX: But, you know, additionally the issue, quite frankly for me, is the whole issue of guns and racial profiling in schools. We've have five-year-old black girls...

HEADLEE: Yeah.

MALVEAUX: ...arrested for having tantrums. For having tantrums. Children have tantrums. You can certainly attest to that with six children.

HEADLEE: I think what we're hearing here is the liveliness of the debate among the American public. So I'm going to invite everyone out there in the listening public to join in. You can certainly comment on everything, OK, on our website and also on Twitter. But let's switch gears just real quickly and go to the, I guess, non-debate right now over the fiscal cliff.

Automatic tax hikes and spending cuts are going to kick in on January 1st if the president and Congress don't reach a deal on reducing the deficit. The Congress is expected tomorrow. The president is rushing back from Hawaii. Let me take this to you, Julianne, because you're an economist. So the deadline is five days away. That includes the weekend.

MALVEAUX: Yeah.

HEADLEE: And we've had some depressing things. Consumers' confidence has dropped 10 points - that's according to a survey from the University of Michigan - since November. And retail sales - at least according to preliminary reports - were down significantly from last year. What happens if we go over the cliff? Consumer confidence goes in the toilet, or...

MALVEAUX: Well, middle-class Americans will end up paying at least $2,000 more in taxes, looking to be cut out of their checks by about $50 a week. It doesn't matter to someone who makes 100 grand a year or so, but it does matter to someone who makes 30, 40 or $50,000. And so people are beginning to calibrate that.

If you look at the end of the year and you look at the ads you hear, you hear people - buy your car now, because interest rates are going to go up. Buy your house now, because the interest rates are going to go up. The fact is that it's going to hit every single one of us.

President Obama has offered, you know, to leave the Bush tax cuts for those who have incomes of less than $250,000.

HEADLEE: He upped that to $400,000 now.

MALVEAUX: Yeah, he did up - yeah, he's - in the spirit of compromise - but that others would have to pay more. Boehner, on the other hand, has talked about a million dollars. Do you know that only 327,000 Americans report a million dollars or more in income? So to lean that on that few people...

HEADLEE: Right.

MALVEAUX: ...quite frankly, even for me - and I'm very progressive. I think it's unfair.

HEADLEE: But he couldn't get that passed, that - his own members of Congress.

MALVEAUX: No, because it's - it's because it's unfair. So I think this fiscal cliff is one of the most important things, and I think both sides have an interest in seeing us fall over the cliff.

HEADLEE: Now, that's interesting. Let me get your take, Bridget, because we were kind of close. I mean, it seemed like we were close. What do you think of the chances we will over the cliff, as Julianne says?

JOHNSON: They're decent. I'll put it that way. You know, it's going to be a crunch, but Washington is famous for the 11th-hour deal. You know, Obama told everybody to go home, drink some eggnog. I know that Mike Crapo had a little bit too much eggnog, but...

HEADLEE: Oh, OK. You're referring to the DUI incident.

(LAUGHTER)

MALVEAUX: Which he said he never drank.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Didn't know it was in there. It was spiked. But, you know, I personally think they should have worked through Christmas. I'm glad that Obama's coming back from Hawaii early. You know, you were talking about job losses, recession, a gutted defense, and I think that the sequestration cuts actually are going to push conservatives more to the table on trying to work something out in the 11th hour.

HEADLEE: You're saying that, as we get closer, the fact that we're going to have to make cuts even in defense, it will get conservatives more ready to compromise?

JOHNSON: Drastic cuts in defense. Yeah. You know, I mean, the main sticking point right now is Obama's refusal to budge on the $250,000 point, and whatever else they're talking about, entitlement reform...

HEADLEE: Well, he upped it to $400,000.

JOHNSON: ...etc. Yeah. And, you know, it was even Chuck Schumer who originally came up with the $1 million threshold. And he doesn't like that anymore, but...

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: Well, and to be fair, again, they couldn't even get that past Congress, but...

JOHNSON: Yeah. But Boehner is not in a good position right now. His caucus is not with him. His caucus is fractured, and he's lost credibility. So I would...

MALVEAUX: I think...

JOHNSON: ...anticipate the - I would anticipate Harry Reid's bill coming to the House floor.

