This past Friday, we witnessed the aftermath of violence and tragedy: The murder of 20 children and 6 adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut. In the article before this one, AWildDuck shared a poignant and emotional story of Logan Dryer, a 6 year old boy who was protected from his fears by four victims of the massacre.
In the wake of tragedy caused by violence, it’s inevitable that politicians, pundits, and specialists rush to patch the security apparatus or call for new studies of mental illness. For many in the United States, it’s high time for more restrictive gun control laws, and certainly, something could be done to improve detection and intervention of individuals capable of massacring children. A national dialogue on meaningful gun control is certainly in order, but this won’t address the root of the problem and it certainly won’t solve the problem. It’s hard to imagine that criminals and high performing individuals with aggressive forms of mental illness will not get access to weapons.
Of course, a better understanding of mental illness would be a great leap forward, but we certainly don’t want a police state that incarcerates people because of what they might do. In this moving Blog post, the mother of a 13 year old boy with mental illness explains the tribulations of dealing with her son. He has brief explosive bouts during which he presents a danger to anyone in the vicinity.
Improved school safety could definitely be part of a solution, but here – again – we don’t want our children studying in prisons that are inhospitable to pupils, educators and community participation.
Bob Strang, the CEO of Investigative Management Group is a specialist in threat-assessment. In a Fox News interview, he proposes addressing the effectiveness of all three areas: weapons, criminal psychology, and school security. His 3-prong proposal is designed to reduce the likelihood of a lethal school rampage like the one we witnessed this past week.
Mr. Strang suggests that we simultaneously change or reinforce these areas, not necessarily in major ways. For example, he does not propose that we ban civilian guns or prevent all unannounced visitors to a school. The first may be unrealistic and the latter may set a grim tone for socializing and learning.
- Gun Control: For example, ban assault weapons, limit clips, end the gun-show loophole
- Mental Illness: He has no specific suggestions, but I think he is hinting at better identification and preemptive intervention
- School Security: This is where it gets interesting . . .
Strang suggests that every school have an armed security professional, possibly recruited and screened from returning war veterans.
In my opinion, suggestion #3 has several problems.
- I wonder if Strang envisions a sniper in a watch tower? I cannot imagine that a single officer in an interior office or even patrolling corridors could be very effective. I could see using armed guards at some inner city schools that struggle with violence daily.
- And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!
Elementary school of the future?
■ Most importantly, a subtle shift from an inviting campus to a restrictive campus has profound implications. The presence of armed guards contributes to an environment that feels more like a prison than a place for learning. It deters unannounced visits from parents and educators—even if the guard is undercover. It bakes into our daily routines an omni-present fear of terrorists and murderers and teaches children that strangers are inherently bad, rather than the judgment they need to develop personal safety habits and an ability to adapt. I prefer an inviting campus that does not have intimidating barriers to plays, concerts, sports events, community groups, and especially parent-teacher conferences. The presence of guards and guns puts a chill on all of these venues.
This led me to think of a slightly less apparent security apparatus and a less restrictive environment. I wonder if it could be effective. Rather than an armed sniper at every school, I wonder if this plan could be an effective alternative to part 3 of Mr. Strang’s suggestion…
3a) A national school-safety czar. Not necessarily at the cabinet level, but under the auspices of our Department of Homeland Security. His role is to set coordinate studies, gather consensus, set policies and encourage standardized practices for drills, lockdowns, spotting suspicious activity, negotiation, etc.
3b) An individual at each school (perhaps existing staff), who is liaison to the safety czar. She gathers intelligence (identify aberrant behavior, online threat absences, etc), investigates cause, implements a standards-based policy, verifies that cameras and perimeters are alert and secure, trains teachers & admins, avoid the complacency that comes with peaceful years on end.
She also works with local law enforcement to plan and practice response time,
review interior maps and perhaps install quick reacting defense, such as tear gas
or floor-level grease dispensers that can disable aggressors in access corridors.
How does my #3b differ from Mr. Strang’s #3. First, it doesn’t add lethal firepower to an area that seeks protection from firepower. I don’t buy the NRA claim that more guns is a solution to ending gun violence. After all, with a population of 200 million adults, America already has 300 million guns. It certainly hasn’t shielded her citizens from violence. Second, it is probably cheaper. Third, it relies on brains, standardized plans and preparation rather than brawn and bullets. Perhaps it’s just me, but I think that this fits within the ethos that we teach our children.
Using a loose analogy, this is why Captain Picard solved problems with his head rather than using his fists and groin like the original Captain Kirk. That earlier Star Trek series looks like a slapstick satire next to the newer one. This is not just due to an improvement in special effects. The Next Generation series is more believable because it is not a “shoot-em-up” western.
And where would the money come from? Probably a reduction in teaching staff!