Friday, January 11, 2013

OPINION: Why Everyone Has All The Wrong Ideas on School Violence



I have been asked by several people when I was going to write an article on school shooting in light of the Sandy Hook tragedy.  My reply was always the same - I won't comment or pontificate on it until all the children are buried.  I have decided now is the right time for several reason.  The biggest reason - I'm sick of hearing everyone prattle on about solutions I feel either won't work and/or are solely based on partisan politics.

Let's get to the heart of the matter.  This is NOT about gun control.  Sandy Hook has nothing to do with gun control.  I see you over there having a fit.  I know the "talking heads" on cable news says it is.  However, it's not.  Here's what we know. Adam Lanza was a law-abiding citizen until the moment he entered a school.  In other words, he and his mother did everything you're supposed to do as an armed citizen.  They went to the range, cleaned their guns, locked them up, got licenses, etc.  None of our existing laws or agencies could have stopped Adam Lanza.  Adam Lanza was, in my layman's assessment, insane.  No one can doubt that.  That's where lots of active shooters stray away from the rest of us - they're nuts (it's an academic term) and we're not.  In my opinion that places many of us to include our politicians in an un-winnable position.  You see, we mistakenly believe people like Adam Lanza will adhere to our cultural norms and values particularly those related to the preservation of human life.  Here's what we know about Adam Lanza- he immersed himself into a video game world where life is ended with no consequence at the push of a button.  Over time, I believe Adam Lanza came to believe life was meaningless and easily sacrificed for any reason the life-taker chose.  In his online world, it is speculated Adam Lanza wanted nothing to do with his human counterparts except to "kill" them virtually.  There is a profound disconnect with the rest of humanity there.  So what am I driving at.  We can't expect people who operate in one world (they function) yet live in another to adhere to the norms and values of this world.  Creating additional laws and other measures we think are deterrents will fail us.

Most troubling is the rhetoric in Washington, D.C.. Before I go there, let me assure you I love the Second Amendment and guns.  I am a proud gun owner and I believe you should have the right to defend yourself and loved ones when a credible threat is present.  You will get no arguments from me there.  That being said, there have been a number of laws and proposals presented by various partisans about how to do that.  I firmly believe many if not all will fail.  Here's why:

  1. Arming teachers and having armed guards in schools is bad policy.  There's a belief that had one teacher been armed they could have stopped a mentally ill teenager armed with an AR-15 and wearing body armor.  That's a very dangerous and problematic conclusion to reach. Crazy people count on law enforcement and people with guns to confront them. They rehearse their response to this as much as they do the act themselves.  Announcing to the world, we have armed gym teachers will only increase the likelihood they'll show up wanting a fight.  Remember James Holmes both wore body armor as did the Columbine shooters.  Additionally, as long as you have open spaces to play and mass gathering locations (bus stops) publicly accessible, you will never be able to adequately protect our children.  What happens when students are away from the interior of the premises?  It is also prudent to note we're dealing with people who have INTIMATE knowledge of their target and the locations they are at.  They may also know your contingency plans.  Many will be students or former students possibly teachers or parents.  What happens when an armed teacher "snaps"?  Don't think its possible?  Teachers are under tremendous stress and are vulnerable to some of the same issues most active shooters face.  No is immune from crazy.  In small communities, they may know who the armed teachers and officials are and neutralize them first.

    There's the additional concern with what happens when a teacher practices poor weapons discipline and does something stupid like lose a gun, places it in a lockbox and leaves the key at home or forgets the combination, has a negligent discharge, or doesn't wear a retention holster.  I know what you're saying "highly trained shooters" don't make those kind of mistakes.  Tell that to military firearms instructors.  How do you admonish teachers who can't shoot that well?  Remember who we're talking about.  These are teachers - not soldiers or cops.  Will you make using a firearm a prerequisite for new teacher hires?  What would be an adequate curriculum?  How often should they practice?  How often will the state mandate they practice?  How many will you arm?  Will you teach them to clear rooms?  Will they lean to "shoot, move, and communicate"?  Will they be adequately prepared for more than one shooter?  What about other places where children congregate?  Do we arm museums, playgrounds, aquariums, malls, etc.?  Who will pay the $18 billion that proposal will take to be effective nationally?  
  2. Taking guns away is equally as bad and even more problematic.  Before you post some statistic on gun deaths in this country vs that country, do me a favor and chill out.  Here's a lesson on gun laws, gun culture, and gun deaths: Gun laws keep good sane people honest.  That's it.  Trust me.  Bad guys, like crazy people, don't live in our world.  They may operate in it but they do not follow our norms or values let alone our laws.  Why do you think we have a problem with recidivism? We punish people using a system that will work on people like us.  Stick me in a cell for a day and I'm rehabilitated.  In places like the U.K., yes they don't have near as many gun deaths as us.  Hooray.  However, ask any British citizen what crime permeates their media and they will reply "knife crimes".  That's right.  The bad guys didn't stop committing violent crimes to include murder because the gun went away.  Nope they chose another weapons platform.

