WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of recent school shootings, President Trump has expressed his support for allowing qualified and willing teachers and staff to carry concealed weapons on school premises, despite the resistance of the nation’s largest teachers union, law enforcement officials concerned about unintended consequences, and the near-universal disapproval of the mainstream media.
On February 14, 2018, the failure of the Broward County sheriff’s deputies to engage the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter immediately provided more than anguish to the 17 families that lost loved children while the police remained in a defensive position outside.
“I want my schools protected just like I want my banks protected,” Trump explained to a group gathered to discuss school safety in the White House on February 22. “If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.”
The argument that supports Trump’s position is that even in the best of circumstances, police will need time to deploy, arrive on the scene, and engage. Those on the inside are the best informed in the first, most critical moments of any terrorist attack, including a school shooting.
Department of Homeland Security research reveals that the average duration of an active school shooting incident is 12.5 minutes; the average response time for law enforcement is 18 minutes. Waiting for the police to respond can result in lives lost.
FBI statistics on school shootings
In 2013, the FBI published a study of active shooter incidents in the United States, including “violent acts and shootings occurring in a place of public use,” including shootings in movie theaters and malls. The study specifically excluded mass killings or mass shootings that resulted from gang or drug violence, as well as accidental discharges of a firearm in school buildings or publicly committed suicides in a parking lots.
The FBI identified 160 active shooter incidents that occurred between 2000 and 2013. Among the more important findings were that 60 percent of the incidents ended before the police arrived. A majority of the incidents, 56.3 percent, ended on the shooter’s initiative, with the shooter committing suicide or simply deciding to stop shooting. In at least 65 of the 160 incidents, citizen engagement or the shooter committing suicide ended the shooting.
Given that 60 percent of the incidents ended before the police arrived, and that 40 percent ended with the shooter committing suicide, the FBI concluded that avoiding these tragedies was clearly the best result that could be sought. The study noted that even unarmed citizen response could be successful in stopping mass shooting incidents. The report concluded:
The study identified 21 (13.1%) of 160 incidents where unarmed citizens made the selfless and deeply personal choices to face the danger of an active shooter. In those instances, the citizens safely and successfully disrupted the shootings. In 11 of those 21 incidents, unarmed principals, teachers, other school staff and students confronted the shooters to end the threat. In 10 incidents, citizens, working or shopping when the shootings began, successfully restrained shooters until police could arrive. And in six other incidents, armed off-duty police officers, citizens, and security guards risked their lives to successfully end the threat. These actions likely saved the lives of students and others present.
This strongly suggests that the presence of teachers and staff trained and willing to carry concealed weapons on school premises could dramatically improve the ability to stop a shooter before casualties mount.
The need to target harden schools
In the 1980s, I had top secret clearance to consult with the State Department on hostage survival training in terrorist events. Two key lessons derived from that experience: First, known targets of terrorism must be hardened (made more difficult to access) to make terrorist attacks more difficult to succeed: and second, victims of terrorist events who wait for police or military to save them dramatically reduces their chances for survival.
Most schools in the U.S. are notoriously vulnerable to school shooting incidents if only because access to most schools is not supervised by armed guards and the schools do not have screening devices that include x-ray machines and metal detectors.
In the extreme, depending upon the high-risk nature of the neighborhood in which a school is located, difficult-to-scale fencing can be used to establish a perimeter around the school that would make access to the school more difficult.
Those exploiting school shootings to advance anti-gun legislation assume that “Gun Free Zones” are the magic solution to preventing school shootings.
In the White House “Listening Session” after the Parkland shooting, President Trump explained why “Gun Free Zones” fail to stop shooters. “A gun-free zone to a maniac because they are all cowards, a gun-free zone is ‘let’s go in and let’s attack because bullets aren’t coming back,” Trump argued. “If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms, they could very well end the attack very quickly.” He continued: “I really believe that if these cowards knew the school was well guarded by professionals with great training, I don’t think they’d go into the school to start off with.”
