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Michael Landsberry and his wife, Sharon

Michael Landsberry and his wife, Sharon

One might think that school shootings are as common as grass, but they remain, as they have ever been: thankfully rare.  However, that does not protect students and teachers when and where they occur.  And most recently, at about 0700 AM on October 21, 2013, one occurred in Sparks, Nevada at Sparks Middle School.  ABC News reports: 

A middle school math teacher was shot dead today while shielding students from a boy with a gun in a Nevada middle school.

Two students were shot and wounded before the boy with the gun was killed. It’s not clear how he died, but police said they did not fire any shots.

The slain teacher was identified by his family as Michael Landsberry, a former U.S. Marine.

Chanda Landsberry, the slain teacher’s sister-in-law, told ABC News that he left behind a wife, Sharon, and two step-daughters.

The two wounded boys were taken to Renown Regional Medical Center and were initially listed in critical condition, hospital spokeswoman Angela Rambo told ABCNews.com.

Authorities said one of the students has been through surgery, while the second is said to be ‘doing well.

Landsberry, a former Marine, served two tours in Afghanistan and was a current member of the Nevada Air National Guard.  The student with a gun, after killing Landsberry and shooting two other students–apparently at random–shot and killed himself.

Fox News reports the perspective of a student witness: 

We were at the basketball court and we heard a pop, like a loud pop, and everybody was screaming and the teacher came to investigate – I thought it was a firecracker at first, but the student was pointing a gun at the teacher after the teacher told him to put it down and the student fired a shot at the teacher and the teacher fell and everybody ran away.  And we ran across the field to get somewhere safe and while we were running we heard about four or five more shots and we just got somewhere safe. This lady let us into her house.

ABC News reports on another student witnesses’ experience:

I heard the first shot,’ a student named Jonathan told the Reno Gazette-Journal. ‘I looked over and saw a kid, my best friend, laying on the ground shot in the arm.’

At that point, students said Landsberry rushed in to try and stop the boy from shooting anyone else. The suspect told Landsberry to back up, and when he did, witnesses said he boy shot the math teacher in the chest.

While the shooter ran into a school building, where he hit another boy, Andrew Thompson, a student at the school, said he and his friends tried to save Landsberry.

‘Me and five other friends said, ‘Come on, we have to get him to safety,’ Thompson told ABC News’ Reno affiliate KOLO-TV. ‘We picked him up, carried him a little bit far, and then left him because our vice principal came along and said, ‘Go, go, go! Get to safety.’ So we left the teacher.

As might be expected–and hoped–Landsberry is being lauded as a hero. 

Authorities believe Landsberry was trying to protect students when he was killed. He just celebrated his wedding anniversary on Oct. 18, The Las Vegas-Review Journal reported.’

‘My estimation is that he is a hero,’ said Reno Police Department Deputy Chief Tom Robinson.”

‘To hear that he was trying to stop that is not surprising by any means,’ said his sister-in-law Chanda Landsberry. She added his life could be summed up by his love of family, his students and his country.

There is a numbingly familiar refrain:

Police said there is no apparent motive yet for the shooting and they believe the gunman acted alone.

Before I discuss this case and its implications, let’s consider the reality of violence in America: violence of all kinds has been declining, and declining steadily, and school shootings are still best understood by their rarity.  Consider this graph from the FBI:

Screen shot 2013-10-22 at 8.23.31 PMTwo statistics tell the tale well.  In 1993, the population was 257,782,608.  The violent crime rate was 747.1, there were 24,526 murders and non-negligent (accidental) manslaughters, and the rate of those crimes was 9.5.  In 2012, the population was 313,914,040 (more than 56 million greater), the violent crime rate was 386.9 (a drop of 360.2), and the murder/non-negligent manslaughter number was 4.7, a drop of 4.8.

