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The demolition of Sandy Hook Elementary School

This article, which first ran on March 07, 2012, and was most recently updated in August of 2016, is the first in a series illuminating the rationale for concealed carry of handguns by school staff.  I intend to update the series at the beginning of each school year in the hope more and more parents across America will demand their school boards and school district officials take the threat against our schools seriously enough to employ more than “Gun-Free School Zone” signs and feel good/do little “safety” drills.  There is positive movement in this direction, but certainly not everywhere and not nearly fast enough.

The murder of 20 elementary school children and seven adults in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012 renewed the usual calls for completely ineffective, feel-good measures–particularly gun control–that only inflame passions and contribute nothing to saving lives. Then-President Obama’s emotional push for stereotypically progressive “common sense gun safety” legislation, such as requiring federal government approval of sales between relatives and friends, spectacularly failed as Congress clearly heard the American people who know better than to fall for hysterical measures that accomplish nothing.

Far too few federal, state and local politicians have learned, however. On Friday, October 1, 2015, a lone shooter killed eight students and one teacher, ranging in age from 18 to 67 at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. The shooter, who would want his name and photo displayed here, killed himself before he could be engaged by the police. Then-President Obama immediately spoke, admitting that he knew nothing about the incident, but demanding unspecified “common sense gun safety” legislation, and praised himself for politicizing the attack. I addressed the issue here. 

Since the last update of this article, Hillary Clinton took up the gun ban banner, and made it a defining issue of her failed campaign. As with calling the American people “Deplorables,” she and her supporters were certain gun control was a winner. Her followers are still failing to learn the lessons her historic loss has to teach.

The increased tempo of international terror attacks, and the continuing determination of congressional Democrats, and not a few Never Trump Republicans to import hundreds of thousands of “refugees” from Muslim conflict zones, despite administration admissions that many of those refugees would be terrorists, has also increased the threat level.

As an educator, I know well the thinking of my fellow educators. Many recoil in horror at the mere thought of a firearm on school property.  Some even oppose armed police officers. As a former police officer, I know many citizens share that reflexive response. Unfortunately, such responses spring not from reason and a sincere desire for effective action, but from emotion, ill-considered philosophy, and a potentially earnest desire to “do something.” The police officer in me–always just below the surface–wants to tell those people to wake up and do what works.  The educator realizes that providing an engaging opportunity to learn may be the only effective way of changing minds, and of saving lives.

February, 27, 2012, Chardon High School, Chardon, Ohio: A 17 year old student of nearby Lake Academy–who would surely like his name to be mentioned here—fired ten rounds from a .22 caliber pistol in the cafeteria of Chardon High School, killing three students and wounding two.  His handgun apparently empty, he was chased from the school by Frank Hall, a football coach and study hall teacher.  The shooter was known to the students of Chardon High School, and the police arrested him a short time later. A New York Daily News headline speaks eloquently:

F- all of you!’ Ohio teen psycho ******* give the finger and smirks as he is sentenced to life for shooting rampage that left three Chardon High School Students dead.

Given a chance to address the court, the killer said:

This hand that pulled the trigger that killed your sons now masturbates to the memory. F- all of you.

The police had no role in stopping the shooting, which in this case ended when the shooter exhausted his ammunition and was chased from the building. In 2014, he escaped from prison, but was captured six hours later and transferred to a maximum security prison where he remains.

There is some indication that the motive for the shooting was as common as teenage jealousy.  Students who knew one of the victims—Russell King Jr.—and the shooter have suggested that King may have been targeted because he was dating the shooter’s ex-girlfriend, but this remains unconfirmed, and does not explain the shooting of the other four students who happened to be sitting nearby. The shooter’s actual motives–other than pure evil–remain unclear.

Since that shooting, various “experts” have been pedaling their “solutions” to school attacks. Mary Grabar at PJ Media reports on one such “expert,” Jodee Blanco, who shortly after the shooting, appeared on CBS prompting her trademarked anti-bullying program “It’s NOT Just Joking Around!”  For between $4000 and $5500, Blanco, whose self-advertised expertise is that she was once the victim of bullying–or maybe “shunning”–provides a 90-minute program:

I relive painful episodes from my past in front of the students so that they can witness firsthand what I endured at the hands of my peers. … My primary message to students is three fold: bullying is not just joking around, it damages you for life; bullying just isn’t the mean things you do, it’s all the nice things you never do; and if you’re being bullied or shunned, there’s nothing wrong with you. … In addition to the re-enactment of my school days, during which that tri-teared (sic) message is continually reinforced, I also give students specific advice on how to handle what I call “elite tormentors,” the mean members of the cool crowd.  I conclude the presentation with an empathy exercise for students that brings my anti-bullying message home on a visceral and deeply personal level.

