The Legal Context of School Violence: Effectiveness of Federal, State & Local Law Enforcement Measures to Reduce Gun Violence in Schools
In the wake of recent school shootings, communities and legislatures are searching for law enforcement solutions to the perceived epidemic of school violence. A variety of legal measures have been debated and proposed. These include. the enactment of tougher gun control laws and more vigorous federal and local enforcement of existing gun control laws; the enactment of laws imposing civil or criminal liability on parents for their children's violent behavior; the establishment of specialized courts and prosecution strategies for handling juveniles who are charged with weapons offenses; stricter enforcement of school disciplinary codes; reform of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act to make it easier to expel students for weapons violations; and greater use of alternative schools as placements for students who are charged with weapons violations.
This article provides a legal and empirical analysis of proposed legislation in these areas as informed by social science research on the patterns of school violence, gun acquisition by juveniles, and the effectiveness of various laws and law enforcement measures. It proposes and discusses recommendations for legal reform. While efforts to reduce school violence will be most effective at the state and local levels, the United States federal government has an important role to play, particularlv in federal-state partnerships aimed at disrupting illegal gun markets, and through the formulation of national standards and guidelines. These standards and guidelines are for the enforcement of existing laws; inter-agency law enforcement cooperation and information-sharing (particularly using computer- based analysis); effective school discipline and alternative educational settings for disruptive youth; and psycho-educational interventions designed to detect and prevent school violence in the first place.