That awkward moment when we discover Tony Cornish's ignorance about Israeli school security

The last time Tony Cornish gained attention from wanting to combine education and firearms was the first anniversary of America's most lethal spree shooting, the tragedy at Virginia Tech. In 2008, Star Tribune staff writer Pat Doyle reported in Bill would allow students with permits to carry weapons on MnSCU campuses:

A year after a deranged gunman killed 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech, a debate over thwarting future attacks continues in Minnesota, where a legislator advocates allowing students to carry concealed weapons for protection on campus.

The proposal by Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, faces an uphill climb but reflects a national movement among gun advocates and some students to overturn prohibitions on students carrying weapons at college.

. . .The bill Cornish introduced Wednesday would remove the authority of universities to prohibit gun possession by students on school grounds. The change would allow students 21 and older with gun permits to bring weapons on campus.

The bill, HF 4198, went nowhere in the DFL controlled legislature, while Cornish earned extra points for crassness. Now he's back on the radar with his announcement that he'll be introducing a bill to allow teachers to pack heat as a means to stop Sandy Hook school shootings from happening in Minnesota's classrooms.

Oh good.

In reports about the bill from Minnesota Public Radio and City Pages, Cornish is getting the attention he craves as the Republican lead (ranking minority member) of the House Public Safety committee the retired lawman chaired last session when the MNGOP controlled the legislature.

But Cornish first garnered some hometown headlines when he went on the local CBS/FOX affiliate, KEYC-TV, to preen in front of the camera the very day of the shootings, before the children's bodies were even removed from where they fell.

KEYC reported in Cornish: Arm Teachers to Protect Against Further School Shootings:

But while state representative Tony Cornish believes legislation can help, he holds the opposite view of what lawmakers should do.

"Israel had a problem with this years ago, and they started letting teachers carry guns and it solved the problem, says Cornish, a Republican from Good Thunder. "Other state in our nation have passed laws allowing teachers to carry firearms, and I've heard from a number of parents that agree with this."

Cornish says that while liaison officers can offer some armed presence and security in schools, the state needs to go further.

"In fact I had a policeman tell me tonight that we need to arm our teachers because they can't be everywhere."

So teachers get added duties: armed security officer. To give Cornish his due, we must remember that he was endorsed by Minnesota's teachers' union, Education Minnesota, in 2010. Although he was unopposed in 2012, the union did not endorse him.

Here's the video:

Stories from the Holy Land: armed security guards

The "Israeli teachers carry guns and there's no problem" tale (variation: "All Israeli teachers are required to carry") is so common right now that it's hard to track down whether or not the example is true or not. Bluestem looked into the question and found some interesting answers.

First, when we examined the sources of the claim about packing Israeli school teachers, we generally found that those making these assertions passed around the same set of links and articles that eventually traced back to articles posted between 1999 and 2002. With each spree shooting, the example was repeated, but not examined anew.

There are a couple recent examples online in the last couple of days where writers familiar with Israel say that the claim's a weak one. Most send readers to this post, Are Israeli Teachers Armed?--crossposted at various venues. Ron Cantor, the writer is aligned with messianic Judaism--no dirty hippie--and the column is turning up on mostly conservative Christan sites. Take with a grain of salt.

Stories from the Jerusalem Post are much more persuasive and largely confirm Cantor's general premise that school security guards protect schools from terrorist attacks. Some of the most persuasive articles cover what happens when the guards don't show up en masse, either through funding cuts or strikes.

In today's Post, columnist Gil Troy writes in Sandy Hook Slaughter: American Innocence, Israeli realism:

When they heard about the Sandy Hook school slaughter, my children were surprised that the school had no security guards. Educated in Jewish schools in Montreal and in Jerusalem, they have always studied shielded by security guards and locked gates. They take that situation for granted, even as resent Jews’ unfortunate vulnerability in both cities. I want my kids, I want all kids, to live in a world where schools are the super-safe refuges they should be rather than the targets for terrorists and maniacs they sometimes are.

On August 28, 2008, the JP's Abe Selig reported in "School year still under threat despite cancellation of cuts":

But with only four days left and two other major matters unresolved - the issue of security guards for schools and safety violations in a number of institutions across the country - the threat of classes not starting at all remains very real.

"If security guards are not standing at the entrances of schools on Monday, teachers will still arrive for work, and they will send their students home," said Keren Shaked, a spokeswoman for the Secondary School Teachers Organization, the union that led last year's strike that paralyzed public schools for 55 days. "We cannot allow there to be a situation in which the entrances to our school are unguarded and anyone can just walk right in."

