School Shootings: Can We Do Better Than Just Reducing Casualties?
While the issue and solution is still in its infancy stages, the question I am proposing is the same one I have been presenting to multiple school districts and schools I both worked with professionally as a former teacher, as well as the ones I have worked with since starting my consulting business Leadership & Legacy LLC and this non-profit (Patriots 4 Life Inc). While I'm not opposed to any effort that reduces casualties if and/or when a shooting event in a school might take place, my concern is that I haven't been hearing anything with regards to the plan that 'prevents' shooting events from taking place.
I don't think there is a parent out there that doesn't want this problem to end. But we have to fully understand that to fix the problem we have to be honest with ourselves and recognize there are two primary efforts that have to be taking place and simultaneously. One is a short-term goal and the other is a long-term one, and both have many moving parts that need to be implemented in order for it to be successful. Having testified at my own state capitol for the last three years now and having met privately on invites from House Representatives and Senators in Colorado I have still yet to hear this verbiage come up in any meaningful and genuine conversation. On the left, I only hear Democrats in my state wanting to limit and grab guns. And on the right I only hear Republicans wanting to arm teachers. Both won't solve the problem, because neither addresses the root cause of it -- the heart of the individual that eventually becomes the attacker.
The short-term solution to the problem is we have to stop the bleeding so-to-speak. We have to prevent guns and weapons from getting into our schools. Having an armed and trained officer in schools is not enough. It doesn't stop the shooting event. It only ends it sooner and with potentially fewer casualties. And arming teachers only encourages a bad gun fight and likely paints a bullseye on the back of the teacher to be the first person shot if the event takes place in the classroom and the shooter has any inclination the teacher might be armed and the only forceful resistance to the shooter.
The biggest threat of a school shooting is not coming from the random outsider and stranger to the school. Schools have done a fairly good job deterring this threat. The most likely person to conduct a shooting is a student from the school itself. A student who walks in everyday, shows their student ID badge and goes about their business like they do most days. You can profile these students as best you can and what you tend to find that schools watch most carefully is this profile: male, average age of 15-16, not usually popular, usually struggling with friends or socially doesn't fit in, and who may be bullied and/or teased by their peers. This person may also have a very abusive and toxic life outside of school stemming from parental neglect or abuse, or perhaps a divorce at home that has made their life painful, confusing, and very frustrating. But this isn't all the profile description that is out there, and these kids are smart and can hide a lot of their emotions from adults. My point here is that they are tough to profile and even if you can successfully do this, you still can't stop them from bringing a gun into the school. You can put signs outside your school all you want that say things like "gun-free zone", "this school has armed security", etc. and it won't deter the student whose life is so painful the only way they feel they can escape it is to end their life. And then add in the twist of this person being picked on, not made to feel a part of the school culture, or perhaps a sports team, and you have the recipe for a shooter. Multiple shooting events that have taken place across the country are proof of this. Many of these schools had signs up, they had armed security on site, and still a shooting took place and children died. The short-term goal, to the stop the bleeding if you will, is to find the gun as it is coming in the school and stop it there. This is what we do at our courthouses, our capitol buildings, and in our airports and it seems to be working just fine. Metal detectors, x-ray scanners, armed security at these entrance checkpoints and all students and bags checked each day as they enter the building. From that point on, schools would no longer be open campuses where students can come and go throughout the day as they please and as allowed by the school/district. And then of course add in all the extra measures most schools have in place today such as locked doors, cameras, etc. will help after that as well. But again, you have to stop the gun from getting in the school. If you don't stop the gun, chances are someone will die after the event takes place.
The long-term goal is much more complex and will take much more time to fix as this has a multitude of factors affecting and driving it. And these factors can change daily, or even just appear for the first time with some students. This is where we treat the individual mental health of all students and that means changing the school culture and environment alongside of identifying struggling students and helping them overcome their personal challenges. This should be the primary focus of schools, with educating students a distant second. It is also important to note here that while helping a student with issues in their life going on outside the school may be more challenging and take more time, what schools can be effective at (and it can be accomplished quickly) is helping students with what is going on inside the school and daily. And this brings me to what I feel is a large part of the crisis at hand -- bullying in schools.
It’s sad to still see with all the awareness and all the efforts schools seemed to put fourth to end bullying it still goes on and the adults in charge in our schools can’t get a handle on it. I saw this first hand for years as a teacher. Just observe a lunch room at a middle school or high school and you’ll see it if you want to look for it. These kids sometimes sit alone at lunch, or wander the halls, or if they are able to hang out with a teacher in a classroom. My strategy when I was teaching was to occasionally wander down to lunch to just observe. Who was alone? Who was left out or teased? Who was struggling? And when I found this student I made an effort to reach out. First to just be kind. Things as simple as saying hello and just noticing them, telling them I was glad to see them and glad they were here. Then I would look for opportunities to compliment them. If they were a student I would ask them to join me at lunch to go over something from class and I would make it a point to build them up and to introduce them to other students who would come in and just hang out during the lunch period. Just as it is easy to ignore the problem of the homeless in our communities by not making eye contact with them when they are standing on corners holding a sign asking for some sort of help, it is easy to do the same in our schools. We have to change the way we look at people who are struggling, who are alone, and who don’t feel valued. If we want their hearts to change, perhaps we need to change ours first. If we can, we may be the one person and the one moment in the day that changes everything and for everyone. I don’t hate much in this world and most who know me know that to be true. But I’ve always hated bullies, and most who know me really well know I have always been swift to deal with them. But I shouldn't hate at all. While it is not always easy to do this, I often try to remember the ones who just may need the most help and who are truly struggling the most are the bullies. And we all have to get better at understanding and dealing with this. Please take a moment to read this article about the work of three fathers from Parkland, Florida who lost children in that horrible school shooting. Their efforts are incredibly honorable but remember they are asking for all our help and we can’t afford to turn our backs on this any longer. I pray that both your heart, as well as mine, may change so that we can work together to stop the bleeding and the pain.