Grabar’s article should be read in its entirety.  It may also be worthwhile to read my education article on bullying titled “To Anti-Bully Or Not To Anti-Bully,” which is equally skeptical of the value of programs such as Blanco’s.

Schools are deluged with offers from people like Blanco, offers they might be tempted to accept because of the common need to be seen to be “doing something” after traumatic events, and because the second question commonly asked in the aftermath of school shootings—after “why?”—is: “how can this be prevented?”  If school shootings are caused by bullying, there is a certain logic in trying to prevent bullying.  As soon as the news of a public school shooting breaks, someone inevitably blames bullying.  It seems a reflex these days, a foolish, potentially tragic reflex.

If we accept bullying as the proximate cause of school shootings, how do we explain the fact that virtually none of the kids who have, at one time or another, been “bullied,” shoot up schools, harm themselves or others?  I know of no specific statistics on this issue, but considering that more than 50 million kids are currently enrolled in school in America (I’ve seen statistics indicating between 50 and 55 million) the number of kids bullied who commit such crimes is surely a tiny fraction of a single percent of all kids.  How can we justify spending huge sums of money on anti-bullying programs of questionable worth?  As Grabar wisely put it:

The only ones benefiting are those reaping large consulting fees.

Dealing with bullying is straightforward and inexpensive.  Each and every school must:

(1) Demand and enforce personal responsibility.  Circumstances such as difficult home lives, acne, bad hair days, breaking up with boy/girlfriends, etc. are matters to be considered—if at all–when it’s time to decide on proper consequences, not as matters that prevent proper discipline.

(2) Prosecute all significant violations of the law in concert with school sanctions.  Failing to return a pencil would obviously not apply, but assault or extortion surely would.  This will immediately put a crimp in every significant bullying behavior.

(3) Don’t allow any student to behave stupidly or rudely.  This will handle every other bullying behavior that is not an explicit crime.

(4) Consequences for 2 & 3 must be immediate, sure and uniform.  This will prevent most bullying and dramatically improve the overall school climate.

(5) Do not punish kids forced to engage in legitimate self-defense.  This requires more effort and professionalism from teachers and particularly, principals, but zero-tolerance polices are essentially zero-thinking and discretion policies, and most of us would like to think those we hire to teach our children are capable of exercising common sense.  Common sense would include being able to tell the difference between an assault and a mutually agreed duel with fists.

Many schools don’t do some or all of these things.  That would explain many things about many schools, wouldn’t it? Fortunately, there is some evidence that the zero-tolerance fad may be in the early stages of fading from the educational scene, at least in some places.

Unfortunately, many schools are run by people that fear guns and think those that own them dangerous barbarians. Such people also tend to vehemently oppose effective student discipline. The Obama Administration set the tone by working hard to make it impossible to discipline the worst juvenile criminals infesting many schools, in effect decrying bullying, while simultaneously enabling it. While the Trump Administration is living up to its campaign promises and is draining the swamp, such work is never quick or easy. Convincing such people to meet deadly force with deadly force is also never easy, though perhaps, possible.

The third question to be asked is: what should be done when a shooting occurs?  The single most effective and essentially free solution to this problem is one that is virtually always dismissed out of hand, and usually not discussed at all: allowing willing teachers and staff to carry concealed handguns, and broadly publicizing that fact.  “Solutions” that range from farce, to laughably ineffective, to at least not obviously destructive, are implemented across the nation instead.   They are commonly costly and provide no deterrent effect while having the added “benefit” of providing the illusion of doing something worthwhile.  They’re the “hope and change” of school shooting response.

An article by Larry Banaszak, the Chief of Police at Otterbein University, appearing on FoxNews.com the day after the Chardon shooting, is an example of this mindset.   Banaszak, who specializes in providing training for schools and others in such matters, writes:

The survival concepts we teach at Otterbein University where I serve as chief of police are very simple but dynamic.

There are three basic survival responses to a shooter on campus: run, hide and barricade. Then, as a last resort, attack the shooter.

