Guns in the Schools: A Complex Problem

By LARRY CHALK | Jul 18, 2018

I swore I wouldn’t write this essay. Then I swore I wouldn’t submit it to The SandPaper. But the thought that haunts me is that something unspeakable could happen here. It’s hard to imagine what it feels like to go to school and worry that some nut might invade your sanctuary and cause great damage.

I couldn’t stop thinking about the guns in schools problem. The more I thought, the more I realized what a complex situation it has become. We have almost always had schools and the same for guns. Why has this problem become so commonplace in the past 10 years? This is a sociological issue that I am not qualified to address. However, I have been thinking of preventive, security and response time issues.

The easiest way to stop a particular projected behavior is to stop it before it begins. Laws, unfortunately, are particularly ineffective in stopping gun violence. Chicago has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, but sometimes its murder by gun rate exceeds that of Afghanistan. We might enact laws that limit gun sales to those over a certain age, but laws seem to be obeyed by just the good guys. 

More promising is profiling those who seem to have a tendency to be emotionally or mentally inclined to inflict violence on their peers. Young white men seem to like to go back to schools where they feel they were rejected. Young black men tend to do the same, but in their own neighborhoods. Still, the ability to pick out the troubled teens who tend to cause violence is a great first step. As has been demonstrated, there must be follow-up when an individual is identified.

In addition to finding those likely to cause a problem and getting them some counseling, we need to keep them out of schools. Sure, we can employ metal detectors located at the main (and only unlocked) access door to the school building. 

We can employ armed guards to watch over the hallways and document visitors. I have heard of a school lobby where you must be buzzed in to a small area and then present your credentials to the camera. When the entry door behind you closes, you are physically locked in until school personnel determine whether you may be a threat or not.

So what are the problems associated with the one-entrance procedure? You have to open all doors if there is a fire alarm. Some alarms can be accessed from outside the school. If the shooter is a student in the particular school, he can enter the school and then trigger the fire alarm. Students pour out of classrooms, crowding halls with living targets. Dismissal time is another prime opportunity for a shooter to operate. This type of attack is probably best thwarted by police patrols.

OK, so there is an active shooter in the school. What do you do? Hide the kids in a closet? This can make them vulnerable if the shooter gets access. Cell phones make it easy to call for help. But even the most responsive police units don’t arrive for five minutes. Someone can do a lot of damage in five minutes. This seems to me to be the crux of the matter – quick response.

There have already been several instances where staff members have responded to an active shooter. In at least one, the shooter was shot before he hurt a single student. In Texas there is an intermediate school where it is well known that the staff carries a lot of guns and have done so for 20 years. No one has ever attempted to break into that school.

When police respond there is another problem. Exactly where in the school is the shooter? Some regional schools are really huge. Southern Regional has separate buildings. If the caller tells the police where the shooter is located, this solves a lot of problems, but you can’t count on an emotional caller to do this.

There also has to be a way for responders to identify the “good guy” when they get to the scene. Imagine a staff member wounding an active shooter only to be killed by police who see him with a gun in his hand. So, each school would have to have some identifying vest, hat, etc. that would be kept secret so a shooter could not copy it.

If we could recruit retired police or soldiers to guard schools, it would simplify weapons training. Otherwise, volunteers might be recruited from the educational, maintenance and administrative staff and trained. There should also be some incentive pay involved. Many teachers feel that they are educators and not armed guards. This is perfectly understandable, and no one should be forced to do something that makes him or her feel uncomfortable. In the case of too few in-house volunteers, the school would have to resort to hired guards.

Eventually, all schools will probably have metal detectors. Large schools with thousands of students may require multiple entry points, with many metal detectors at each one. Proper staffing is also required to intercede promptly if some illegal device is discovered.

Historically we have seen people get guns in many ways, both legally and illegally. Just as Prohibition didn’t stop drinking, banning guns will not stop crime. There are literally millions of gun owners in the U.S. who never do anything wrong. But there is a criminal class who will steal these guns and sell them to people deemed unfit to own them. Even if we banned private ownership of all guns in the U.S., other countries would gladly sell them here one way or another.

School shootings are a complex problem. We all need to work on multiple fronts to keep our school kids safe. Please consider working with educators and law enforcement to address this problem, because our legislators have seen it occur repeatedly without much substantial action.

Larry Chalk lives in Fort Myers, Fla., and Haven Beach.









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