Consider too that during this time, the rate of gun ownership by law abiding Americans has risen.  In 2011, Gallup reported that one in three Americans report owning a gun, and 47% report they have a gun in their home.  Of course, there is reason to believe the numbers are substantially higher.  Many people are distinctly uncomfortable revealing the fact of their gun ownership or its numbers to any stranger.  In addition, during the Obama years, gun and ammunition sales have skyrocketed, particularly among first time gun owners, and women.  Democrats are also buying guns at surprising rates.  The surge in concealed carry permits in most American states should also not be underestimated.

In short, there are far more guns in the hands of Americans than at any time in history, yet violence, including violence involving guns–a small part of the overall violence picture–has been steadily declining and continues to decline.  Not exactly a ringing endorsement for gun control.

There are two questions that may be worth posing when debating the related issues:

“When a school shooter is present, able to kill students and teachers, what should be done?  Why is being unarmed preferable to being armed?”

“Should Michael Landsberry and every other teacher be lauded as a hero because he was able to shoot and stop a killer, or because he died in a doomed, unarmed attempt to stop a killer?  Which outcome honors the brave and enhances society?”

As I’ve often written, in virtually every school attack, the police have had no role whatsoever in stopping the shooter or saving lives.  This was true in Aurora, CO, where the police eventually took the killer into custody, but every indication is he was done with shooting and was leaving the theater.  It was true at Virginia Tech (32 dead and 15 wounded) and at Sandy Hook Elementary school (26 dead) where both killers shot themselves before police could intervene.

Infoplease has a timeline of worldwide school and mass shootings that is useful in several ways.  Keep in mind that this timeline provides only the most cursory details, however, several facts are indisputable:

Such killings are not limited to the United States, nor have the most deadly–by virtue of the sheer number of dead and wounded–been limited to the United States.

All of the schools involved, and virtually every other place, have been so called “gun-free zones,” better understood to be victim disarmament zones where killers can be certain there will be no one to stop them until they’ve killed as much as they please.

In virtually none of the cases did armed authorities have anything to do with stopping the killers or saving lives, but in some, armed citizens did.

Doors, security cameras, magnetic card locks, and other passive methods of school security can serve only to delay a shooter, and commonly only by seconds.  Schools are virtually never designed for the kind of security that might be even minimally effective in deterring, slowing, or stopping killers.  It’s just too expensive, and it would violate fire laws, endangering students and teachers in other ways.

When a killer is present and has demonstrated his intentions, by brandishing a gun, or by actually shooting–as was the case in Sparks–two things matter above all else: time and distance.  Students, and particularly teachers, have a choice: run or attack.  This is an issue I’ve given a great deal of thought.

My school is like virtually all: a shooting gallery for killers and a nightmare for defenders.  Long, straight hallways offer little or no cover (actual protection from bullets) or concealment (the ability to stay out of sight and out of mind).  Classroom doors are lockable, but easily breached in seconds.  Like virtually every American teacher, I am unarmed, by law and school policy, but only when I’m on school property.

School shootings remain rare, but always possible.  A shooting in my school is very unlikely–statistically speaking–but always possible.  I’ve no doubt Michael Landsberry understood this, but took some comfort in the knowledge that an attack in his school was highly unlikely–until October 21.  On that day, time and distance became very important to him.

I am a large and strong man, trained in a number of martial arts and specifically the empty handed disarming of armed people.  But the problem is one of time and distance.  If I have sufficient time to get close enough to a killer without being shot and disabled or killed, it is likely I can disarm and disable him–if there is only one.  If there are two or more, an unarmed attack is probably suicide.  But in my school–in virtually every school–time and distance are on the side of the killer, even if they are an average-sized middle school student, and the terrain absolutely favors the killer.

