Last Week Tonight took last weekend off, meaning tonight’s episode was John Oliver’s first since the May 24 Uvalde, Texas, school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers were massacred. So it was no surprise that Oliver devoted the show to the never-ending gun control debate.
This time, he focused on putting cops in schools, which has been pretty much the only action taken in response to school shootings since Columbine in 1999. Thing is, about the only thing those cops — euphemistically called School Resource Officers, or SROs — have managed to do over the past couple of decades is arrest hundreds of thousands of children for mostly minor infractions. Nevertheless, NRA head Wayne LaPierre called for more police in schools at the organization’s recent convention, held in Texas three days after the Uvalde shooting.
“I guess it’s not that surprising that the solution from the CEO of the NRA is more people with guns,” Oliver said. “It’d be like hearing, ‘The garbage dump is overflowing, so we need more piles of garbage,’ from the head of the National Raccoon Association. I mean, what else do you expect him to say?”
It’s worth noting that LaPierre is a bumbling chud and that too much focus on the NRA when discussing gun control these days misses the point. The organization is a largely powerless shadow of its former self, and Republican lawmakers are now championing apocalyptic gun policies all on their own — though both Republicans and Democrats alike have for decades championed cops in schools. The result of that across-the-aisle policymaking: 14 million kids are currently in schools that have cops but not resources like counselors, psychologists, or even nurses.
Studies have shown that attempts to “harden” schools — not just cops, but things like metal detectors and security cameras — don’t deter shooters at all. Black students and students with disabilities are disproportionately targeted by school cops. SROs have stopped school shootings exactly twice in the past 20 years, and in both the Uvalde and Parkland shootings there were SROs on site. Researchers have even found that the presence of SROs can make the scale of shootings worse.
“If Off discovered that their mosquito repellant attracted mosquitoes,” Oliver said, “they’d stop selling it — or at the very least, rebrand it as a cologne for lonely mosquito bachelors.”
More than 50,000 kids were arrested in school during the 2017-2018 school year (the most recent year for which data is available) for, again, often minor infractions. How minor? Kids have been charged with assault — keep in mind they were charged, not just arrested and released — for throwing paper airplanes and candy. One was charged with drug possession for having a maple leaf. A girl was charged with two felonies after replicating an erupting-volcano style science experiment. And one perp was charged with battery on a police officer, which sounds bad until you realize the perp was a five-year-old having a tantrum.
No matter what happens to them afterwards, these kids now have an arrest on their records — something colleges and employers are generally not super-enthused about. All so that politicians can claim they’re doing something and funnel even more money to law enforcement.
“School police are not the answer to school shootings — the answer to that is gun control,” Oliver said. “And [kids] definitely deserve better than the fundamental lie that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy who can arrest a five-year-old.”