    A war on gun crime will be much like our war on drugs.  We can't win it unless we accept we have to kill our appetite for all violence to rid ourselves of this for good. I even heard some people claim only the government should have guns like the AR-15.  People claim having the capability to kill is the problem.  Let me set the record straight.  I, with a bolt action rifle, could have made Sandy Hook as big a tragedy as Adam Lanza with his AR-15.  I see you rolling your eyes in doubt.  I could have and I'll tell you why.  We can't accept to lose one child let alone 20+.  I could have killed 5 and would make headline news.  Ammunition capacity and expenditure shouldn't make a tragedy less or more of a tragedy in any mass shooting incident.  It's prudent to remember this same mentality created the TSA and look where that has gotten us.  We're safe but if you bring a water bottle aboard a plane, hello cavity search.....
  3. The hysteria has to stop.  I am so sick of hearing about liberals who want to take away guns and enslave white people and crazy gun owners who want to start the new American Revolution.  I think it's high time we all chill out.  Seriously.  Stop listening or reading your favorite "news" source and remind yourself crazy rhetoric won't save our children from the Adam Lanza's of the world.  We're a nation of neighbors.  Act like it.  Voice your frustration with our government.  Start a grassroots movement to increase awareness on your side of the issue.  Think of your own solutions.  Start a blog.  Just do something constructive.  Calling each other names and spewing vitriol doesn't save our children. 
Hear are my proposed solutions:
  1. Recognize we have a mental health crisis in this country.  Don't believe me?  Ask a cop about his latest "emotionally disturbed persons" call.  It is by no coincidence when we closed mental health facilities in this country we saw a spike in violent crime per capita.  Talk with your elected officials about what they propose to mitigate this crisis.
  2. Become knowledgeable about some of the pre-attack indicators active shooters exhibit.
  3. Report any and all potentially mentally ill AND dangerous persons to the proper authorities.
  4. Demand your school be proactive on this.  Ask if they have drills and what their procedures with local law enforcement will be for these scenarios.  Ask if they've been in contact with law enforcement to work out a plan.  Ask about existing protective and detection methods.  Do they need upgrading?  When was the last upgrade?  Have they talked to a consultant?
  5. Rehearse with your child their actions.  Do it until it becomes rote memory.  Whatever you practice ensure they recognize they don't have to be a hero to survive and to do EXACTLY what the police tell them to do.
  6. Become active with your child's school life.  Ask about bullying and if the school is doing anything to curb it whether it be your kid or others.  If it's not, ensure that the school is.  Encourage your child to get to know outsiders early on.  Remember most active shooters began retreating into their own world long before they became violent.
  7. If your child has mental health issues, recognize it, get it treated ASAP, and encourage engagement and not retreat.  
  8. If we can't "bring God back into the schools" as some propose, then let's bring good parenting back.  Become active in the school and encourage other parents to as well.  Reach out to your neighbors and other parents at the school.  Remember we're a nation of neighbors.
  9. We have to address our appetite for violence.  Don't get me wrong.  I recognize there is a time when you have to act in self-defense and may have to kill someone.  I get and support that.  I also recognize there is a profound difference between that and murder.  We have to find a way to starve our desire to kill without necessity.  Until we can find a way to do this, then we nor our children will ever be safe.

8 comments:

Chris Soapbox Dion said...

Here is a blog post that I completely agree with

Amy Lynn Burch said...

