Gun Violence, School Violence, or … ?
by Harwood Loomis for M1911.ORG
The murder of twenty grammar school children and six teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, has aroused emotions regarding school safety and security to a level not experienced since the mass murder at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, and quite possible to levels not reached even in the aftermath of Columbine. Various special interest groups almost immediately after the news of the shooting had broken began to call for stricter gun control, as if new laws controlling firearms could possibly be a one-size-fits-all solution to a problem that far transcends guns. These groups, and most of the mass media, have rallied under a banner calling for increased gun control in the name of curbing “gun violence.” The problem is, by narrowly defining the problem as “gun violence” and then proposing only gun-related responses, these groups (and the mass media) are missing the point. The issue isn’t guns or “gun violence,” the issue is “violence.” And we can’t address violence in our society and in our schools when ALL we talk about is guns.
Because the issue of school security is so complex, the first problem we must face is: Where to begin? As Lewis Carroll had the King say to the White Rabbit, “Begin at the beginning, and go on till you come to the end: then stop.” Very well, then, but exactly where is the beginning? In the two-plus weeks since the school massacre in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, there has been so much discussion, so much histrionics, and so much outright acrimony that it is difficult to discern what a logical starting point might be.
To approach finding a logical beginning, we need to identify the problem. Those who oppose the right to keep and bear arms proclaim that the problem is “gun violence.” But, bluntly, that is a lie. Automobiles and swimming pools and bathtubs kill far more children every year than the Sandy Hook killer did. But the Sandy Hook incident wasn’t an accident, it was an intentional act. Thus, if the Sandy Hook massacre is to be accepted as the catalyst for “doing something” to better protect children in schools, we should begin by understanding the problem. And, I respectfully submit, the problem is not “guns.”
California Senator Feinstein, predictably, has already introduced a sweeping and draconian gun control bill. Was her bill drafted and offered in response to the Sandy Hook massacre? No, it was not—in fact, her staff has acknowledged that the bill had been in preparation for over a year. That means that Senator Feinstein was waiting only for the presidential election to pass before introducing what she knew would be an unpopular and politically sensitive bill. When circumstances conspired to present a genuine tragedy immediately following the election, she pounced on the opportunity. Senator Feinstein’s proposed bill is not a response to the Sandy Hook massacre. It is simply the latest version of her desire to strip the populace of the United States of their Constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Focusing on guns is a distraction. Too many people forget, are unaware, or conveniently ignore the fact that the worst school massacre in the history of the United States did not involve firearms. The year was 1927, the location was Bath Township, Michigan, and the assailant used three (3) bombs. He killed 45 people and seriously injured another 58. Too many people also forget, are unaware, or conveniently ignore the fact that at Columbine High School in 1999, the firearms used by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not their primary weapons. Their plan was to detonate two 20-pound propane bombs, and then to use the firearms to shoot anyone who survived the bombs. When the bombs failed to detonate, they resorted to using the guns as a contingency plan. Had those two bombs detonated, according to experts on the scene the death toll would have been in the hundreds rather than thirteen.
The Issue we need to discuss, then, is not guns. The issue is how best to ensure to the greatest degree possible the safety and security of our children, at home and when they are attending school. The question of school security is complex, and trying to address it with a narrow, single-issue response (“guns”) is a serious mistake, because it distracts attention from the overall issue in the interest of using school security as an excuse to blindly pursue a political agenda that, ultimately, is only peripherally related to school security.
United States Army Lieutenant Colonel (Ret.) Dave Grossman has spoken to professional law enforcement organizations on this very topic, although his remarks were in the context of reminding us that our schools are vulnerable to terrorist attack. Colonel Grossman’s argument is that our biggest issue is denial. Denial is the “It won’t happen here” mentality. Dave Grossman identified this as the issue well before the Sandy Hook massacre. Sadly, we can see in retrospect exactly how that mentality played out at Sandy Hook. The school reportedly had just instituted a new security plan that was (according to news reports) intended to “prevent” precisely the type of incident that unfolded. What did this new security plan consist of? Locking the entrance doors at 09:30 and requiring visitors after 09:30 to be buzzed in, and locking the classroom doors in the event of an emergency.
