Fighting mass shootings Pt. 1
The reaction to the horrific Sandy Hook shootings and other shooting incidents seems to have pushed many towards a war on guns. While tightening up some gun laws are a component of lowering school, retail and workplace shootings, focusing solely on guns is a mistake. We’ve made this mistake before during Prohibition when we banned alcohol instead of focusing on alcoholism. We launched a war on drugs instead of a war on drug abuse. We launched a war on terror instead of a war on Al-Qaeda.
In a recent column, I raised the idea of adding more trained armed security personnel in malls, office buildings and schools. Imagine my horror when the tone-deaf gun zealots who run the NRA came out for armed guards in every school! Ever since the cold dead hand of the NRA wrapped itself around the idea of armed security the idea has become a joke, not even worthy of an honest debate.
Opponents of having police in schools point out that there were officers at Columbine and it didn’t prevent the atrocity. Within five minutes of the attack, the deputy assigned to Columbine was in the parking lot where he exchanged gunfire with Eric Harris. He missed. A half dozen other law enforcement officers arrived shortly afterwards. But the protocol was different back then. The police did what they were trained to do: stay outside. And because the officer didn’t kill Harris doesn’t mean therefore there should be no officers at schools. Suppose he had killed the leader of the Columbine assault? We’ll never know what might’ve happened.
But thinking we can put officers at every school in America is as pie in the sky as thinking we can rid America of guns. Such a broad solution is as wasteful as TSA pat downs of children, the elderly and disabled. I’m thinking of something much more targeted.
The bulk of our resources need to go into threat detection and intelligence. The Secret Service isn’t as successful as it is because they carry machine guns, have defensive driving skills and will shield the president with their own bodies if need be. No, they’re successful because they monitor threats against the president or whomever they’re protecting. They interview the potential threats and assess the likelihood of them carrying out the crime. They monitor the whereabouts of the potential perpetrators. They want to prevent the shooter from ever showing up armed. We need to train police departments to be able to do similar work with potential shooters. And perhaps in those cases where a credible threat has been made is when we could install an officer or two in schools on a temporary basis until the threat is neutralized, whether he/she is arrested or hospitalized.
It’s going to take training and resources. The FBI has a program that interviews mass shooters. They have profiles. Shooters don’t form in a vacuum. Most shooters have mentioned their intent before they put it into action. They may have an online presence that spills clues to their plans. Friends and students need to work with faculty and police to identify threats at the germination stage.
It works. The same day as the Sandy Hook shootings, police in Bartlesville, Oklahoma arrested an 18 year old who was planning a mass shooting at his high school. The man had purchased a weapon, and was seen researching the Columbine shootings and trying to recruit others to go along with him. He was also attempting to get a diagram of the school.
We don’t need to arm teachers. But every school should have an intruder defense plan. Just like we drill for natural disasters schools should drill for intruders. Each teacher should know what to do whether it’s locking doors, getting kids down or into a designated safe area of the classroom.
Many school classrooms are designed with a wall of windows, which obviously aren’t going to stop a bullet. Maybe we should have ballistic curtains in classrooms that teachers can draw closed after they’ve locked the door. By the way, that door can be reinforced against bullets. We’ve reinforced cockpit doors, why not classroom doors? Think outside the box.
Intelligence is how we killed Osama Bin Laden. It’s how we broke the back of Al-Qaeda. There’s no SEAL Team operation or drone strike without intelligence. The FBI has disrupted terror cells based on information. School, mall and workplace shootings are domestic terrorism and we have to approach them with the same tools.
We need to intervene in troubled perpetrators lives before they ever arrive on scene with a weapon. And we need police and teachers trained in protocols to deal with intruders. Lastly, we need a plan of action for intruder emergencies in schools.
What about guns, you ask? I deal with guns in part 2.