The security guard issue remains a complicated one, with the Education and Public Security ministries trading blame over who is responsible for providing such guards and the underlying funding issue rooted in proposed cuts to the draft 2009 state budget that was approved by the cabinet after a 16-hour session on Monday night.

While a last-minute agreement was reached between senior officials from both ministries regarding guards for elementary schools on Wednesday evening, upper level schools, where the SSTO holds sway, remain a problem.

A spokeswoman for the Education Ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the Public Security Ministry, which oversees the police, has been responsible for the security guards since 1995. She also referred to police Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai's statements at the Knesset on Wednesday morning, in which he protested the government's decision to cut the budget for security guards, saying it would severely detract from safety at schools.

"The police inspector-general [David Cohen] has held three separate meetings on this issue," Ben-Yishai said, "And he has recommended that school security needs to continue, the same way it does at the entrances to restaurants, banks and event halls."

The Public Security Ministry quipped back in a statement: "The responsibility for deployment of security guards at educational institutions is the responsibility of the Education Ministry. To our regret, the Education Ministry did not bother to fight against the budget cuts for security guards, which is their job and does not fall under the responsibility of the police."

The Education Ministry spokeswoman responded: "Every year in the past [the Public Security Ministry] has had the budget for [school security guards]. Now that the money isn't there, it's become our problem."

The issue threatens to derail the school year from day one, with the SSTO leading the call for classes to be canceled, and others following suit. (Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

In short: without the security guards, the teachers don't protect students themselves. They send kids home. On September 1, 2009, the JP's Selig reported in "School year to begin today, despite looming issues":

Meanwhile, the head of the Secondary School Teachers Organization, Ran Erez, said earlier in the week that a number of other unresolved issues were still looming on a national level.

According to Erez, those issues included the ongoing shortage of certified security guards for the country's schools . . .

Police officers will temporary fill in for missing school security guards until after Rosh Hashana, Lt.-Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai, head of the Israel Police's Security Department, said Monday, as an estimated 10 percent of all guard positions are unfilled.

Ben-Yishai met with security officers and Education Ministry officials Monday to assess security at schools ahead of the start of the school year.

Erez had said that any junior high or high school that has no guard Tuesday would not open. (Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

Security cameras proposed for Israeli schools

There's more. In "School security guards to be trained to intervene against student violence" (July 29, 2009) Yaakov Lappin reported in the Jerusalem Post that the security needs of the schools were changing:

School security guards, who until now have focused on preventing external threats like terrorism, will begin receiving specialized training on how to deal with pupil violence.

In addition, closed-circuit television cameras linked up to control rooms will monitor school playgrounds, as part of a series of steps being taken by police to tackle violence in schools.

The measures were announced Tuesday by Lt.-Cmdr. Meir Ben-Yishai, head of the Israel Police's Security Department, during a meeting with security officers responsible for educational institutions from across the country.

"These steps stem from a need that has been identified in recent years," police spokeswoman Orit Friedman told The Jerusalem Post. "The guards will be trained to deal with confrontations and to intervene in fights between pupils.

"Until today, the role of the guards was limited to dealing with terrorism and external threats. But they should be able to provide solutions to incidents on school grounds as well," Friedman said.

Friedman denied there was a recent rise in school violence, but noted that injuries resulting from fights and stabbings were a reality in Israeli schools.

"Having trained guards on site will cut out the need to wait for police to arrive," she added.

As part of the reforms, CCTV cameras installed in school playgrounds will feed live images to municipal control rooms.

"Pupils will be monitored at all times in playgrounds and other areas of the school, where the presence of teachers could be lacking," Friedman said.

While away from the front gate, the security guard can lock the school's main entrance to avoid security breaches, she added.

The type of training school guards receive from their companies is dictated and monitored by the Israel Police. According to the new guidelines, courses for new guards will be extended from four to six days, and there will be a greater emphasis on firearms training.(Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

So not only was the training changing, but security cameras were to be installed at schools, with monitors feeding images into the local police stations. This proposal drew cries of "Big Brother," according to a report by the JP's Ben Hartman, "CCTV cameras won't go into classrooms or corridors. Surveillance to be limited to school gates and yards, police say":

A plan to set up police surveillance cameras at 12 schools across the country will not be implemented by the time the school year starts on Wednesday, police told MKs on Sunday.

During a meeting of the Knesset's Education, Sports, and Culture Committee, police said that the cameras, which will broadcast back to a police command center, will not be placed in classrooms or hallways, and will be limited to gates and schoolyards, where they can help security guards patrol the campuses.

