This Bogus Argument That Banning Trench Coats Could Stop School Shootings Goes Way Back

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In the days and weeks that follow mass shootings, gun control opponents will often put the blame on anything except a lack of firearms regulation. Such was the case on Monday, when according to Media Matters, radio host and conservative commentator Hugh Hewitt suggested banning trench coats to fight shootings, particularly at schools.

"To the teachers and administrators out there, the trench coat is kind of a giveaway," Hewitt said, according to a clip from May 21 episode of Salem Radio Network's The Hugh Hewitt Show. "You might just say, 'No more trench coats.' The creepy people, make a list, check it twice."

He appeared to suggest that, rather than zeroing in on firearms access, authorities should pay more attention to other clues that could indicate whether a person might plan a mass shooting. Hewitt was speaking in reference to Friday night's school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, which left 10 dead and at least 10 others wounded.

"They are not saying this killer, who we should not name, used shotgun and pistol, not any kind of high-caliber repeating weapon, not a semi-automatic weapon," Hewitt said. "Just didn't do it. It's — in many ways, this spanner thrown into their rhetoric of people who believe in universal background checks, wouldn't have had any impact on this. On magazines, wouldn't have had any impact on this. At close range, we discovered shotguns are as lethal."

While the Santa Fe shooter did not use an assault-style weapon, he did allegedly use a shotgun and a .38 revolver owned by his father, according to Business Insider. And according to the clip, Hewitt went on to urge authorities to monitor social media, and to tune into "patterns" that suggest an individual may someday carry out a shooting.

"There’s a pattern, pattern recognition is important here," he said. "And people need to put down the rhetoric and pick up the study," Hewitt said. "And read, listen, pray, think, not just shout. That’s the easiest thing to do, just to shout."

Hewitt is not the first person to suggest that banning a type of clothing might prevent gun violence at schools. Indeed, the trench coat has come under attack in the past — particularly after the infamous 1999 shooting at Columbine High School. In the shooting's immediate aftermath, incorrect reports circulated that the school shooters were part of a group of goth students described as "the trench coat mafia," distinguishable from their peers by the long coats they wore every day. Later, it turned out that the two shooters were not part of that group of students, but still the trench coat stigma persisted, in part because they wore trench coat-style jackets on the day of the attack.

Trench coats weren't the only sartorial choice maligned after Columbine, either. Wearing all black, as well as dressing goth or punk, were also deemed by some to be warning signs of something amiss in a young person.

"Parents, often successfully, lobbied to get trench coats and all-black attire banned in their local schools," Jennifer Muzquiz, who was a senior at the time of the Columbine shooting, told CNN back in 2009. "School administrators started considering these groups to be gangs and harassment of students was rampant, with unwarranted backpack searches, detainment in the hallways by security guards, and being called into the administrative offices for questioning."

Muzquiz also said that, because those styles of dress were associated with potentially committing violent acts, students who wore those clothes became easy victims for unfair profiling by other students who wanted to get them in trouble. "They could simply report to administrators that the person had an 'enemies list' and the school would quickly swoop in to rectify the situation, even when it wasn't the truth," she said. "... The accused would forever be known as 'the kid with the list' and ostracized."

Of course, Hewitt is just one voice in a very large discussion surrounding how to prevent school violence. And while the stereotypes his comments propped up are not new, they could conceivably prove dangerous, as stereotypes often do, and lead to unnecessary McCarthyesque accusations.