In addition, such confrontations are nothing at all like TV or the movies would have us believe.  If I can get close enough, I will not send the killer flying with a spinning helicopter kick that will neatly separate him from his gun and render him immediately unconscious.  I have to be close enough to actually put both hands on his gun, and once gaining control of it, have to strike him–as quickly and brutally as possible–in sufficient vital areas to incapacitate him, probably in ways that will kill him.  All of this will happen in mere seconds, and not in close-up, panoramic slow motion.  In that close combat, I must expect to absorb at least one and probably more bullets, but once committed, I can’t stop until I succeed or am dead.  This is not an abstract hypothetical scenario in support of a feckless policy, but cold, hard, bloody reality.

This would be my very real and only choice–other than running away, of course.  I would not run away.  And yes, I’ve sufficient experience in such situations to know that.  So did Michael Landsberry, but time and distance were against him.  He chose to approach a killer–a deranged child that had already wounded one student–in the open, with no cover or concealment.  That deranged child did not allow him to get close enough to matter.  Landsberry understood these dynamics, but did it anyway.

Michael Landsberry, Marine combat veteran, survived war, but not a crazed adolescent with a handgun.  Did he die a hero?  Certainly in God’s eyes.  John 10:11:

Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.

I know that I, and those who loved Landsberry, would prefer that he be recognized as a hero because, confronted by a killer, he was able to use time and distance to his advantage, and shoot and stop that killer from a safe distance, absolutely saving anyone else from being wounded or killed.  But Landsberry and I, and virtually every other teacher in America, is unarmed, unable to save their lives, and the lives of their students, unless by sheer luck, time and distance fall in our favor.

He didn’t have to lay down his life.  He could have been allowed–by law and policy–the means to save it, and the lives of others.

Still, Landsberry demonstrated the greatest love.  I hope I never have to do so, but if necessary, I’ve no doubt I will, and I’ve no doubt that thousands of other teachers would do the same.

I also have no doubt that we are all diminished by the untimely, unnecessary death of Michael Landsberry.  He died for unhinged Progressive notions of “feeling safe.”  He died for the mistaken “protection” afforded by small, metal “gun free school zone” signs.  He died because anti-gun politicians and their sycophants were more interested in “making a statement” than in saving innocent lives.  He died because too many school boards, lawmakers and school administrators trust teachers with the lives of students, but only in the abstract. When their lives are truly in imminent, deadly danger, they don’t trust teachers at all.  By their decision to disarm some of the most responsible, exhaustively vetted people in America, they are tacitly admitting their willingness to accept some number of wounded and dead when and if a school shooting occurs.

Perhaps there is some hope.  After the deadly attack at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, even Interpol Secretary General Ronald Noble–an American working for a European agency–seems to have been inoculated with common sense and effective tactics:  

Societies have to think about how they’re going to approach the problem. One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you’re going to have to pass through extraordinary security.

Ask yourself: If that was Denver, Col., if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly?’ Noble said, referring to states with pro-gun traditions. ‘What I’m saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, ‘Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?’ This is something that has to be discussed.

That discussion can lead to only one rational conclusion: there is only one sure, low or no cost, safe and effective means of protecting lives when a shooter is present: allow willing and able teachers to carry concealed weapons, just as they do off school property.

On October 21, Landsberry needed a concealed handgun, not a taser, not a gun locked in a safe in a principal’s office, not a police officer who, once called would be minutes away at best.  As with a fire extinguisher, he needed that handgun immediately, badly, and nothing else would do.  Because he did not have it, because he, a Marine combat veteran, was deprived of the means to do what he was manifestly capable of doing, he died and a second student was wounded.

Yes, he’s a hero, but wouldn’t it be better for us all for him to be able to hear and appreciate that word?  Wouldn’t it be better for his students to find him, alive and well, in his classroom the following morning?  Wouldn’t be better for the next brave teacher in the next school where it’s unlikely a shooting will happen?

For readers wanting more in-depth information on this topic, may I suggest my five part series on school shootings?  Those articles (last updated in December of 2012), which I’ll update after the first of the year, are available here:

Article 1 

Article 2 

Article 3 

Article 4

Article 5