The plan has stirred controversy, with critics branding it a "Big Brother" program, and others saying it attempts to replace teachers' education and discipline with cameras. . . .(Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

What sort of problems with violence were Israeli schools encountering? Hartman writes:

According to an Education Ministry study from 2006, "moderate physical violence" occurred in over half of Israeli schools in 2005, while "serious physical violence," involving injury or threats, took place in one out of every five.

Almost half of all students described the atmosphere in their school as violent, according to the study, while 27.2 percent said they felt unsafe at school. In addition, 3.7% of students reported carrying "cold weapons" such as knives to school, while 1.5% reported carrying firearms.(Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

It's illegal for children to carry firearms in Israel; indeed, non-veterans can't obtain permits or guns until age 27. Nor are civilians as well-armed (or as often dead) as in the United States, Addicting Information's Wendy Gittleson writes:

Teachers are neither trained nor paid to be the first line of defense against high-powered rifles. Out of one side of their mouths, the right is cutting school funding and attacking the teachers’ union and on the other side, they are wanting teachers to take on the responsibility of police and military sharpshooters . . . .

In Israel, there are approximately 7.3 guns per 100 people. In 2008, there was less than one gun homicide per 100,000 people. In the U.S., there are 88.8 guns per 100 people and in 2008, there were over 3 gun homicides for each 100,000 people. Source, gunpolicy.org. This is despite the fact that some in Israel actually do live in a war zone. . . .

Israeli soldiers, police and volunteers mobilized for school security

That's another element that articles in the Jerusalem Post make clear. On September 1, 2005, staff writers Talya Halkin and Yaakov Katz reported in "Dovrat Reform debuts as schools open":

. . . Meanwhile, thousands of policemen will deploy across the country on Thursday to ensure that the new school year gets off to a secure and peaceful start.

Policemen, backed up by volunteers, will patrol various carpool pickup spots, schools and main population centers to prevent Palestinian attacks.

Soldiers will beef up the seam-line on the West Bank to prevent terrorist infiltrations.

While police had not received concrete intelligence regarding terrorist threats, they did not intend to take any chances, said Asst.-Cmdr. Ze'ev Welednger, head of the Police Security Department,.

"We do not have concrete information, but usually there is none when terror strikes," he said. "Since we don't have intelligence reports, we get ready for a range of scenarios that could happen and prepare ourselves to the best of our ability."

Welednger said terrorism was not the police's only concern.

"In addition to the terror threats, we are also prepared for the changes people go through on the first day of school," he said. "People's moods change since it is a day full of pressure, and we need to be there to help everyone get to school and home safely." . . . (Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

Other than the gated schools, armed security officers, cameras, and occasionally fully mobilized military, police and civilian volunteer force, one supposes it's the teachers who decide to carry guns into Israeli schools who've prevented incidents like Ma'lat.

Indeed, at the time of the blood standard for school attacks--the Beslan, Russia, school siege, where at least 335 children and adults were killed in September 2004--security advisor Steve Albrecht wrote in a column in the San Diego Tribune, "School violence; The terrorists' new weapon here?":

Speaking at the national conference for the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals in Anaheim last week, Lt. Col. David Grossman, a retired U.S. Army Ranger, foreshadowed the Chechens' attack on the school. . . . A hush fell over the room as Grossman reminded the group that as far back as 1974, terrorist attacks on an Israeli school killed 21 children. As a result, schools in Israel, starting then and certainly today, have armed soldiers, armed police, or armed security on every campus.

Israel has taken this psychologically significant and economically difficult step because the leaders felt they had no choice. Terrorists don't enjoy targeting police stations and soldiers' barracks because these people fight them with lethal violence in kind. Terrorists attack school campuses for two undeniable reasons: children can't shoot back at them and any incident involving violence at what is supposed to be a safe, "protected environment," like a school, a hospital or a day care center, creates tremendous anxiety in the nearby community. (Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

Other than the soldiers, the police, the security guards, the fenced and gated schools, the back-pack searches, the camera images piped into the local police station, sure, those teachers who choose (it's not mandatory) to carry have stopped those terrorist attacks, Representative Cornish, and that's all we need.

Or is it? Perhaps a good gauge for the tale might be the reaction of Israeli teachers and parents when they learn that the guards aren't in place. At the time of the Beslan attacks, the Post's Stuart Winer reports in "School guards leave before children go home":

As the world reels from the Beslan school massacre, a security lapse at Israeli schools was revealed on Monday.

