There are two reasons why the killing in Tucson has caused such alarm and concern. First, Jared Lee Loughner targeted a politician. The resulting murder and mayhem triggered echoes of America’s most recent spate of political assassinations, which took the lives of the President of the United States and his brother (amongst others). That was a time of cultural chaos and enormous social upheaval. This is not. Regardless, the Safeway Massacre also triggered a more visceral reaction: there but for the grace of God go I. Not so much Representative Giffords, but the innocent people caught in the hail of gunfire. Including and especially a nine-year-old girl named Christina Taylor Green . . .
A quick disclaimer: nothing I’m about to write in any way suggests that Christina Green’s death was preventable. As the rabbi constantly reminds us, you can do everything right in a gunfight (or massacre) and still die. The only person responsible for Green’s death is Jared Lee Loughner. I’m simply offering ways for parents to help keep their children safe in a nightmare scenario, in Christina’s memory. Here are my suggestions . . .
1. Don’t go there
People like to pack. The desire to experience events in a large group setting, to draw meaning, comfort and excitement from a communal gathering, is part of what makes us human. Attending group events from Disney on Ice to the Fourth of July Parade are an important part of a child’s normal development.
But it’s also true that politicians are a catnip for crazies. And crowds are crack for spree killers.
Jared Lee Loughner opened fire at a political event. Whatever “reasons” led Loughner to target a U.S. Congresswoman, whether he was “inflamed” by right wing rhetoric or talked into it by a neighbor’s dog, don’t matter. The fact is that there’s an entire class of killers who target politicians—and don’t worry about collateral damage.
Should you bring your child to a political rally or event? Again without judging (lest I be judged), I say no. Although the event at which Congresswoman Giffords was shot was not in and of itself controversial, she’d already been the target of violence. Her office had been very publicly vandalized. That’s a heads-up. The more politically charged the gathering, the more controversial the politician, the more I’d caution against it attending it with children.
Tea Party rally? Pro-gun demo? Illegal Immigrants Are People Too? If you believe that the civics lesson learned at political events are worth the risk to your children’s lives, if you believe we shouldn’t let crazies, criminals and terrorists make us afraid to demonstrate our beliefs in public with our children by our side, good for you. Include me and my kids out.
As for large gatherings in general, again, that’s a judgement call. The amount of danger depends on the size, nature and security of the event. Just remember my late father’s adage from the perspective of a spree killer, and then in reverse. If you want to shoot ducks, go where the ducks are. In you’re a duck who doesn’t want to get shot by a hunter, don’t go where the rest of the ducks are.
2. Be Prepared for Trouble
In the Safeway Massacre, once the shooting began, no one had time to do much of anything. Loughner opened fire with 31 rounds in his gun and loosed them all without pause. At that point, the victims’ location at the time of the shooting may—I repeat MAY—have been the difference between life and death.
It’s something to think about. Nothing beats being up close and personal with someone or something doing their thing in front of a large crowd. But the person leading the crowd is a natural target. And nothing is more important than being able to leave quickly if trouble breaks out. [Note: any kind of trouble, from a fight to a fire to a shooting.]
If you’re with a child, and even if you’re not, always scan and plan for egress. Be ready to leave. If you sense something’s wrong, if you hear gunshots or screams or anything frighteningly untoward, don’t stand or sit there in stunned silence, waiting for confirmation. Grab your kids (and I do mean grab), leave any and all belongings behind and exit immediately. You can always come back.
If you’re willing to ignore Dan Baum’s inevitable accusations of paranoia, then think about cover when you enter a crowd with your kids (or even when you don’t). Where could I shelter my kids if shooting breaks out? (see: below)
Consider carrying a self-defense firearm. Consider it carefully. Ineffective storage and/or use of a defensive firearm can make things worse for your children. For example, at whom do you think the bad guy will shoot if someone’s shooting at him, and where might your children be at that moment? Will you always make sure that your carry gun is either in your safe or on your person? Will you practice? Will you actually carry your gun all the time?
3. Run! Defend! Attack! Something!
If gunfire breaks out in a Loughner-like situation, hit the deck. Push your kids to the floor. The flatter they are to the ground, the less of a target they become. Next, get your children to cover—place them behind an object that can shield them from bullets. To do that, you need to know two things.
First, you need to ID the shooter’s location. (Hint: look.) Generally speaking, don’t move until you know where relative safety may lie. Second, you need to know what can and cannot stop a bullet. For example, a tree is better cover than a car, and only a car’s engine block can reliably intercept a bullet. All walls are not created equal; some offer about as much protection as a few sheets of paper. Etc.
If there’s no cover available, get your children to concealment. Concealment simply means that the shooter can’t see you and yours. To do that, you need to know the shooter’s location. Again, you have to look for the shooter. Not at your children’s faces. Not people nearby. The shooter.
Caution: while I’m giving this advise in numerical order, public shootings are fast, messy, chaotic events. There is no perfect recipe for survival for you and/or your children. At the Safeway massacre, one of the victims threw his body on top of a loved one and died. That was all he could do—and not everyone had the time or proximity or presence of mind to perform the same heroic act. In some situations, that choice could get your children killed (staying still when you should have been seeking cover).
Never forget that a good offense is oft times the best, indeed only defense against a shooter. If the psycho’s right in front of you, ATTACK! Immediately. Violently. Fearlessly. Kudos to the brave citizens who tackled Mr. Loughner while he attempted to reload, preventing further carnage. That’s the way you do it. Sometimes.
In any case, do I really need to tell you that most bullet wounds are survivable? Does that matter? Armed or not, do whatever it takes to neutralize the threat. As the NRA says, refuse to be a victim. But do it actively.
All of which highlights an inconvenient truth: most parents are ready and willing to sacrifice their life for their children, but they’re not able to do so. They don’t have the situational awareness, tactical knowledge, fighting ability or, most important of all, combat mindset needed to protect their kids from a shooter. Many are unwilling to face an inescapable fact: familiarity with guns give you many of the skills you may need to keep your children safe in the event of a public shooting.
From being able to identify gunshots to an understanding of shooting angles and reload times, if you really want to know how to protect your children from spree killers and armed criminals, you need to know about firearms. Even if you don’t want to own a firearms, get some training at a local gun range. If you do, get some more. When it comes to saving your children’s lives in an unimaginably horrific event like the Safeway Massacre, one thing is for sure: ignorance is no defense.