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The Importance of Fortifying Schools
It's not a solution to mass-shootings, but it's an important component.
Almost two weeks ago, in the middle of the day, an 18-year-old walked into Robb Elementary in Ulvade, Texas with an AR15-style rifle. He entered a classroom, began murdering and terrorizing its occupants, and was allowed to continue doing so for over an hour while nearly 20 police officers stood just outside the classroom door… waiting for a tactical unit to arrive.
By the time the unit entered the building, got into position, stormed the classroom, and took out the gunman, 21 innocent people had been killed… 19 of them children.
The details of what the surviving students went through are additionally horrific, from the terrified 911 calls some repeatedly placed (seemingly to no avail), to the little girl who smeared a dead classmate’s blood over her own body to appear dead to the shooter.
A lot has already been said and written about this terrible incident, much of it relating to the breathtaking negligence of the police response. Local law enforcement, who had been trained for such situations, were instead paralyzed by fear that day.
It’s not a criticism I throw out unsympathetically. These officers’ training called on them not to contain the gunman inside a room full of people, but to react immediately with sustained, perhaps even sacrificial engagement until the shooter was neutralized — to put themselves directly in the line of fire to save innocent lives. Many of us, whether we realize it or not, would have struggled to gather the courage to do so.
But unlike most of us, they were police officers, sworn to perform that duty. And they failed to.
We now have a much clearer picture of what happened than we did those first few days after the shooting, as many of the early stories turned out to be false. The Dispatch recently provided a brief summary of the more significant inaccuracies. Some I already touched on, but they’re worth reviewing:
The shooter did not have to outgun a school security officer on his way into the building; no school security officer was present and the gunman “walked in unobstructed.” He didn’t enter the school through a back door propped open by a teacher; the door was closed, but for some reason, it “did not lock as it should.” And perhaps most importantly, police officers did not “engage immediately” with the shooter when they arrived at the school; the gunman was essentially left alone in a classroom full of children for more than an hour as distraught parents who had gathered outside the school begged law enforcement to do something.
Moving forward, there’ll be lots of talk about police accountability for what happened, and what it might look like. And as one would expect, the national debate about gun laws is front and center again. But today, I want to talk about an issue that has stuck with me from the moment I understood the ease with which the shooter entered the school and classroom in the first place, especially having fired shots outside beforehand.
To me, this itself was unfathomable, and I suppose its because I’m quite fortunate in that my children attend a charter school that takes security very seriously. Actually, the whole district does; but I would say ours in particular.
I’m talking about controlled access with heavy, locked outer doors, and automatic locks on classrooms. I’m talking about multiple armed, radioed, and well-trained security personnel (mostly former police officers) who are linked into nearby police activity. I’m talking about visitor check-ins where even I, as a parent that several at the school know personally, can’t get inside the building without first stating my business through an outside speaker, and then coming face to face with a security officer. I’m talking about quality cameras inside and out, and I’m talking about regular student drills.
The idea of an armed intruder casually walking on into my kids’ school, and carrying out largely unimpeded violence, is inconceivable.
I’m not describing these things as a bragging point, but rather as a point of gratitude, and also a template for which I believe other schools and districts should follow…both procedurally and how they prioritize school funding (regardless of where that funding is coming from).
But when I say such things, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised when people react the way a regular commenter on this site (who I both like and respect) did the other day:
Sure John, what about the mass shootings that have taken place elsewhere besides schools?
This 'Let's turn schools into prisons' idea is a logical fallacy.
Because those evil and intent on murder will just move on to the next target.
How are you going to fortify a church, or a supermarket or a nightclub from a similar outcome?
To be clear (as I thought I had been in the comment the individual was responding to), ratcheting up school security isn’t my be-all and end-all solution to mass shootings. It’s just a single component of a much larger debate (that should include things like “red flag” laws, in my opinion) — one that I believe deserves special attention. Why? Because schools are clearly a target of choice for many mass-shooters. This is true for a number of reasons, including the societal impact of such an attack, as well as the vulnerability of the intended victims.
As for “turning schools into prisons”, I could perhaps understand how someone could read my description above and reflexively conclude that. But I assure you, neither the parents (in my very red county) nor the students at our school see things that way (at least any more than students commonly view their school as a prison).
Prisons keep the bad guys in. Secure schools keep the bad guys out.
Going through a little extra hassle to drop off my kid’s forgotten sack lunch or notebook at the front office is hardly a shakedown.
And an armed security guard doesn’t have to mean an intimidating uniform, a visible firearm, and probing narrow eyes. It can also mean a polo shirt (with the school’s logo), a pistol concealed in a colorful fanny-pack, and a broad smile and friendly conversation with students who immensely appreciate the work of their protectors.
That relationship is more important than one may realize. After all, generally speaking, who’s going to be more personally invested in students’ safety when a crisis suddenly breaks out: someone who’s come to know those students, and who’s watched over them most days… or strangers who were just called to the scene?
If you compare the actions of the two teachers who died at Robb Elementary with those of the police officers who stood outside their classrooms for an hour, you may find the answer.
Again, I’m not minimizing the difficulties of being a police officer, especially under such extreme circumstances. I just want to minimize the chances of officers being put in such a situation in the first place.
We all wish we lived in a time and place where we didn’t have to worry about troubled souls snapping, and coming after our children. And maybe with some cultural and legislative changes, we’ll get to a point where we’ll worry about it less and less.
But we’re not at that point now, and until things get better, making security more of a priority at our schools is a must.