Very well stated and I agree with some of your statements. However, I disagree with two fundamental points. First, there is no evidence to support the idea that Adam Lanza was so-called insane which is a legal term and not a psychological diagnosis. It isn't even known for certain whether or not he was emotionally disturbed. Emotional disturbance has been suggested by not professionals in the field of mental health but not proved. THAT is an idea which has been perpetuated by the media and is little more than conjecture based on hearsay at this point in time. Even if he were psychologically disturbed it would not necessarily explain his out-of-character behavior in terms of the shooting. There are plenty of people who are emotionally disturbed that live their entire lives without committing a single violent act.

Second, video games do, indeed, have a desensitizing affect on certain personalities but this does not explain Adam Lanza's choice in shooting an entire class of innocent children, nor does it explain the act of murdering his mother and this is what is so baffling to the general public. We assume that there must be an explanation, a catalyst of sorts to explain his behavior. The reality is that it may be nothing more than ration choice. I know that sounds odd in the face of examining what seems to be an irrational act. However, he knew what he was doing and was deliberate in his action which makes his actions rational. Not acceptable, but rational. It is the rational act of committing the heinous which society finds so scary. Not all violent acts can be predicted and neither can they be explained. Stricter gun control laws will NOT change this fact.

I would agree that we need a greater degree of mental healthcare focus in this country, absolutely! However, even this is not a guarantee against future violent acts perpetrated by those who wish to commit them. Good post! Keep writing.

Kind Regards~
Amy Burch

Scriven King said...

Amy,

Thanks so much for commenting. Though we may disagree I appreciate the feedback. Let me be clear: I get the use of the term "insane" is a legal definition. However, I wasn't solely speaking to its legal definition which varies from state to state and court psychologist to court psychologist. I used the term liberally to describe the irrationality and presumably disturbed personality that would kill 20+ school children. You did fail to note my use of the term "mentally ill" which has several definitions and interpretations. As such, we can presume Mr. Lanza's actions are consistent with other disturbed (mentally ill) individuals who commit mass murder.

There is a clear and very distinct difference between those of us who don't commit mass murder and those that do. That distinction rests somewhere between both of our ears. Here's what we gather from commmentary from those who knew him and his mother: He increasingly retreated into another world. The only place he had any marked engagement was in the video game world. I LOVE Call of Duty. Can't get enough of it. However, I'm not Adam Lanza. I'm not lonely and I have very productive interactions with people. Nor am I so disengaged my mother felt the need to send me to a school that would help me with my diagnosed mental issues. You're right - we have no quantifiable data that says what was wrong with Lanza. What no one can argue is that some was VERY terribly wrong with him.

We have concentrated much of our arguments on guns and gun owners and yet we do nothing to address our appetite for violence. Not a lick of that has or will ever be reported by our media. This is not dissimilar to lack of dialogue on how our appetite for drugs fuels the narcotics trade. That was the attempt of my article. To start that much needed dialogue. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece and I hope you'll stick around.

Scriven King said...

You are also correct in stating there are lots of disturbed people who don't commit acts of violence. Their mothers don't presumably take them to shooting ranges and train them how to use AR-15s either. I'm thinking there is a VERY good reason they don't. There's nothing wrong with being insane as long as you're getting proper treatment. I'm also not excusing his actions because he was mentally ill. He murdered children and deserved punishment. However, I'm not sure stringent laws or better enforcment could have or will ever stop mass shootings like this. The reason I say that is because our solutions thus far have failed miserably. We'll never get every gun or punish enough evil-doers to stop this from happening. For the last umpteen years, we've tried applying a solution that works on mentally stable and reasonable people expecting them to work on the mentally ill and criminal. That's like finishing a sentence written in Chinese for a Chinese audience in English. We've lost something very important in translation and it has cost us the lives of those precious children and heroic school teachers. For that alone, we should all be ashamed.

Tim J H said...

Scriven,
I agree with much of what you say but disagree on the usefulness of arming teachers. My proposal is that teachers who are licensed to carry a handgun be permitted (not compelled) to carry one in school once they have completed a mandated course (designed by local experts) and requalify according to policy. School regulations will mandate what types of holsters, lock boxes etc are needed. Most active shooter situations -of which school shooters are a subset -end their killing and often take their own lives when they are confronted. I do not propose that teachers replace SWAT Teams in clearing rooms etc. They will most likely be outgunned. The teachers in Sandy Hook acted heroically and some sacrificed their own lives to save children. We should allow them to have tools to protect our children even more effectively. The teachers who chose to arm themselves will also have to accept that they may be called upon to sacrifice themselves. They will be in the position of drawing the shooter's fire and buying time for other, unarmed teachers to lead the children to safety. Teachers have been screened, investigated, we trust them with our children as it is. there is no foolproof predictor of who will become violent but I think the odds favor a teacher protecting my kids rather than harming them.
Tim

Tim J H said...