Banaszak’s first three responses are commonly taught in programs supposedly addressing school shooters, but many self-proclaimed experts in this field and many educators would be utterly horrified by the idea that teachers and students(?!) should take an active role in protecting their lives.  He adds:

We emphasize that students should run to safety and get away from the danger. If the situation is so dangerous that it’s deemed unsafe to run, then hide and barricade yourself in a room and work your plan.

Put aside, for the moment, the content of this kind of “plan” virtually never involves effective and rapid means of stopping an armed attack. Then Banaszak—to the way of thinking of many educators and legislators—goes berserk:

The third survival tactic is the most difficult but none-the-less necessary. A shooter enters the classroom and starts shooting at people. Remember, there is nowhere to run or hide.

The strategy begins with the first person who notices the shooter and yells “GUN!” Everyone in the room then throws whatever is available, as hard as they can, at the shooter’s face causing him to flinch, and preventing him from taking aim. Then what’s known as the “throw and go” tactic is implemented.

Upon throwing items at the shooter, the occupants rush to and swarm the shooter. The first few people are taught to attack and move the shooter’s gun hand and gun toward the ground.

At the same time or shortly after, the other swarmer’s attack and take the shooter to the ground. Students, faculty and staff are taught to strategically lay on the shooter’s extremities as well as their core area to maximize the amount of weight on the shooter.

In addition, they are taught to place ready-at-hand objects such as belts, T-shirts, etc., onto the shooter’s throat, nose and eyes to disrupt breathing and sight.

Once it is determined the shooter is no longer a threat, people are instructed to release pressure to allow breathing but maintain control on top of the shooter until the police arrive.

Critics of this survival tactic argue that you can’t teach people to attack a shooter. But when they are questioned about other options, they become silent.

Banaszak goes on to hope that when a school shooter finds a barricaded room, with a locked door and the lights out, he will ignore it and seek easier targets in the hope of running up his body count.  More likely he’ll notice virtually every classroom with a locked door is dark and simply begin breaking them in, which in many schools will take mere seconds.  And if instead of a single shooter, multiple shooters are involved, the effectiveness of locked doors, extinguished lights and hiding behind particle board desktops will be quickly revealed as wishful non-thinking rather than safety.

Banaszak’s article should also be read in its entirety, for in some ways, he’s absolutely correct.  There is nothing wrong with taking cover (putting things capable of stopping bullets between children, teachers and a shooter), or if that’s not possible, seeking concealment (hiding).  And when faced with deadly, imminent danger and safe retreat isn’t possible, a mass attack carried out as forcefully and aggressively as possible is certainly better—practically and morally—than depending upon the mercy of a madman or patiently waiting your turn to be killed.  However, anyone assaulting an armed killer empty-handed must expect to absorb some number of bullets in the process.

Modern school self-defense arsenal
credit: repulse.com

Some suggestions for responding to armed school attackers have degenerated to farce, such as the Alabama middle school principal that advocated stockpiling canned food in classrooms to be issued to students, who would throw the canned fruit and vegetables at an armed maniac. One can only imagine the effectiveness of this tactic is the students serving as little catapults are six or seven years old.

However, Banaszak, virtually every other “consultant” on such matters, and most educators and legislators are, by omission, dooming some number of students and teachers to death or serious injury in any school shooting.  They are, for reasons of fear, political correctness, lack of knowledge, or victim/identity politics, condemning to death children who otherwise might live.

By default they tacitly accept some level of injured and dead.

A serious charge?  Indeed.  But before I explain, let’s examine the potential threat.  How significant is the contemporary threat of school shootings in America?

A partial list of school shootings from around the world—in timeline format–is available at Infoplease.com.  It’s worth visiting, particularly for those who have not been following the issue, if for no other reason then to illustrate that the problem is not confined to supposedly primitive, gun-crazy and uniquely violent America. In fact the school shootings with by far the largest body counts have not occurred on American soil.

Perhaps most potentially accurate is information provided by the University of Virginia (specifically its school of education) in a brief but informative article. Their conclusions mirror what I’ve been able to find in a great many sources as well as my personal experience in nearly 20 years in law enforcement.  Their primary findings:

(1) In 2004 there were only 10 in-school homicides in American schools, but 2261 homicides of school-age kids outside of school.  In the same year, for children 5-19, 9491 died in accidents, 1983 died of suicide, 1750 died of cancer, 631 died of heart disease, and 140 died of flu and pneumonia.  In other words, the risk of death at the hands of a school shooter is, for most kids, very small indeed.

