The NRA’s executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, has been the subject of Beltway ire for his proposal to put police officers in schools across the country; the White House, lawmakers, and political analysts on both sides of the aisle have summarily denounced him. Rewind just 13 years, though, and many of these lawmakers were cheering a proposal that bears a remarkable resemblance to the one set forth by the NRA: President Clinton’s “COPS in Schools” program.
In October 1998, Clinton announced the $60 million grant program, which was housed in the Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS). “This initiative provides communities with a new tool to tackle crime and violence in our schools,” he said. According to the Justice Department, the program was intended to help police officers “engage in community policing in and around primary and secondary schools,” and the government spent over $753 million to hire more than 6,500 school police officers before the COPS in Schools program was cut in 2005.
In the wake of the April 1999 shootings at Columbine High School, Clinton intensified his efforts in behalf of the program and used the first anniversary of the Columbine shooting to announce additional funding. In his weekly radio address on April 16, 2000, Clinton said, “In our national struggle against youth violence, we must not fail our children.” He continued, “Already, [COPS in Schools] has placed 2,200 officers in more than 1,000 communities across our nation, where they are heightening school safety as well as coaching sports and acting as mentors and mediators for kids in need.”
Several of those who are now critical of the NRA’s plan expressed their support for Clinton’s program and benefited from it. Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s San Francisco district was one of the first to receive funding through the program: $3.25 million for 26 new police officers, to be exact. As a whole, California, also home of Dianne Feinstein, received $5.6 million in grants from the COPS in Schools program in 1999 alone.
Touting the grants set to be distributed to several New York state school districts in 2004, Senator Chuck Schumer acknowledged that “we live in a different world now than we did 20, 30, or even three years ago” and said that the new realities are forcing parents to think constantly about the safety of their children. “Getting more police officers on school grounds will go a long way toward making sure our kids stay out of harm’s way,” he said. Schumer assailed the Bush administration’s 2005 budget for doing away with the COPS in Schools program and, in doing so, attested to its efficacy. “Thanks to COPS, people feel safer with their children on the streets today,” he said in a press release in May 2004. “But now the Administration has proposed ending the program and taking away funding to hire thousands of police officers just when they are needed most. Why the Administration would want to rip a hole in that sense of security by slashing COPS funding is beyond me.”
Even one of the leading gun-control advocates in Congress, New York congresswoman and anti-gun activist Carolyn McCarthy, had kind words for the COPS in Schools program. McCarthy’s husband was murdered and her son severely injured in a mass shooting. “Our school safety officers that go in, that is probably one of the best programs I have seen in my underserved schools,” she told the House Committee on Homeland Security in 2007. “Relationships are made. The kids feel safer with them around, and we need to do a better job on that, too.”
On the heels of the NRA’s press conference last week, however, the tune from Democrats on Capitol Hill changed. “Now, trying to prevent shootings in schools without talking about guns is like trying to prevent lung cancer without talking about cigarettes,” Schumer told David Gregory on Meet the Press. If Schumer supports both more restrictive gun-control laws and putting police in schools, he failed to make that clear, and his office did not return a call seeking comment.
Pelosi’s hypocrisy was more blatant. “For the NRA and others to sort of shield themselves by saying it’s the mentally ill or something and therefore we have to have more armed cops in the schools or more guns in the school, it just doesn’t make sense,” she said of the organization’s proposal. Her office did not reply to an e-mail seeking comment. McCarthy, whose office also failed to reply to an e-mail seeking comment, charged that the NRA is “out of touch” with the American people.
As for Feinstein, she’s looking to team up with President Clinton in order to draft the gun-control legislation she plans to introduce on the Senate floor. “President Clinton called, and if there’s anything he can do to help, he will do it,” she said in a press conference. Perhaps the former president will refresh her memory about the solution that he and other Democrats embraced to combat gun violence when the political winds were blowing in a different direction.
— Eliana Johnson is media editor of National Review Online.