EDITORIAL: What will protect us?

OUR STORY LAST WEEK on the $15-million proposal by the Ichabod Crane School District for capital improvements began with a list of what administrators hope to accomplish. The first item cited was bullet resistant glass and “film” at the schools’ greeter stations.

A quick internet search provides pages of companies that make or install this plastic film. The film apparently doesn’t prevent bullets from penetrating a glass window or door; it prevents the glass from shattering, which stops (or delays) a shooter trying to get in.

This upgrade will likely receive broad support from district voters. But it won’t be cheap. A news story about an Illinois district that proposed a similar upgrade reported on a district that expected to spend a million dollars on glass upgrades and more secure entrances.

Upgrades like physical barriers are paid for by borrowing so the whole cost doesn’t come out the current budget. But the debt service for these school bond measures does affect the annual budget. It’s money that isn’t available for teachers, programs and supplies, or for reducing the school tax burden.

Ichabod Crane, like other districts, has timed this new borrowing to take effect just as the payments from some previous debt is paid in full. That way the expenses for borrowing wouldn’t increase so much that taxpayers might refuse to support the new debt. But whenever schools use funds for security it’s a net loss for education.

What’s the alternative? We cannot leave children unprotected. So we improve security based on the best advice available and despite the statistics that show schools are already safe spaces.

It isn’t just schools, though schools must be our highest priority. People who work at American newspapers have had to wonder since last Thursday about how safe we are in our workplaces. Five workers at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, MD, were murdered and two others injured by a man with a shotgun who shot out a glass partition and then went on his rampage.

Most small businesses, including community newspapers like this one and the Capital Gazette, have few protections that would foil a determined attacker. None of our readers nor anyone else has made or suggested threats involving violence since we began publishing almost a decade ago. A visitor to our Facebook page recently sent us a jumble of biblical passages about the wrath of God in response to our front page photo of the Hudson Pride Parade. We didn’t feel threatened by it. We receive other criticism too, and it makes us grateful that our readers care so much about what we publish.

The alleged shooter in Maryland had a continuing grudge against the Capital Gazette. His grudge was related to charges against him for harassing a woman. The paper asked police to intervene but the police declined. If a situation like that arose for a newspaper in New York State, would the outcome could have been different?

In May Governor Cuomo signed a new law that allows judges to remove all firearms from domestic abusers. The law covers shotguns like the one used by the Maryland shooter. But even if New York’s stricter gun laws wouldn’t apply to the tragedy at the Capital Gazette, there is a lesson here.

State laws like the ones proposed and signed by Governor Cuomo can do as much or more to reduce gun violence than fortifying our schools, businesses, public spaces and homes. The work on so-called “red flag” legislation is far from complete.

Holding a grudge is not a crime. But threats of violence against another individual can be. People who cross that line into criminal behavior should face the loss of their right to possess firearms. Determining where that line is becomes the challenge new laws must take up.

Our democracy depends on the right of free speech. And it is better to deprive a person of his or her right to possess a gun than to limit that person’s right speak about using it. The best argument for that position lives in the Declaration of Independence, that list of “… unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness….”

The founding fathers put “Life” first. They knew more than two centuries ago that we couldn’t enjoy any of the rights they later guaranteed in the Constitution if the law didn’t protect us from people who shouldn’t have guns.

On the 4th of July it’s worth remembering the five who died at the Capital Gazette. They exercised their constitutional rights and it cost them their lives.

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