I do take issue with the methodology here in that they are including kids as old as 19.  People of that age have been adults for two years, and have usually already graduated from high school, so the wisdom of including them in school statistics is suspect.  Also, many children do not enter kindergarten until the age of 6.  I’m not sure what effect this has on these statistics, but I suspect the general proportions would remain relatively constant.

(2) While in school, kids are exposed to an elevated level of non-violent crimes and less dangerous incidents such as simple assault, but are more likely to encounter serious crimes of all kinds outside of school.

The University of Virginia also provides an informative article on school violence myths.  Its general findings:

(1) Juvenile violence, like violent crime in general, has been decreasing for years.  The reasons for this happy downward trend remain unclear.

(2) As a result, school violence—in general—has also been decreasing.

credit: Universityofvirginia

(3) As one might expect, school homicides have also been decreasing.  The most dangerous recent years were: 1993 and 1994 (42 deaths) and 1998 (35 deaths).  In 2008, there was only one, and two in each of 2009 and 2010.

Final Thoughts:

Mark Twain said: “There are lies, damned lies and statistics.”  What can be reasonably taken from available statistics is that kids are–statistically–quite safe in schools.  This is unsurprising.

Schools generally take pains to ensure the safety of the children entrusted to them.  They are, for the most part, continually and closely supervised by people who care not only about their intellectual growth, but their physical safety. However, there is nothing stopping armed killers from attacking virtually any school in America.

The community college in Roseburg, OR was “protected” by a single security officer, who was, by school policy, unarmed. Ironically, there had been some recent discussion about arming that security officer, but nothing came of it.

There is an ancient Chinese curse: “may you live in interesting times.”  We live in interesting times indeed.  Domestic killers have always been with us as the residents of Chardon, Ohio and Newtown, Connecticut  now know as fact rather than remote possibility.  The undeniable fact that, statistically speaking, school children may be as likely to be hit by a meteorite as shot in a school attack is surely of no comfort to the kids shot at Chardon High School and their families, or the children and teachers killed in Newtown and their families, and the students and teacher killed in Roseburg and their families.

Our times are more interesting by far because Islamic terrorists around the world would love to attack soft targets—such as schools—on American soil, and attacking schools is a very old tactic in their infernal bag of demonic tricks (go here for a fictionalized, but entirely plausible scenario).  A novella of the same theme by William Forstchen is also very much worth your time.

There is every reason to believe sleeper cells of such terrorists are salted throughout the nation and more are regularly infiltrating our porous national borders. President Obama welcomed hundreds of thousands of “refugees” from the Middle East, and his administration admitted that many of them could be terrorists.

Only a tiny fraction of a single percent of school children will ever be injured or killed by a tornado while at school, yet we take reasonable precautions because we know that while rare, tornados are always possible.  The same is true of school shootings, yet we don’t take every reasonable precaution we could and should take, and a growing number of consultants are making a very good living handing out less than optimum–and in some cases dangerous–advice.

We do need security-conscious principals and teachers. We need schools designed with security in mind.  We need plans, not only for tornadoes and fires, but for school shootings.  Those plans should include using school facilities to make things as difficult as possible for shooters, including, as Larry Banaszak wrote, attacking shooters when all else has failed and there is no alternative but passively dying.

Where we have failed, where we constantly, knowingly continue to fail, is in refusing to implement a policy that will not only deter school shooters, but will provide the only real and practical possibility of immediately stopping school shooters, potentially stopping them before anyone is hurt.

Why plan to require slight female teachers and school children to, unarmed, attack armed killers with classroom implements or canned goods when it is possible to ensure they never have to make such a desperate, doomed play for their very lives? 

At the least, what I suggest would make it possible that no child would ever have to rush an armed killer with nothing more deadly than a ruler or can of peas in their shaking hand.  It’s a policy that will cost schools little or nothing, and will actually enhance overall public safety, yet it is reflexively, and often violently, resisted.

In discussing potential research paper topics, arming teachers against attackers virtually always comes up. My 15-year old students have no doubt, if a killer entered their school, they’d want their teachers armed. In that certainty, they are wiser than a great many supposedly educated adults.

I hope to see you here, gentle readers, next Tuesday, and for several Tuesdays that follow for the rest of this series. And as always, your comments are welcomed and appreciated.