Nine days ago – as I type this – a single gunman went into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and shot 31 people. He killed 17 and wounded 14 others. Unlike so many other active shooters, he didn’t commit suicide but was arrested. He was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. What makes this active shooter event different from others? There are a few characteristics of it in its totality and I’m going to review them, but the one thing I want to focus on throughout this piece is: VERY LITTLE focus has been given to the 17 dead and 14 wounded. MOST of the focus has been on the weapon used, gun control efforts and then, almost as an afterthought, some of the heroic actions taken during the event by faculty and students as they protected others.
So, let’s get the characteristics that made this different out of the way:
First, it’s come to light that the FBI was made aware, at least five months prior to the attack, that the arrested suspect had stated his plans to attack students at school. One month prior, a tip was fielded by the FBI’s hotline that the school shooting was going to occur, but the tip wasn’t properly followed up on.
Second, it’s come to light that the School Resource Officer on duty at the time failed to go into the school to confront the gunman, instead staying outside in a position of relative safety and letting children under his care be wounded or murdered. This is an unconscionable act and I can only hope that he manages to live with his own guilt and shame for the remainder of his years. The ugly truth is that none of us can or should stand in judgment but we, as humans, tend to do exactly that. We think about what we THINK we would do… but until you’re in that position none of us really knows. As an active shooter response instructor with not quite two decades of experience, I know I would have trained a different response and he’d have been tested with painful but none-lethal ammunition. I can only say this so much: If you wear a badge representing a law enforcement agency, then you took an oath to protect others. If you don’t have the intestinal fortitude (guts) to back up that oath and act accordingly, go find another career. You’re not meant for this work.
Now, that out of the way, let’s take a quick look at the event itself. According to reports, the event started when the perpetrator pulled the fire alarm in the school at approximately 2:20 pm on February 14th, 2018. Using a semi-automatic rifle, the perpetrator began shooting – allegedly indiscriminately – at teachers and students. The shooting reportedly lasted six minutes after which he left the rifle on the third floor of the building where he committed the attack and then fled the scene by blending in with fellow students. He was arrested not far away after having been identified on school surveillance video.
As is true of almost every active shooter event, the immediate aftermath and reaction from the public is an outcry of disbelief followed by a call for action to prevent further such attacks… and that almost immediately starts a political tirade about gun control, child safety, mental health, the value of human life, etc. It gets ugly fast as “both sides of the aisle” start hurling insults as each tries to leverage a horrific event for their best interests. JUST STOP.
Dead children and teachers are not tools to be leveraged for your political position. The focus on gun control, banning weapons, limiting ammunition capacity, increasing the depth of background checks, etc… it’s all politics. While some may believe that it will have an impact on school or other venue mass attacks, the reality is that the people espousing new laws… more laws… more strict laws… they’ve already lost focus. What focus? The need to make the schools and population/community in them safer.
Before we start pushing anything that will garner votes or render an increase/decrease in political position/power, how about if we actually analyze the event, location, circumstances, etc first and see if there was something that could have been done to prevent the attack?
Most schools today have plans in place to deal with active shooters. “Code Red Lockdowns” are common. Students and faculty are taken into the nearest classroom, moved away from the door, and the door is locked. Most schools also have sections divided by lockable fire doors and, if possible, those doors get closed to limit the shooter’s access to victims. In an ideal situation, staff or faculty in a secure office location can view the surveillance cameras (in most recent construction schools) and direct the School Resource Officer via radio toward the shooter so s/he can neutralize (read “repeatedly shoot”) him. Local authorities have been contacted and are on the way to assist with locating and neutralizing or arresting the perpetrator.
So, what broke down in that response plan at MSD High School? Has anyone asked? Will any analysis ever be made public? I’m sure the difficult questions are being asked but if the answers are being found they aren’t being shared… not publicly. They might show up in a training program in a year as “lessons learned” during an active shooter response course. They’ll never be made public. The excuse of, “We’ll reveal our vulnerabilities and make it easier for the next shooter,” will be used to keep the information out of the public eye. “We don’t want to help the next shooter make his plan more kill efficient.” Of course we don’t. I 100% agree. Then again, the political posturing and political debate isn’t doing anything to hinder the next shooter either.
We all want to be right. We all want solutions… but only if they fit within our own values and belief structure. I’m as guilty of that as the next guy. We have people debating amendments to the Constitution and new laws restricting sale or access to a single model of firearm… but we don’t have anyone – as far as I’ve seen – even examining or performing an After Action Report to see how everything was done and what could have been done different. And beyond that, it seems like the focus is on laws and items not the wounded or killed.
Time to step up to the next level, America. We’re better than this. Stop posturing and bickering. Focus on what matters. Let’s make our schools safer and are children tougher. Let’s demand that the mainstream media, politicians and school authorities all get on the same page: the safety of students, staff and faculty all comes first and politics takes the backseat.