Scriven,
I agree with much of what you say but disagree on the usefulness of arming teachers. My proposal is that teachers who are licensed to carry a handgun be permitted (not compelled) to carry one in school once they have completed a mandated course (designed by local experts) and requalify according to policy. School regulations will mandate what types of holsters, lock boxes etc are needed. Most active shooter situations -of which school shooters are a subset -end their killing and often take their own lives when they are confronted. I do not propose that teachers replace SWAT Teams in clearing rooms etc. They will most likely be outgunned. The teachers in Sandy Hook acted heroically and some sacrificed their own lives to save children. We should allow them to have tools to protect our children even more effectively. The teachers who chose to arm themselves will also have to accept that they may be called upon to sacrifice themselves. They will be in the position of drawing the shooter's fire and buying time for other, unarmed teachers to lead the children to safety. Teachers have been screened, investigated, we trust them with our children as it is. there is no foolproof predictor of who will become violent but I think the odds favor a teacher protecting my kids rather than harming them.
Tim

Scriven King said...

Thanks for the feedback and the thoughtful reply. However, I'm leery of policy that more than likely, would place students and teachers at additional risk. You can't sell this idea without acknowledging the risks. To be completely honest, none of what you propose mitigates these risks or the threat itself.

Oddly, several people claim we should be more like the Israelis who arm teachers to fend off ground attacks in the event of war. There is a profound difference between Israel and the US - Israeli teachers were soldiers at some point. Receiving both training and combat experience can mitigate certain risks with armed personnel in schools that a few hours on a gun range can't replicate.

If you're going to mandate holsters, are you going to mandate weapons retention training or the hours needed to commit drawing one's weapon to memory? I served in the military and I can tell you it takes many people longer to get acquainted with perfectly drawing the pistol in order to neutralize a threat. Training costs money. By the way, are we also hiring inspectors to inspect armed teachers. Who's paying for that? Ever visit Ohio? Ask them how school levies go when new textbooks are needed.

Most active shooters go into it expecting a shootout. That's why Holmes wore a vest as did the kids from Columbine. You don't want teachers clearing rooms. We're in agreement there. Oddly, you're asking teachers to acknowledge they are bait. That works on soldiers like me but tell that to a bunch of people who chose their career not expecting to get shot. You also claim "Teachers have been screened, investigated, we trust them with our children as it is." I'm happy you trust your kid's teachers to have guns around them. I also note the amount of stress teachers have. What happens if a teacher "snaps" on your kids? No one is immune to crazy. Don't think this is possible? Read this when you get a second - http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/04/19/virginia-teacher-arrested-after-allegedly-firing-blank-shots-from-gun-at

The school has to be a no-error zone for the good guys. I only trust cops who rehearse this and get the very small margin of error they're allowed. Throughout my years as a law enforcement and security professional, I have practiced this scenario dozens of times. Every time, the thing I fear the most is hitting an innocent. One mistake will ruin everything.

In order to understand the battlespace, you have to take some time to "see" it mentally. While doing this, put aside your years of experience and think as though you are 20-something teacher who has never fired a shot in anger and who isn't so keen on dying. Also imagine hearing the shots accompanied by children screaming and running frantically from a killer that knows the layout and who is hunting kids and presumably you. Could you make the shot if you encountered him? Now imagine you're the parent of a child who is killed by a stray bullet from a teacher who left her classroom to draw fire or who was killed while her teacher left to respond outside to only have the killer enter her now defenseless classroom.

If this sounds like I'm not looking at this as the worst-case scenario, then you're right. Most commentary which supports this idea focus on the teacher-savior image. Though nothing is foolproof, teachers, who have been investigated and screened have been convicted of heinous crimes. People forget keys, lose guns, discharge them, etc. all the time. Remember the SECRET SERVICE agent who lost his gun in an airline bathroom? You don't think a person with 200 students, an all-day curriculum, standardized test preparation, professional development, and a personal life replete with it's own priorities isn't susceptible to the same mistakes with hardly any training? Like I said earlier, I LOVE guns but I do not like the idea of arming teachers. I really do appreciate the feedback and your perspective.

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