HEADLEE: Again, another discussion we could continue, but we have to stop for a break now. This is the Beauty Shop you're listening to, our roundtable of female writers, journalists and commentators. Our guests are Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Maria Teresa Kumar, the CEO and president of Voto Latino. That's a nonpartisan group that encourages Latino engagement in politics. Gayle Trotter, attorney, writer, blogger and mother of six. Julianne Malveaux, writer and economist.

When we return, we'll take a look back at the year, find out who's worthy of the title Woman of the Year. This is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. I'm Celeste Headlee.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HEADLEE: I'm Celeste Headlee, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. Michel Martin is away. Coming up, we talk to gospel singer Lea Gilmore about what it's like being a Baltimore-born star in Siberia.

But first, let's continue our Beauty Shop conversation. That's our panel of regular women commentators, writers and journalists. In the chairs for a new do this week: Bridget Johnson, Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. Maria Teresa Kumar, the CEO and president of Voto Latino, a nonpartisan group that encourages Latino engagement in politics. Gayle Trotter, attorney, writer, blogger and mother of six, and Julianne Malveaux, a writer and economist, all here with us in our Washington studios.

Let's move on to Person of the Year. Last week, Time magazine published its annual issue. President Obama, again, top honors with Person of the Year. There were other people in the running, though, that included Apple CEO Tim Cook and Malala Yousafzai. She's the Pakistani girl who was shot by the Taliban after speaking out for girls' education.

Let me begin with you, Julianne. Do you think President Obama deserved this title?

MALVEAUX: Oh, absolutely, for a number reasons. I think his 2008 election was historic, but to repeat that was beyond historic. It really was a cementing moment. I think that he articulated what he wanted to do, something that his opponent did not do. I think it was just an exciting moment, and he had many milestones, which did make him the Person of the Year. I don't have any gripe with it, and I'm excited about the fact that he got that recognition.

HEADLEE: Bridget, what do you think?

JOHNSON: I'm Team Malala, I have to say. You know, how many girls has she inspired and will she inspire to stand up to this extremism in Pakistan? She is amazing. She is continuing to defy the Taliban, and she's incredible. So...

HEADLEE: Maria?

KUMAR: So the other folks that were in the running was the undocumented American. And the reason that I, you know, tip my hat to them is that it's a group of individuals that aren't part of the American system, but that are using democracy and their friends and their allies to actually bring them to the forefront.

HEADLEE: Well, I'm going to want you all to look back on the year, and let me begin with you, Gayle. Do you think there's somebody who's more deserving of the title? Maybe there was a particular - if it was changed to Woman of the Year, would it be different?

TROTTER: Well, I would agree with Bridget that Malala would definitely win Woman of the Year, but I think the person Time should have selected is Chief Justice John Roberts. He delivered a completely total defeat for conservative jurisprudence in finding that Obamacare was a tax for purposes of upholding it, but not a tax for purposes of the Supreme Court hearing it. He just delivered a staggering defeat to our republic, and it will have lasting effects. And that Obamacare decision will be his legacy.

HEADLEE: Well, what do you think, Julianne?

MALVEAUX: Well, I agree with Gayle, actually, that Roberts did a lot. I don't think I would make him the Person of the Year for that, but I do think that he stepped out of his comfort zone, and that's something to be applauded. If we're talking about a woman, I do think that Malala is fantastic, but my Woman of the Year would be Hillary Rodham Clinton. I think that, quite frankly, she's exceeded expectations as secretary of state. She has dealt with a grueling traveling schedule, but most importantly, she's represented our country in an exemplary way. If we're just going to look at women and look at them across the globe, I just am so excited about the legacy that Secretary Clinton has left.

HEADLEE: All right. And...

KUMAR: And my Woman of the Year - I'm going to jump in really quickly - would actually be Arianna Huffington. Talk about a woman that's built an international...

HEADLEE: Interesting.

KUMAR: ...media empire quietly and quickly, and, all of a sudden, her sight is not just the United States, but it's global.

HEADLEE: And you know it's true, darling.

(LAUGHTER)

KUMAR: And she's also creeping into television, interestingly enough, with "Huffington Post Live." So it'll be curious, but definitely, I think, well-earned.

HEADLEE: Bridget, you had something to say.

JOHNSON: I have to give a hat tip, here, to Angela Merkel. I don't think she gets nearly enough credit for what she's done for the image of women leaders in the world. She shows up to a summit. She's not the woman leader. She's one of the formidable leaders.

HEADLEE: And she's taken a lot of junk for that (unintelligible).

