School Shootings: No Longer If But When

School Shootings: No Longer If But When


The first wave of the new school year in America should have crested. The beginning of the school year means fresh faces entering classrooms, new ideas for pedagogy and active shooter training. The probability of a school shooter on campus, or what the National Rifle Association terms a “Mass Casualty Tragedy,” is deemed so high Mortenson Elementary School—just outside of Columbine, Colorado— changed their name in May of 2017 to the Frank DeAngelis Center for Safety.

Frank DeAngelis was the principal at Columbine High School during the massacre on April 20th, 1999. The name change should send a shiver down the spine of every American as it marked the shift from “if” a school shooting happens to “when” the next school shooting occurs. As an educator and grandparent of high school age grandchildren, I am apoplectic that school shootings have become the norm.

John-Michael Keyes' daughter, Emily, is no longer with us. She was killed during an armed siege at Platt Canyon High School in Baily, Colorado. Before her death she was able to text her parents the words, “I love u guys.” The Keyes created the "I love u guys Foundation" in memory of their daughter. The foundation is dedicated to reaching an active shooter set of directions called the "Standard Response Protocol" because there were no hard and fast procedures in place to keep students and teachers safe during an attack at school. The foundation works in concert with Frank DeAngelis Center, training thousands of first responders from across the nation.

Barriers to Change

Despite the best efforts of families and schools, there are barriers that must be crossed before real change can be enacted. The National Rifle Association's Wayne Lapierre and Dana Loesch have framed the proper response to the threat of school shootings within the sentence, “The only things which stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Wayne made this comment after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, and the message morphed after the “mass casualty tragedy” at Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. After the organization got through calling the survivors “crisis actors” or denying the events ever happened a solution was hatched. The good guy with a gun should be a teacher at the school.

 These teachers could be trained by professionals to carry at school. Their guns would be placed in a safe place with easy access for the teacher only or the teacher could be strapped like a law enforcement officer to be at the ready should a shooter approach.

Immediately, my community had people raise their hands to fund the training and offer like this were made across the country. It seemed like a great idea to have voluntary members of the teaching staff armed, trained, and ready for action. However, this is yet another barrier to real change. What is not mentioned at all is what the outcry will be when that teacher shoots an innocent child or staff member while attempting to be the hero of the day. As sure as there will be another school shooting in America, this too shall happen.

We Need a Better Plan

There are more enlightened voices in this attempt to keep schools safe. For example, some insurance companies will not underwrite a policy for school districts to allow their teachers to carry. My former district does business with an insurance company that will not underwrite this as a viable solution. Another voice comes from Colorado, in the form of the Frank DeAngelis Center for Safety.

As long as this gun-happy society has decided taking the life of another is a means to settling disputes and wrongdoings, we need to have a plan for dealing with the action which provides the maximum amount of safety for those engaged. What is unfortunate is that we have selected to accept this phenomenon as the norm at the expense of digging deep to find the root cause. If we can lift the carpet and sweep the dirt under it, we can have the appearance we are making the effort to solve the problem at hand—but the problem is still the problem. The dirt is still there.

 Until we quit sweeping the ugly truth under the rug and begin the examine the truth as to why gun violence seems to be the solution to resolving social and emotional problems, we will be putting more tourniquets on gaping wounds, yet the bleeding is not going to stop. As Cassius so rightly observed, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves ..."

Guns do not kill people; children kill other children with guns and this is the issue to be resolved to truly keep schools safe.



John Tierney is the 2016 Nevada Teacher of the Year.


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