On the heels of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, many ideas have been proposed to stop the violence. In regard to firearms, some groups want to ban and confiscate all guns while others want to legally arm all residents, and in particular, school administrators and teachers.
While the gun debate rages, we can implement three suggestions that I believe present a middle ground approach, and might be effective in reducing active shootings.
Strengthen school security. An armed police officer with active shooter training and a clearly defined role (a memorandum of understanding between school and police) is a welcome addition to any school, and can deter shootings. Schools need to conduct active shooter drills regularly to ensure the students and faculty understand and can implement the proper steps to mitigate danger. Deaths and injuries have been prevented or reduced by quick-acting teachers. Police departments need to regularly train officers to quickly and effectively respond to these situations.
School shooters don’t just “explode” the day of their criminal act. When acquaintances of the shooters are questioned it’s usually learned there were signs or clues to these tragic actions months in advance.
Often the shooters have made direct threats prior to the act. They might communicate their actions on the Internet through Facebook or other media.
Obsessions with guns and violence, depression and social withdrawal are common traits of shooters. They also might admire previous school shooters, and might study or talk about these incidents.
Educate school staff, parents and the general public to look for clues or signs that a child might need help.
Improve the quality of mental health services for those at risk, and begin focusing on these individuals early in their lives when the danger signs first appear. The common expression, ”It’s just a phase, they’ll grow out of it,” needs to be discontinued.
The most important concept is to stop giving these heinous monsters media attention. The shooters crave the international attention their acts generate. Several have made statements about emulating the Columbine shooters and have stated that they “want to go out like that." The massive wave of media coverage of school shootings like Sandy Hook only guarantees “copycat” incidents. All of us know the names of the shooters. Can you name one Columbine or Sandy Hook victim?
The names and faces of these shooters should never be on television or in the media at all. Instead, focus on the victims and their families. We all want freedom of press, and many feel the public has a right to know the name of the shooter. But before giving a shooter instant fame and the attention they desire we might ask ourselves, how many more of these shootings do we want to endure? The safety of our students might trump our right to know.
There is little risk in implementing these suggestions. We can try them, continually evaluate and make changes when needed. There is much risk if we do nothing.