The Union of Local Authorities (ULAI) in Israel admitted that school security guards are leaving their posts at 2 p.m. even though there are lessons that continue till 4 p.m. in many schools. . . .

. . .Although the standard school day ends at 2 p.m., according to [Head of Security and Deputy Director-General of the ULAI Sharon] Azriel, there are some lessons that continue till 4 p.m. in half the country's schools. . . .

. . .Chairman of the National Parents' Association Erez Frankel called on parents to collect their children from schools as soon at the guards leave.

"Can you imagine a cafe owner sending home the guard when there are still customers inside?" he said. "If there is a need for school security then it needs to be for all the pupils all the time.". . .(Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

Pre-1991: Parent-volunters (Heckova PTA)

It's clear that Israel has increasingly beefed up security in its schools, and so it possible that the "armed teachers" narrative was born before 1991, when Israel first employed paid guards rather than having parent volunteers stand watch. Armed teachers would have been an important element at that time.

On November 30, 1990, JP staff writer Bill Hutman reported in "Every Public School To Have Armed Guards":

Trained armed guards will be placed at all public schools within the next three months, an Education Ministry official said yesterday. The ministry has called a meeting today of IDF, police, and local authority officials to work out the details. Ami Kahan, director of the ministry's security department, said implementation will meet the February 28 deadline set by the Knesset education committee for hiring school security guards. Trained armed guards will be placed at all public schools within the next three months, an Education Ministry official said yesterday.

The ministry has called a meeting today of IDF, police, and local authority officials to work out the details. Ami Kahan, director of the ministry's security department, said implementation will meet the February 28 deadline set by the Knesset education committee for hiring school security guards.

But the Local Authorities Council, whose cooperation is necessary for the implementation of the plan, remains opposed to the idea. Armed guards are not necessary in all areas of the country, said Givatayim Mayor Yitzhak Yaron, who heads the council's education committee.

Yaron explained that trained guards were not needed in his town, for example, because "few Arabs pass through the city." He also raised doubts whether security companies would be willing to work in remote settlements.

At present, parents and sometimes high school or even elementary school pupils serve as guards. In many cases, schools are left unguarded when parents don't show up for duty.

The situation in kindergartens is more severe, with not even a parent-guard system organized in some instances. Moreover, many kindergartens don't have phones, making it difficult to call for help in case of emergency.

Last month, in wake of the wave of violent attacks on civilians, the Knesset education committee demanded that the ministry switch to professional guards. Committee members severely criticized the ministry for not implementing the recommendations to tighten school security, made over a year ago by the Knesset-appointed Givoli commission.

Kahan noted that kindergartens are not included in the commission's recommendations.

In Jerusalem, at the initiative of the Parents Association, over one-third of the schools have hired security companies. The association presented the details of their initiative to the ministry, in hope it would be used as the basis of the nationwide plan.

The ministry estimated that the professional guards will cost parents around NIS 30 per year. But the cost may be two or three times higher in development towns and remote settlements, Yaron said.

Despite the cost to parents, the National Parents Association is firmly behind the plan, chairman Moshe Mizrahi said. (Nexis All News, accessed 12.18.2012)

It can't happen here?

Since Minnesota's teachers unon endorsed Cornish in 2010, he can't be counted among the high command of education union bashers. The problems with the idea--and using Israel as analogy--are extensive. As a review of reports from the English-language Israeli press has shown, armed teachers have been an increasingly insignificant part of Israeli school security since the early 1990s.

Moreover, Israel is much smaller and much more militarized in daily life than the United States, even though our security apparatus has been transformed since the September 11, 2001 attacks. For Israeli Jews, military services is universal for those judged fit to serve; few Americans have military service and the attendant weapons training.

Perhaps the most damning things about the proposal, though, is the sense that the solutions to potential gun violence in schools are more guns, and in the hands of those we expect to teach. Let teachers teach, politicians across the spectrum say--with the exception of Tony Cornish and his kindred across the country, who also seem to want volunteer security officers.

It feels like the same old nickel and diming of the schools. security on the cheap, and lethal force handed out to those who are routinely denigrated by the political right in the state. Cornish may see this as straight shooting, but it's got the feel of blanks misfired to start out the session.

Photo: Tony Cornish, top; Union thug, bottom.

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    Sally Jo Sorensen's picture
    Sally Jo Sorensen

    Sally Jo Sorensen publishes Bluestem Prairie for those who prefer take their corn with a progressive chaser.