As I age and see more and more of this world, adding to my “databank,” I think back more often than ever about the things I learned from my father. He wasn’t much of a talker. He taught by his actions, not so much with words. I learned how to respect and treat a woman by watching how he treated my mother. I learned compassion for others by watching him help others in need time and time again. I watched him give respect and demand respect. In the wake of the senseless school shooting in Florida I have repeatedly had one of his “lessons in action” come back to me over and over.
That lesson took place when I was around 8 or 9 years old. I was due back for Sunday dinner at the prescribed hour and I was not there. Not only was I not there, I put myself in danger by riding my bike way outside of my boundaries all the way down to the banks of the river where I knew I was not allowed. To make it even worse, I also put my younger brother in danger by taking him with me. When I got home is when I got the lesson. I got the one butt-whippin’ in my life I can actually remember. Looking back on it now it wasn’t really so awful (as in a “beating”). Oh, I remember the stinging of the belt a little bit but what I really remember are the tears. Not mine, his. My dad was crying because he knew what he had to do and he really, really didn’t want to do it. He had to burn it into my brain so that I would never do anything like that ever again. The lesson that keeps coming back is that he did the thing that had to be done even though it brought him to tears.
As I see and hear friends and family discussing what can be done about school shootings and how we can protect our children there are many opinions. There is a lot of discussion about passing new laws to make it harder to get a gun. Unfortunately, people who are willing to commit murder do not generally obey laws of any kind. There is talk about improving the mental health system and, while this is a worthy goal in any case, it cannot stop all disturbed people from buying guns (as happened in Parkland). The Florida shooter was in mental health treatment and voluntarily stopped going. He was not reported for a myriad of reasons. No matter what we do with our laws and our mental health system, a determined human being bent on killing is going to eventually be able to slip through. There is only one way to be absolutely sure we are providing the best possible safety for our kids. I’ll call it Engineering and Deterrence. It may not fit our visions of the perfect schools but it has now become necessary. The thing that has to be done.
The engineering part is easy. All it takes is the will and money I assume we would all be willing to spend. We can build or alter schools so that access is controlled and doors are locked. Install “panic gates.” Should an incident occur these can be dropped (or raised) instantly to section off areas denying a shooter access to entire sections of the school and more victims. As one expert put it, “Make the big school small.” We can plan for emergency exits for kids. We can install doors that, once locked, can only be opened by the police who are on the way (similar to elevators with keys for firemen). Run drills so that all these things are familiar to teachers and students. This is an almost open ended avenue to explore for ways to keep our kids more safe.
The deterrence part is the part that is going to be unpleasant to a large portion of our population. Unfortunately, if (when) a shooter makes his way into a school filled with our children there is only one thing that is going to make him stop. Armed and trained adults. This is proven to be 100% effective in Israel. I get it that our schools should be places of learning and we would like to have an idyllic setting with ivy covered walls and peaceful fountains where our children can sit and think. We just don’t want to have guns in that environment. Our emotions tell us, “No! It shouldn’t have to be that way.” It shouldn’t…. but it is. Sadly, we must now do something we really really don’t want to do. We may shed a tear as we are forced to arm our schools but it is the thing that has to be done. The lives of our children come first.