Nikki Haley, Let’s Keep Schools as Schools, Not Airports

Don’t you just love going to the airport? Of course you don’t. It’s the worst.

Now think: Wouldn’t your children love to go to the airport every day from the age of 5 to 18? 

Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley thinks that would be swell:

Sure, we could joke about whether this means size limits on juice boxes, but let’s try and stay serious, or at least as serious as the comment warrants. Haley’s thinking here seems to hinge on the notion that airport security is effective and efficient, which is not something that most Americans who have flown in recent memory would be familiar with (unless they have TSA PreCheck, a scam in which you pay the government for the convenience of not having your genitals grabbed).

The hardening of American airports post-9/11 resulted in ridiculous security measures that, because of bureaucratic inertia and obstinance, we are still saddled with more than two decades later. “Don’t forget to take your shoes off!” It’s often called security theater, and by that definition, it’s one of the longest-running shows off-Broadway.

Besides being massively inconvenient for passengers, all of these security measures are actually ineffective at stopping contraband. As my colleague J.D. Tuccille described in a 2021 Reason article calling for abolishing the TSA, multiple Homeland Security tests found that undercover agents were able to smuggle weapons, explosives, and other banned items through TSA checkpoints with an 80-95 percent success rate. That’s what we should be modeling our school security after?

Even if we are generous and assume that Haley is only talking about the more general elements of airport security, such as hardened checkpoints and heavy police presence, it’s still an objectionable idea.

Turning schools into police fortresses may protect children in the statistically rare event of a mass shooting, but it’s an everyday negative experience for the students who have to be subjected to increased surveillance and policing. Essentially this turns more and more behavior into criminal activity, instead of a trip to the principal’s office.

Researchers from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University, the University at Albany, SUNY, and the RAND Corporation released a working paper in 2021 that found that while school resource officers (SROs) “do effectively reduce some forms of violence in schools,” they do not prevent school shootings or gun-related incidents.

“We also find that SROs intensify the use of suspensions, expulsions, police referrals, and arrests of students,” researchers wrote. “These effects are consistently over two times larger for Black students than White students.”

Similarly, a 2020 study by a University of Florida professor found that, after Florida required SROs or armed guardians in every school following a 2018 mass shooting, the number of school arrests—which had been declining for years—suddenly started to rise. There was also a sharp increase in the use of physical restraint against students.

School already sucks enough for children. We don’t need to make it worse by taking tips from people who refuse to acknowledge the distinction between a snow globe and a bomb.

While you’re here, enjoy Reason‘s Christmas-themed TSA parody: