by Cathleen Vought
My husband, Eric, was invited to present as part of a panel on active shooter scenarios at the International Association of Emergency Managers’ annual convention, which happened to be in Reno this year. In 1992, on Simon’s Rock College of the Bard campus in Massachusetts, Eric’s former roommate, Wayne Lo, went on a shooting spree. Eric’s had to live with the guilt of hindsight, wondering if he’d missed some warning sign that this guy he trusted was going to blow his top. He and other students had to fight the school administration from going completely overboard about a student bringing a brightly-colored plastic squirt gun on campus and being suspended for it following the incident. He has spent many years studying school shootings, and has seen school policies go from “all guns are evil” to “maybe lockdowns alone aren’t working and we need to try something new”.
The media and “professionals” have told us that there are security guards on campuses and in schools, and this keeps the students safe. The first person Wayne (and most school shooters, actually) took out was the security guard. These same professionals also tell us that banning guns at schools makes them safer. Do they really think that the person coming to kill people cares if they’re breaking the rules by carrying a gun on campus? They tell us that police response times and training in these situations have gotten better. Great, can I carry an officer in my pocket? Even with the phenomenal response time of three minutes by the Sparks, Nevada police department to the school shooting last week just south of where we’re staying, the incident was already done and the shooter had killed himself.
Of course, this was after a math teacher at the school, a highly-decorated Marine Corps veteran, tried to talk the 12-year-old boy down, giving other students a chance to escape, but losing his life in the process. If we can trust a Marine with a firearm to keep the peace in a foreign country, why wouldn’t we expect them to be able to handle one in a classroom, typically a much less violent area? If we entrust our children’s minds, souls and bodies to a teacher for eight hours of the day, why wouldn’t we give them the tools to defend them?
Back to the conference. Watching the presentation on active shooter situations by the other two panelists, I was struck by the changes that were being considered by some of the most forward-thinking and highest authorities in emergency management. An emergency manager at a Texas college made a statement that stuck with me, along the lines of if students were not allowed to carry firearms on campus to defend themselves, it was the responsibility of the school that they were as well protected as if they were. The reason this struck such a chord in me was that not only did she realize the problem, she also realized that there was no simple solution.
The other panel member, from a university in southern California, mentioned the problems they’re having with lockdowns on college campuses. The culture of the area tends towards the idea that the students, as legal adults, have a right to leave a building, even during a shooting, and therefore it is not acceptable to lock them in. I have a problem with this mentality, though – if there were a toxic spill or a bad snowstorm, the authorities will shut down the road until the danger has passed, and whether you’re an adult or not does not even come into play. I would think the more deadly chance of being killed during a shooting would certainly fall in this same type of authority, and that locking an adult in to protect them from harm is at least as acceptable as in those situations.
During Eric’s part of the presentation, you could see a lot of attendees really considering the points he made about what did not work at Simon’s Rock and would not work in other shootings. He had a number of people approach him to discuss further the implications of what he had been through and had suggested for an action plan. This was especially apparent when we went to a banquet that evening. Eric was approached by a gentleman who, after the presentation, had called the security officer at his institution and told him, point blank, that they needed to seriously discuss and change the plans they had been making because, “we’ve been going about it all wrong.”
It’s kind of like the starfish on the beach story, with the little boy seeing thousands of stranded starfish and starts throwing them back into the ocean. A man tells him that he can’t possibly make a difference because of the magnitude of numbers before him. The little boy looks at the one in his hand, throws it into the ocean, and says, “I made a difference to that one.” We will still see some resistance to having teachers armed in schools, but with several dozen attendees at the talk, we may have changed the minds of a few. And hopefully made a difference to the children and students under their care.