A good example is the 1974 Ma’alot Massacre in Israel, in which Palestinian terrorists took 115 people as hostages at Netiv Meir Elementary School – a terrorist attack in which 22 children and three others lost their lives, while 68 more were injured. Today, the Israeli government requires schools with 100 or more students to have an armed guard check individuals entering the school and be present to engage armed threats as they are happening. Israel has not had another Ma’alot Massacre since then.
According to British psychiatrist Dr. David Healy, a founder of RxISK.org, 90 percent of school shootings in the last decade have been linked to a widely prescribed type of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs. RxISK.org is an independent website for researching and reporting on prescription drugs.
Psychologically disturbed adolescents who may be contemplating copycat school shootings will be deterred only by hardening the target – a goal that can be accomplished in part by allowing the arming of those teachers and staff who are qualified to carry concealed weapons and undergo the training required to do so responsibly.
Hardening school targets by securing entrances and providing visible police will go far to protect the children inside. But adding concealed carry among teachers and staff will lend an element of uncertainty that will deter a would-be school shooter from taking action.
If teachers and school staff are comfortable with concealed carry, allowing them the right to carry weapons provides the possibility of a near instant response, where a would-be school shooter can be neutralized before children are senselessly murdered.
The importance of training school personnel to carry weapons
In Ohio, 40 school districts now allow teachers with permits to carry their weapons in class. Key to the program is that qualified teachers and administrators train side-by-side with local law enforcement and paramedics at centers like the Tactical Defense Institute in Adams County, Ohio, founded and operated by John Brenner, a former SWAT commander. In addition to weapons training, the school personnel receive combat casualty training, including the proper use of a tourniquet and bandages.
In 2013, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 1009, submitted by Dallas Republican Rep. Jason Villalba, creating a school marshal program that allows school employees to be armed. As reported by the Star-Telegram in Dallas, the program sets up strict requirements for arming school employees, whose identities are known only to school administrators and law enforcement. The firearms are secured in locked containers at the schools and can be used only in the event of an active shooter. Marshals undergo extensive weapons training. The Star-Telegram article focused on the Argyle School District north of Fort Worth; the school marshal training offered by the Texas Center for School Safety for the Argyle School District is an 80-hour program. It includes hands-on weapons training, when to use lethal force, and lessons on securing potential victims.
Argyle Police Chief Paul Cairney told the Star-Telegram that his district has taken the marshal training further. District staff who choose to participate spend an initial three to five days on a gun range and complete refresher courses throughout the year. They practice scenarios for responding to an active shooter. Cairney says their identities are so closely protected that no one other than a few administrators and police knows who they are.
The district is upfront about the program. At the entrance of every campus is a sign that states: “Please be aware that the staff at Argyle ISD are armed and may use whatever force is necessary to protect our students.” Though not all districts with marshals iare as public about their programs, perhaps they should be. The Center for School Safety says it’s not allowed to disclose schools that have used its training.
The Star-Telegram noted that Argyle is a small district of several thousand students and just two full-time school police officers. Cairney told the newspaper he believes the marshal program ensures greater protection on all campuses.
In reporting on the Argyle experience, the Star-Telegram admitted its editorial board had changed its mind on concealed carry in schools:
A decade ago this editorial board would probably have said no-way, no-how could we support the idea of having our teachers pack heat in the classrooms. Their job is educating, not policing a campus. But in Texas, some teachers and school staff are already carrying guns. It’s up to each school district to decide whether to allow that. So, as this debate explodes nationally, we think it’s worth exploring what’s already in place, and it’s worth rejecting some of the off-hand remarks and ideas that are inappropriate or dangerous.s
In conclusion, our children are our most precious treasures. We would all be for gun-free zones if that solution could assure us our children would be safe. In this uncertain world where copycat shooters are an unfortunate likelihood, concealed carry for teachers and staff, with proper training, adds an element of security we must seriously consider as responsible citizens, parents, and guardians.