How many of us have heard the adage “Locks are made for honest people”? That certainly applied to the Sandy Hook security plan. The entrance doors were locked, but either the doors themselves or the panels next to the doors were glass. The assailant simply shot out the glass, reached through the opening, and opened the door. There was NO next layer of defense at the entrance. Once the assailant had gained entry, he was confronted only by two unarmed members of the administration. They reacted heroically, but unarmed resistance in the face of an armed assailant was predictably futile.
The next layer of security was supposed to be for the teachers to lock the doors to their classrooms. What transpired within the classrooms is still being sorted out as this article is being written but, according to a live interview with the teacher’s aide from one of the classrooms, there was no notification to lock-down the classrooms. This is understandable, because the people who would have made the decision and the announcement were already dead or seriously wounded. According to the teacher’s aide in the interview, she and her teacher decided on their own initiative that they should lock the door to their classroom. Having made that decision, they discovered that neither of them had the key.
Fortunately, an incredibly brave custodian came along and locked the doors in their corridor. That custodian is a true hero but, to stay on the topic … what kind of “security” plan calls for locking the classroom doors but doesn’t provide for ensuring that the people in the classrooms have the keys? How could such a disconnect possibly have occurred?
Nobody thought about the keys, because nobody seriously considered that the security plan would ever have to be implemented in a small town like Sandy Hook, Connecticut.
The bottom line that needs to be recognized and addressed is that the immediate issue is school security, not “gun violence.” The Sandy Hook shooter was reported to be a genius. The shooters at Columbine High School planned to use bombs as their weapons of choice, and they resorted to guns when their bombs failed to detonate. If the Sandy Hook shooter had been prevented from accessing firearms, should we sit by and smugly believe that a 20-year old of genius-level intellect could not have constructed bombs that would have detonated?
Those who selfishly work to misdirect the discourse about school security to their pet topic of gun control do a disservice to the nation, and they dishonor the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre by callously using the incident to promote their own agenda, all the while knowing full well that taking guns away from honest, law-abiding people will not stop lunatics, and will not stop terrorists.
The hypocrisy of their position is blatant and shocking. As an example, immediately after the Sandy Hook incident, New York City Mayor Bloomberg proclaimed that guns were the problem, and that schools would never be safe as long as people are allowed to own guns. Yet, within the month of December, two people were murdered in two separate incidents in New York City by being shoved into the path of an approaching subway train. In addressing those incidents, Mayor Bloomberg had the following to say:
“It's a very tragic case, but what we want to focus on today is the overall safety in New York." The Associated Press characterized his statement as a call to keep the incident in "perspective." But how can this “perspective” be such a polar opposite to the mayor’s “perspective” surrounding the school massacre? Mayor Bloomberg dismisses the two subway murders as isolated incidents, negated by an overall trend of lower violent crime. Yet, certainly, Sandy Hook was also an isolated incident. On the same day, December 14, 2012, hundreds of millions of children attended schools all across the United States and were not shot at. Logically, if we forego rhetoric and apply statistical analysis, it was far safer to attend a public school in the United States during December than it was to stand on a subway platform in New York City, yet Mayor Bloomberg’s analysis is that the schools are unsafe, but the New York subways are safe. The cognitive dissonance in that analysis is overwhelming.
In response to the second subway murder, Mayor Bloomberg also said, “I don't think you have to sit there and worry every day about getting pushed over the platform," said Bloomberg, during a press conference at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. "It is such a rare occurrence that no matter how tragic it is, it shouldn't change our lifestyle.”
But being killed in a public elementary school is also a rare occurrence, yet because of one such incident the mayor thinks we should change our lifestyle.
“I don't know that there is a ways to prevent," Bloomberg said. “There's always going to be somebody, a deranged person. You can say it's only two out of the 3 or 4 million people that ride the subway every day, but two is two too many. Unfortunately, there are people who are mentally deranged.”
Why does Mayor Bloomberg think the above statement is valid when the deranged person uses a subway as his/her weapon, but the statement is not valid when the deranged person uses a firearm? The Sandy Hook shooter was undeniably someone with mental issues, yet Mayor Bloomberg is willing to ignore that fact when it is convenient for him to focus on the gun used by the assailant so that he can use the incident to further his irrational attack on the Constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Yet, when incidents occur within his own bailiwick, the mayor is perfectly willing to parse the statistics, marginalize the victims, and proclaim that there’s nothing to worry about.
