We Have Become Insane

From the New York Times, August 8, 2019

This was a story featured in the online edition of the New York Times this morning. And it has really driven home for me how insane and “normalized” mass shootings have become, as if that wasn’t totally obvious already.

Apparently, along with this week’s advice for potty-training a child, we now need expert advice in helping kiddos to cope with our own – and the child’s – fears after a mass shooting. Our country has experienced so many of these gut-wrenching mass shootings that advice is needed?

Allow me to rant a bit here. There are actual solutions to the number of violent terroristic acts involving mass shootings. Licensing and strict registration of guns for example. Or amunition. Yet legislation always seems to be dead on arrival in the hallowed halls of the US Congress. So what happens? Experts offer advice about everything except to address the elephant in the room.

As an educator, I was trained to respond to an active shooting situation during our yearly active shooting drills. Specifically, that meant instructing my 8-, 9-, and 10-year old students how to defend themselves should a shooter enter our school building and/or classroom. We planned to stack classroom furniture in front of our door, throw whatever was handy (like a stapler), hide silently against wall so as to not be visible to anyone looking from the hallway into our classroom interior, and/or run like hell to a “meeting place.” My paraprofessional and I scoped out a closet that I and a mobility-disabled student could attempt to hide in since a sprint out of the building was not possible. We removed the closet bar and brainstormed ways to make that closet a viable hiding place.

So I ask: Have we become insane? The solution to mass shootings is to stop them. This week over 30 families have a huge hole in their hearts where a loved one once lived. Many other families are coping with serious injury that will take weeks to physically heal and a lifetime of therapy to cope and recover, if that is even possible.

Are we to believe that the solution to mass shootings is to learn to live with that fear?

The Elephant in the Classroom

Another mass shooting, another set of knee-jerk responses.

Once again, there is a call to arm educators and school staff in an effort to thwart an active shooter in a school building. It is yet another measure that has been proposed to protect students while in school, but certainly not the first.

At first we practiced soft- and hard-lockdown procedures. Which morphed into active shooter drills employing ALICE (Alert-Lockdown-Inform-Counter-Evacuate) and other options-based practices. Read more about ALICE here.

While I was glad that a protocol had been worked out by people far more expert in such situations than I would ever be, these protocols can make adults and children very anxious.  ALICE and options-based responses are not a 100% guarantee of success.

Schools sometimes have resource officers stationed within them. At Stoneman-Douglas in Parkland, FL, there has been wide-spread criticism of the resource officers who did not enter the building as the gunman was shooting. The officers, I believe, were armed with pistols which would have been no match for the AR-15 assault weapon the shooter was carrying.  Would a resource office shooting a pistol have saved lives and prevented injuries in the Parkland incident? Were those officers slow in assessing the situation and their response to it, or were they incompetent? Either way, the officers must now live with their decisions and the consequences for the rest of their lives.

Now Mr. Trump and others are raising the idea of arming educators, or to be more precise, arming some educators. That elite group of people would be reward by a bonus for their skill and willingness to take on an active shooter within a school building using a concealed weapon. And while teachers carrying weapons is allowed in some state and schools already, this horrifying proposal – horrifying to anyone who has ever worked in an elementary, middle, or even high school classroom with impulsive children – is being touted as the magical solution to make our schools safer.

I don’t know why anyone would think school safety would be enhanced by an educator carrying a weapon. Here’s a statistic from a 2007 NYTimes article.  In New York City, police officers, trained in weaponry and in responding to tense shooter situations:

In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate. They shot and killed nine people that year.

Maureen Downey reaffirms this statistic and more in this Atlanta Journal Constitution article, “Cops face hard time hitting targets in gunfire“. Law enforcement officers who train extensively know that hitting the “target” in a tense situation happens less than 20% of the time. How does that translate to educators? What will the collateral damage be in such a situation?

To me, it seems the path of least resistance is to come up with more protocols and reactions to armed shooters. The hard route? That would be having the courage to eliminate the types of weapons used most frequently in mass shootings: assault weapons. Is a weapon that obliterates everything in its path, that causes such massive and total damage to human life (see “What I learned from treating the victims from Parkland“) necessary for civilians to protect themselves?

The elephant in the classroom is that, despite all the protocols and proposals for protecting schools and churches and other venues, mass shooters, some with some very severe mental issues, continue to get access to some very powerful weapons. And unless we are willing to say that this style of weapon has no place in civilian society, until our lawmakers are willing to walk away from lobbyists who protect the manufacturers of these weapons, until access to such high-powered guns is taken away, no amount of hiding in a classroom or arming staff members will save anyone.

Carrying any kind of gun would never be for me: I had no intention of using it whether in a classroom or anyplace else. But I understand that is not everyone’s feeling. I think Emma Gonzalez expresses it best:

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