After the Virginia Tech shooting, I called the Virginia Attorney’s Office and discussed with him how passive reactive defenses don’t work well if at all. Lockout, lockdown and hide as well as “Gun Free Zone” signs mean that defenseless human targets are concentrated in a specific location. From my perspective, a defense involving active countermeasures is the only practical and effective means of dealing with situations that take place in seconds and last a few minutes. Here were a few of the ideas I mentioned:
What about low cost perimeter defenses? Elderly or infirmed individuals can and do equip themselves with Life Alert call buttons which can be activated to instantaneously relay a distress message to a central clearinghouse. Families with infants often install remote activated cameras to observe the behavior of a nanny or delivery person. Homeowners are increasingly using wireless technology that selectively allows for various lights, electronics, doors and alarms to be activated or de-activated upon command. These low cost devices could provide robust perimeter warnings, alerts and even non-lethal counterattacks. (However, such devices require regular maintenance, replacement as needed, and testing and monitoring to make sure everything is working as intended.)
What about security, safety and defense technologies? Non-lethal weapons such as pepper spray and tasers are commercially available. The Department of Defense has developed a wide variety of non-lethal personal and crowd control weapons technologies. Flash-bang grenades can temporarily blind and stun an intruder. Acoustic, microwave, and laser weapons can cause pain, disrupt physical functions, and instantly confuse. Non-lethal technologies can be employed both inside and outside schools to protect defenseless children and school employees. (If someone mistakenly uses them in a panic, nobody is likely to be killed, but someone bent on violence just might be stopped or delayed from fully acting upon their evil intentions.)
What about expanding the size of the patrol force? Armed and permanent security guards are a deterrent to violence, but the cost is often prohibitively high. However, it is possible to have a random and unpredictable police presence. It is also possible to have retiree and parental watch groups as is the case with one group of “Dad’s on Duty” in Louisiana. A combination of police and interested community citizen watches would cause uncertainty in the mind of a potential criminal or psychopath. Reservists and on-duty military, both male and female, are trained to handle lethal and non-lethal weapons. Some of these individuals could be certified and used on a volunteer basis to police school grounds. (All of these individuals must be trained and armed to some extent. Unarmed security guards quickly become yet another target as was the recent case in the Bridgewater College killings.)
Why not actually teach students to defend themselves? Instead of students trying to run or hide under a desk in hopes of escaping, why not have students throw computers, cellphones, desks, books, briefcases, and anything with a little heft in the direction of a shooter. Many will say the shootings happen so fast and with such ferocity that there is really no time to do anything. Well, in some schools around the country, middle school kids are being taught to throw whatever they have at an intruder, and then rush the potential murderer to knock him down and overwhelm him. There are both self and collective defensive actions to minimize the results of murderous violence.
Why not actually allow concealed carry for students and faculty? The hired police security folks in and around campus could certify individuals to conceal carry. They could require weapons training before certification. A student or faculty member who carries a gun and is certified should be given the freedom to go anywhere on campus as if they were members of an armed police auxiliary. An individual who violates the certification could have their permit rescinded. Short of this type of action, individual students are going to make their own decisions about their own personal safety, and that includes the purchase of a gun and illegal concealment.
Why not reconstruct classrooms, furnishings and individual student items to aid in self-defense and protection? With all of the advances in technology there ought to be some relatively cheap and simple things that could be done to aid an individual in their own defense in the case of potential or actual classroom violence. Could a bulletproof door be built or an enhanced desktop that could be flipped up and even torn away to be used as a shield? How about a bullet deflecting briefcase or notebook? Instead of relying on high technology cameras and other recording devices to show the aftermath of a massacre, what about low technology, simple to use, and reasonably inexpensive items that can be tactically placed to reduce the impact of a violent act?
Why rely on incident notification and lockdown? This is a passive process. In the Virginia Tech massacre, an incident notification could have been misleading to students elsewhere on the campus. And what happens when an individual gets such a notification? What are they to do? Just stand there and hope – or run someplace? Isn’t it likely that some students will panic rather than act in a cool and detached manner? (Broad, non-specific notification can and will lead to uncertainty and panic.)
Why rely just on laws and regulations? Our legislators don’t really know what to do so they pass a law to tighten access to guns that might be bought by unknown and potentially unstable individual – except every American, honest or not, is affected by such law. Not only is this locking the barn door after the horse is gone, but it would have had no apparent impact on any of the recent shooting situations. If the legislators really want to do something useful, they could undo some of the privacy and control laws that block access to much needed self- protection information and weapons. (By the way, the largest school mass murder occurred about 100 years ago. It was committed by a disgruntled man who used a bomb to blow up the school. Currently in Sweden, war zone grenades and bombs, as well as guns, are being used by immigrant gangs.)
Why ignore the expressed intentions of a potential murderer? There have been a number of school shootings in which the outcome was potentially predictable. Some of the indicators of this potential include: The use of drugs for the treatment of mental issues. A number of these drugs have been known to cause psychotic episodes leading to violence. The constant isolation and heavy use of social media, particularly that which glorifies and advances extreme perversion and viciousness. The sensationalizing and immoral aspects of purposeless violence in the entertainment media. Many mass murderers now broadcast their intentions ahead of time. (The law seldom allows for arrest based on intentions – although Red Flag laws are a questionable step in that direction. I don’t suggest new laws to incarcerate potentially violent people but this may be where social workers can actually help solve a potentially serious problem. However, I caution that an unarmed social worker is no match for a violent psychotic.) Lastly, in a macabre display of self-aggrandizement, some mass murderers are resorting to real time broadcasting of their ongoing mass murder. No law will stop this horror but an armed citizen can -and they have done so.
Throughout American history, individuals have had to defend themselves against the worst of society. Turning over one’s security to the authorities evolved with the rise of professional police forces. Unfortunately, the authorities cannot be everywhere all the time, and some groups want to defund and even eliminate the police under the assumption that actual evil doesn’t exist and everyone can be reasoned with or coaxed into non-violence. In addition, with the current economic conditions, police response times are longer and their presence less reliable. Essentially, defense must start inside a school and with individuals capable of defending themselves. Waiting for help is deadly.
Can we stop the killings? No! If a crazy or a terrorist wants to kill he can get a gun or a variety of lethal weapons. He can get them legally – or on the street, in a bar, or from a criminal source. However, we can certainly think in terms of minimizing the damage of his or her violent act. At this point, more proposed regulatory solutions are just more band-aids to cover over actual solutions to a real problem. (Frankly, it is about time to look for any and all solutions no matter how tough or politically incorrect they might be.)
Note: Recently, the National Science Teaching Association (NSTA) held a seminar called “Queer Your Classroom: Supporting LGBTQIA+ Students”. How about a seminar called “Save your Classroom. Science supporting all students.” And these are science teachers?!!!!!