Mayor Bloomberg’s hypocrisy knows no bounds. Unfortunately, that same hypocrisy permeates the entire ranks of those who seeks to demonize inanimate objects and honest citizens in the furtherance of their own, selfish, paranoid agenda to circumvent the Constitution of the United States and to disarm the People of the United States.
As ludicrous and as illogical as the mayor’s comments are, however, they contain a kernel of truth: “There's always going to be somebody …” This is nothing new, or earth-shattering. In 1978, Harold Kushner, a Conservative Hebrew Rabbi, wrote a book titled When Bad Things Happen to Good People. For decades, a staple throw-away line in black humor has been the realization that, “The only thing certain about life is that nobody gets out alive.” Bad things happen, and that’s simply a fact of life. We cannot avoid this by pretending that it isn’t true. Pretending it isn’t true brings us full-circle back to Dave Grossman, and the crux of the issue: Denial.
A number of years ago I took some classes with a Zen teacher who repeatedly told us that, “It is your resistance to what is that causes your unhappiness.” In the context of the current dialogue regarding school security, “what is” is exactly what Mayor Bloomberg stated: “I don't know that there is a ways to prevent," Bloomberg said. “There's always going to be somebody, a deranged person …” Taking guns away from hundreds of millions of people who represent no threat to anybody cannot eliminate the threat. Requiring “mental health” background checks as a prerequisite to buying a gun cannot eliminate the threat. Clearly, almost all the elements being suggested for new laws were already in force in Connecticut on December 14, 2012, yet they failed to prevent a disturbed young man from murdering his own mother, stealing her firearms, and going on to massacre 26 people in a defenseless elementary school.
While we can probably never eliminate all threats to schools and their occupants, we can reduce them. But to do so we must honestly address what—so far—everyone (except LTC Dave Grossman) has declared unacceptable. We must “harden” our schools. We don’t necessarily have to make them like prisons, but there are fundamental principles of securing facilities that can (and should) be applied to schools immediately. The first principle is layering. Sandy Hook Elementary School had a plan with only two layers: (1) lock the entrance doors; and (2) lock the classroom doors. Especially as implemented at Sandy Hook, neither had a chance of defeating an armed assailant.
What can be done? Off the top of my head, I can think of a number of things:
- Eliminate glass entrance doors. Use bullet-resistant glass for sidelights.
- Station an armed person inside the entrance. This doesn’t have to be a police officer, or even a private security officer. It could be a teacher or an administrator, or it could be a parent or a member of the community who holds a carry permit in that state.
- ”Harden” emergency exits. Emergency exits should be reserved for emergencies. Regardless of how inviting you want the front entrance to appear, the emergency exits should be as impregnable as possible. This reduces the possibility of a multi-frontal assault, and it helps direct any assault to the location you have chosen as the one you can and will defend with active measures, i.e. the front entrance.
- Ensure that the teachers have the key to the classroom door. This means that the administration has to take into account “floater” teachers, who go to multiple classrooms throughout the school day, and also substitutes. There is a relatively new type of “classroom security” lock that was introduced in the aftermath of the Columbine shooting; this new type of classroom security lock can help address the issue of floaters and substitutes. But retrofitting a large school with all new door locks will cost money.
- Eliminate glass sidelights at classroom doors. Would you lock the front door to your house at night and hang the key outside on a nail? Isn’t that what putting a glass sidelight next to a locked door is doing? Never mind the “sense of openness” the architect claims the sidelights create (and they don’t—I’ve taken adult education classes in a school built under this idiotic premise, and once the class begins nobody is even aware of the sidelights), we want security. Security equals a concrete or concrete masonry wall—not glass.
There are other measures that can be taken, of course. Some (metal detectors, for example, and surveillance cameras) are more useful in monitoring student behavior than they are in stopping an armed attack. Others may depend on the layout of a particular school (a school with a multi-building, “campus” layout is obviously more difficult to protect than a single building with a single main entrance).
Conclusion: We need to focus our attention on the problem—school security—and not allow the discussion to be misdirected to gun control when the issue is not guns, but people who wish to do harm to those inside a school. There is a lot more that needs to be done to make our schools safer than just adopt more anti-gun laws that cannot possibly be effective in deterring an attack.
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