I am sure that all of you are as shocked and saddened as I am by the mass murders of little children and their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is very difficult to read about this tragedy and the precious young lives that were lost. It is one of those events that stops the whole nation and causes them to mourn the dead yet appreciate the beauty and fragility of life at the same instant.
It is difficult to accept that this is the reality of America. Mass murders are becoming a way of our life. Seemingly one event inspires others to commit further brutal acts. We think that violence on this scale is something that happens elsewhere, yet it happens here with regularity.
We need to protect our children.
Already there are calls for gun control, more intervention with the mentally ill, and greater safety at our schools.
Gun control or gun prohibition will not happen in America. Guns are too prevalent and there is the Second Amendment right to bear arms. (You can argue against the purpose of the Second Amendment, but the Courts have upheld citizens’ right to own guns: accept this fact.) Americans won’t stand for prohibition anyway. It’s a part of our national fabric. And we all know, despite the trite saying, and despite bans on firearms (see New York City), criminals will get guns. It is impossible to keep guns out of the hands of someone who wants one. Thus, bans on assault rifles, for example, won’t put a dent in the problem (the shooter at Sandy Hook also has two handguns. Accept the fact that there are guns out there and they are here to stay.
Intervention with mentally disturbed people is an even more difficult task. Would Americans allow a law that permits the detention and treatment of people who haven’t committed crimes? There are too many stories of Soviet and Chinese tyrants using such a law to arrest enemies of the state. I was listening to a criminologist who has studied the common factors that these disturbed mass killers have and he said it’s easy to add up the symptoms after the fact, but there could be a million people who have similar symptoms who don’t go on killing sprees. Accept the fact that functional but mentally disturbed people will get guns and we have no power to stop them. I am not advocating that dangerous maniacs have guns; I am simply pointing out the reality of the situation.
School safety? The killer in the Sandy Hook event broke the door open to get in. It was admirable to hear how the teachers handled this crisis. They were scared but calm and did everything right, carrying out well rehearsed safety plans. Yet 2o children and 6 adults were killed. Would a guard at the door have prevented this? Is one guard enough? My thinking is that this guy would have shot the guard at the beginning of his spree. Forget about metal detectors; he wasn’t asking to be let in. And what about safety in other public places, such as the Clackamas shopping center in Oregon, or the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or a large campus like Virginia Tech. Can you have enough guards? Is total protection feasible much less affordable?
There is no easy answer to this problem. But I suggest two things.
1. All schools should have a video monitoring system with a designated person on campus to monitor it. Can all schools afford this? To protect our children, I would pay whatever it cost for my district. I know that some schools already have such a system installed. But do they have a designated monitor? With well placed video monitors at least staff would have an idea what was happening in such an event and could respond better. The principal of Sandy Hook, Dawn Hochsprun, and the school psychologist, Mary Joy Sherlach, bravely ran toward the shooter when they heard shots and sadly they were killed. Perhaps a control center and a defensive plan would have helped save their lives.
2. Arm some teachers and staff members so they can protect themselves and our children. I know this will get a big reaction from those against firearms, but think it through in light of the reality of the issues that I have outlined. It is not possible to prevent these tragic shootings before they happen, so sh0uld we leave our children unprotected while some maniac walks around and shoots them at will?
I am not talking about handing out pistols at random. Teachers and staff members must volunteer to be in such a program. They must be trained extensively in the use of handguns and be given instructions on how to handle panic situations. This type of training is given to police officers. Police departments could give such instruction and certify that those who pass the course are capable of defending themselves and our children. Annual certification should be required. Weapons should be kept in a gun safe in classrooms with the key in the teacher’s physical possession. Supervisory staff would keep them in their offices and some would carry them at all times. Skeptics will say that poor little Miss Smith is not capable of such responsibility, but I disagree after hearing interviews of the brave teachers who protected their students at Sandy Hook: they were willing to risk their lives to save their children. Some gave their lives in doing so.
So what would happen in such an event where teachers and staff are armed? If they act according to their training they will kill or subdue the gunman. They could also be killed or injured, but is their slaughter and the slaughter of children more preferable? I am not suggesting that teachers go Rambo, but with proper training they should act according to a defensive plan that will protect their students. They should fire their weapon as a last resort. If they act with a calm head they will save lives. I am not saying this is a panacea for such a complex problem, but until someone figures out something better we need to protect our children, now.
NB. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a gun enthusiast. I don’t hunt or spend my spare time cleaning my arsenal.