Protecting Our Schools

On one of Sunday’s news shows, in an interview with Tom Ridge (former Secretary of Homeland Security), a newscaster asked the pertinent question “isn’t one of the first tenets of anti-terrorism to harden the target?”

Friday, a gunman shot his way into a Connecticut school, a knife-wielding madman broke into an elementary school in China, and police arrested a student in Oklahoma planning violence against his high school.

There seems no end to madmen and madwomen bent on domestic terrorism of schools (though frankly, they are fortunately few).

The solutions could involve eliminating maniacs or eliminating their tools.  But we have been woefully inadequate at those tasks.  A simpler solution is simply to protect potential victims, and how to do that is a purely economic decision.

In Kabul, America sponsors barbed wire and blast walls around schools (particularly those for girls).  Despite this, 185 attacks in 2011 were not prevented.  Grenades, acid, and poisons have been used.

One option would be to make all of our schools appear more like prison-yards.  We already have fences (like in Beverly Hills, CA), sometimes barbed wire (particularly in inner cities), or even iron spiked around some schools in America.  A good fence should cost about two years of one school administrator’s salary.

Another option would be a police officer in every school.  My community’s Middle Schools and High Schools have officers on duty.  The cost?  About the same as the salary and benefits of a seasoned teacher.  In addition to providing trained security, the officers provide anti-drug seminars and contribute to teaching administrators, teachers, and students about safety on campus. They also tend to identify young students who may be harmful to the community in later years.  Plus, they’ve confiscated potential weapons and actual drugs.

Arming teachers or administrators is oft talked about, and might also be an option.  I would agree that teachers trained in suppressing armed assailants (e.g., former police officers or army veterans)  ought to be allowed to carry weapons in school.  I’m a little concerned that amateurs trained for a day or two to get a Concealed Carry Permit might be more dangerous than not:  it takes a level head and steady aim to take out a gunman, accidents happen, and curious students might avail themselves of an ill-secured weapon.

Some anecdotal observation from my own history:

In the late 1960’s, it was widely known that the bulge beneath my calculus teacher’s armpit was his Marine 45.  In previous years, the presumably armed bodyguards of students related to a prominent Chicago family were also politely allowed to stand around outside of classrooms.  We had little violence in our suburban school, but a teacher from Chicago schools once remarked that they had caught a student after school, retrieving his 12-inch knife from beneath the porch of a house adjacent to the school.  This, in a time when Popular Mechanics advertised a mail order “37 mm anti-tank gun, suitable for home defense!”

In 1968, school violence was low on law enforcement’s priorities.  In April riots, the National Guard brought in armored personnel carriers with 50-cal. machine guns, and used them.  In August, the Chicago police limited themselves to tear gas and batons to beat protestors at the Democrat National Convention.

In 1982, my then suburb banned all handguns.  In the months following, four teenagers were gunned down across the street from the high school.  We lost a few taxi drivers the following year as well:  to guns, knives, and beatings.  My taxi/limo driver had the stories.  A retired Marine Master Sergeant, he was not too concerned for his own safety.

In 1988, Laurie Dann became famous for shooting up an elementary school in a suburb near mine.  Previous to the shooting, she passed out arsenic-laced drinks and set fires at other locales.  My wife’s hospital treated some of the victims;  my wife remembers “playing checkers with the kid in the blue shirt.”

The point of all of this is that we can try to protect our kids with barricades, guards, or guns, but crazy people will still do crazy things, and no amount of laws or regulation will prevent violence.  The cure is getting at the human sources of violence, and not their methods.  The price of that is vigilance, not talk.

For a start, it is well-known that children of dysfunctional, arguing adults are oft prone to violence.  It would help if the “adults” in our society set a better example.  If Liberals and Conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, MSNBC and FOX were to tone down their rhetoric and try to be “responsible parents,”  perhaps the populace would respond.  Adults don’t incite violence on the Left or the Right, but their words seem to.  Providing round-the-clock coverage of perpetrators may not incite the Middle to violence, but it to a crazy mind, it incites seeking “glory.”

I close with a quote from my grammar-school’s namesake:

Were half the power, that fills the world with terror,
Were half the wealth, bestowed on camps and courts,
Given to redeem the human mind from error,
There were no need of arsenals or forts

— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, The Arsenal of Springfield