Not running for governor has made Dustin McDaniel a better attorney general.
That’s written in response to an opinion issued last week by his office saying that schools cannot be licensed as their own private security firms so they can arm and train selected staff members.
I don’t like the opinion. I think schools should be able to decide whether or not to do that, but McDaniel’s job isn’t to decide good policy from bad. It’s to interpret the law. According to his office, the law — and it looks pretty black and white — says schools can’t be their own private security firms, and no one can take a gun on campus unless they are a law enforcement officer or security guard.
The practice of arming staff members made national news recently when Clarksville started doing it, but Lake Hamilton has had this policy for decades, and other schools are beginning to do so as well. The idea is to be able to respond to some crazy shooter in those critical moments before the police arrive.
McDaniel was asked by a state legislator for an opinion, and while it’s nonbinding, it will carry a lot of weight. The superintendent of Clarksville still plans to enact the policy if its license is granted by the Arkansas Board of Private Investigators and Private Security Agencies.
Let’s repeat: Schools should have the option of arming and training staff members. While the ideal solution is to employ full-time security personnel on every campus, many schools simply can’t afford that, and it can take precious minutes for law enforcement personnel to arrive at a rural campus. School administrators are not walking into teacher’s lounges and passing out assault weapons; staff members are carefully selected and trained, and then the guns are locked up. Besides, Americans have a long tradition of deputizing and training citizens to respond effectively to emergencies, including volunteer firefighters and the National Guard. At the very least, this ought to be a local decision made by local school districts.
But it would be very bad if a staff member, accidentally or not, shot someone and it turned out that McDaniel was right and that the whole practice was against state law. So the solution isn’t to play politics with the issue. It’s for the Legislature to change the law.
You’ll recall that McDaniel was the Democrats’ frontrunner for governor until he left the race early this year after admitting to – well, let’s not dredge up the details. Google it if you’re still interested. Were he still in the governor’s race, his office’s opinion would have made him look soft on crime and insufficiently protective of kids.
True, he might very well have issued the same opinion were he still in the race. But as the writers of the book "Freakonomics" explained, people respond to incentives, and the incentives would have encouraged McDaniel, or anyone else in his position, to ignore the legislator’s request for an opinion, or to finesse the law.
Meanwhile, McDaniel has been arguing publicly that Arkansas’ death penalty process is so broken that it must be either fixed or abolished. Considering the state has been unable to execute anyone since 2005, these are the only two viable options, unless we prefer to continue making a mockery of the system. There needs to be a discussion that leads to a solution, but for that to happen, somebody has to bring up the subject. Would McDaniel have done that were he still running for governor? Doubt it.
When Lt. Gov. Win Rockefeller was running for governor back in 2005, he intended, though he didn’t say it publicly, to remain in office only one term if elected. He planned to spend four years doing only what he thought was best for the state without worrying about the implications for re-election. He didn’t want to try for two terms because he didn’t like the incentives he would face.
Because he’s not worried about the next election, McDaniel’s main incentive is to do his job. That reality made it easier for him, or anyone else who might have been in his position, to interpret the law instead of finesse it, or ignore it.
Steve Brawner is an independent journalist in Arkansas. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @stevebrawner.