Across the nation, educators and others are, for the first time, actively thinking about how to deal with the threat of active shooters. Rather than merely slapping up ‘gun free school zone’ signs with all the earnest hopes and good intentions that go with them, they are actually paying attention to real threats and possible solutions. There is, however, good news and bad news . . .
The good news is that active shooters in schools who succeed in killing multiple students and/or teachers remain extremely rare. The bad news is that they do occur and will occur in the future, and there is no reason why they can’t occur at any school in the nation at any time. The educators and parents of Sandy Hook Elementary School surely thought–if they thought about it at all–that the odds of their school being targeted were astronomical. And they were right, yet the odds fell against them. They always fall against someone.
Unfortunately, most of the educators, politicians and others focusing an enormous amount of brainpower on the problem have almost universally ignored the most rational, affordable and effective solution, one that can not only stop an attack without casualties, but could even deter them. Instead, they continue to come up with a variety of schemes and gadgets, things like ballistic blankets, bullet-resistant whiteboards or multi-step programs that end with hiding, or unarmed children gang-rushing armed killers. Such devices and tactics focus entirely on feeling safe, rather than actually being safe.
“Muscatine, IA – A group of small town teachers have a big idea called The Sleeve. It’s a device that slips over the closer-arm of a door to prevent the door from being opened from the outside. The idea is to buy time for teachers and students during a school shooting.
Daniel Nietzel, President of Fighting Chance Solutions and middle-school teacher said he came up with the idea of The Sleeve after realizing the tactics they were taught during active-shooter drills weren’t effective. He said the officer acting as the shooter was able to get into all the classrooms and ‘kill’ everyone inside. The Sleeve is designed to be faster than tying a rope, cord, or belt around the closer-arm, which is what teachers are taught in his school district. ‘You’re essentially tying the most important knot of your life,’ said Nietzel.”
“The idea is to buy time for teachers and students during a school shooting.” Most of the current strategies making a great deal of money around the nations essentially consist of “run, lock classroom doors, hide, and hope someone comes in time to save you.” Buying time doesn’t stop a killer. At best it momentarily inconveniences him, and considering that the police can’t possibly arrive in time, will not save lives.
With perhaps only a single exception, the police have not had a significant effect on the outcome of a single modern-era school shooting. In most cases, even Newtown they had none at all.
“Tired of waiting for a better system, Nietzel and his team came up with a door-closer sleeve made of solid carbon steel that can withstand 550 foot-pounds of force. Since its debut in early June, the device has gained national and international attention. When there’s an active shooter, seconds count, so The Sleeve is meant to be fast and easy. The device takes only a second to slip on.
The door closer-arms can vary so each sleeve is custom-made depending on measurements that must be taken before ordering. The Fighting Chance Solutions team is determined to keep production of The Sleeve in America and the devices are made in Muscatine, Iowa at Fabricators Plus.
Each Sleeve costs $65 and the company offers bulk order discounts. There are also $70 teacher gift certificates that include shipping. All the teacher has to send are measurements and they’ll receive the Sleeve three to four weeks later.”
In truth, such a device is better than nothing, but not much. Seconds do count, but that’s about all such devices will provide in the best of circumstances. Most classroom doors don’t have the kind of closing arm required for this particular device, and if there is a window in the door–very common–or a large window next to the door, such a device will buy, at most, only a few seconds before a determined attacker is able to breach the door. When that happens, students and their teacher, huddled together, provide easy and inviting targets. That’s not much of a fighting chance.
The fundamental question remains: what is a school prepared to do when and where an attack occurs to protect students and staff? Unless schools allow willing teachers and other adults to carry concealed weapons, they are relegating those teachers and students to running, hiding and slipping metal sleeves on door mechanisms in the hope of slightly delaying madmen determined to kill the children behind those doors.
I’ve no doubt the people behind this device have the best intentions, but even if it works to some degree, door closer arms are attached to doors by only a few insubstantial screws, usually no more than two. They will surely fail at far less than 550 foot-pounds of force. And this assumes that there is no window in the door itself, or next to the door, which can easily be shattered by bullets or other means.
But what if teachers misuse their guns? Guns are dangerous! They might shoot others or even themselves.
Utah has, for many years, allowed adults with concealed carry licenses to carry their guns in public schools. Until September 11, 2014, their record was essentially blemish-free:
“SALT LAKE CITY – Officials say a Utah elementary school teacher has been rushed to the hospital after a concealed firearm she was carrying accidently discharged in a school bathroom and shot her in the leg.
Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley says the teacher was in the faculty restroom when the gun went off shortly before class started Thursday at Westbrook Elementary School, in the Salt Lake City suburb of Taylorsville.”
Ah-hah! Finally! Evidence that teachers can’t be trusted with firearms!
Human existence is a matter of balancing the advantages of any technology with its potential dangers. There is no question that accidental injuries and deaths involving firearms are very far down any list:
“Firearms are involved in 0.5% of accidental deaths nationally, compared to motor vehicles (29%), poisoning (27%), falls (21%), suffocation (5%), drowning (3%), fires (2%), medical mistakes (1.7%), environmental factors (1.3%), and pedal cycles (0.6%). Among children: motor vehicles (34%), suffocation (27%), drowning (17%), fires (7%), environmental factors (2.3%), poisoning (2.2%), falls (1.5%), firearm (1.5), pedal cycles (1.4%), and medical mistakes (1.3%).”
The idea of banning motor vehicles, buckets, bathtubs or swimming pools, ladders, anything flammable or doctors is nonsensical. Equally nonsensical is the idea that firearms must be kept out of the hands of responsible adults, particularly in schools. Human beings make mistakes, but nothing in life is risk-free and firearms are used far more often to protect the innocent and to save lives than to harm.
Under Bill Clinton, a study was undertaken in the hope of providing additional ammunition for gun bans. To their horror, the researchers found that Americans use guns as often as 1.5 million times per year in lawful self-defense. The Clinton Administration tried to cover up the result, but it leaked, much to their embarrassment.
The fact that the unfortunate accidental shooting of the Utah teacher is so rare–hence newsworthy–speaks to the reality of our daily calculus. Firearms, like motor vehicles, ladders, drugs and commercial products of all kinds are so useful, they make life so much better, that any potential danger they represent pales in comparison and may be mitigated.
This is particularly true in the school setting where a single teacher with a concealed handgun could stop an armed attacker before they could injure or kill anyone. The more armed teachers present, the better, and the safer their school will be.
My May 31 article “School Shootings: A Model Principle and Policy” explains how to implement an armed teacher policy for the benefit of everyone in any school. Its essential elements: all willing teachers with concealed carry licenses are allowed to carry concealed handguns. Those handguns must be carried on their person at all times. The fact that a school district allows concealed carry must be widely and repeatedly advertised, but the names and numbers of teachers carrying at any school must be kept secret. This provides credible deterrence, the kind of deterrence no device or run and hide policy can manage.
Ultimately, schools must focus on stopping, not harassing, annoying, or momentarily delaying, armed attackers. If this is not the focus of all that brainpower, it is wasted, for it provides only the illusion of safety, the feeling of safety, not actual safety. To do less only wastes scarce public money on programs and devices of limited or dubious effectiveness. To do less tacitly accepts some number of injured and dead students and staff, those numbers to be determined by the lack of marksmanship and good will of madmen. Responsible, serious adults should not rely on either.
Mike’s home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.