JOHNSON: And she's been this huge guiding force in keeping the EU from going over the fiscal cliff, and she's running for a third term, and I wish her well.

HEADLEE: All right. Well, let's go to one last question before we head into the New Year of 2013. We've been asking our listeners here on TELL ME MORE to talk about the changes they're making in their personal life that give them a little bit of peace of mind, of heart, anything - peace. Small things, like making sure your closet's clean, cutting up your credit cards, those kind of things. We've asked people to weigh in on Twitter using the hashtag #tmmpeace.

One person said she's deleting her Facebook account. So I want to know if any of you have little things to share. Bridget, let's start with you.

JOHNSON: I am actually training my five-month-old bunny, Napoleon Bonaparte, to be a therapy bunny to go visit the VA and places like that.

HEADLEE: Oh, interesting. That's great.

JOHNSON: So he is currently litter-trained, which is a good first start. And now we're working on the don't-chew-on-the-baseboards part.

HEADLEE: There you go. Gayle?

TROTTER: I interviewed best-selling author Tommy Newberry a couple of weeks ago, and he told me, in his new book, he has this practice of sending congratulatory notes to people who have achieved noteworthy things, family and just to strangers. He'll look up their address on the Internet.

So my resolution for next year is to start writing these notes to people when I notice that they're doing something extraordinary.

HEADLEE: And that'll bring you some peace to yourself.

TROTTER: Yes.

HEADLEE: OK. So, Julianne, what about you?

MALVEAUX: Well, I always think of balance as something that's very unattainable, and it's something that I'm looking at and looking for. I mean, it's physical, mental, spiritual, social and creative. And so you're juggling these things, and I want to make sure that each of them has equal weight so that you don't veer too far to one and that you...

HEADLEE: But how do you do that, like, in a real time? I mean...

MALVEAUX: Well, I think you're mindful. I think the issue is - I mean, I'm the kind of person who - I'm an extroverted introvert, or introverted extrovert. I can go outside and, you know, go from party to party, to people to people and have great fun. And then I can go inside and write for 48 hours, and you will never see my face. And, somehow, there has to be a balance for that. So the word balance is what will bring me peace, to understand that each aspect of my life is in balance.

HEADLEE: OK. And let's go to you, Maria. Any small thing that you're changing?

KUMAR: Sleep training my five-month-old.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: That's not a small thing.

KUMAR: Talk about wanting balance. I want to be able to basically make sure that she's - you know, she's sleeping well, but also that we're sleeping well. So that's my challenge.

HEADLEE: All right. But that's dependent on her, kind of. And...

KUMAR: Right. Well, and I think also - so we were born with the perfect child. By two months, she was sleeping 10 hours, and then we messed her up. So we actually feel very guilty at home trying to figure out how to get her back on her schedule.

HEADLEE: You messed her up? What'd - you started waking her up with coffee or...

KUMAR: Right. We actually started traveling with her, and I think that really messed up her schedule. So now she's paying us back. So we're working on her.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: See, these are all kind of big...

MALVEAUX: Give that child some melatonin.

KUMAR: Right.

(LAUGHTER)

HEADLEE: These seem - feel like kind of big things to me. Like, for me, it was like making my bed every day. Like, sometimes, it's these little, tiny changes you can make that - don't you think? I mean, sometimes...

MALVEAUX: Well, like I said, my perfect balance would be somebody else making up my bed every day.

(LAUGHTER)

JOHNSON: Maybe stop taking my laptop to bed.

HEADLEE: There you go. There you go. That's a good one. All right. Again, I want to reemphasize that listeners can weigh in. Fire off a tweet and use the hashtag #tmmpeace. The question again is what change you'll make for the New Year, a small change that will bring you a little peace of mind, peace of heart, whatever peace that you need.

Joining us today in the Beauty Shop, we had Maria Teresa Kumar. She's the CEO and president of Voto Latino, the nonpartisan group that encourages Latino engagement in politics. Julianne Malveaux is a writer and economist. Bridget Johnson is Washington, D.C. editor for P.J. Media. That's a conservative libertarian commentary and news website. And Gayle Trotter, attorney, writer, blogger and mother of six. They all joined me here in our Washington studios.

Ladies, thank you so much. Happy New Year.

MALVEAUX: Thank you. And Happy New Year.

JOHNSON: Happy New Year.

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