School Shootings: You can't sterilize the world

By Paul Markel

Paul Markel is a police officer in Ohio and a member of the POSA Board of Advisors. His book, Have Passport, Will Travel, a "real-world" guide to dignitary protection, is available at

Nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback. I know I don't. However, sometimes we must examine a tragedy to determine what when wrong. The FAA investigator at the scene of an airplane crash is not a Monday morning QB; he is there to try and prevent whatever happened from happening again.

If as cops and professional security providers we are truly serious about halting and preventing serious crime, we must be like the FFA investigator and examine "crashes" in our world, in our area of responsibility. Regarding the latest school shooting in Colorado, we, the professional good guys, can't afford to simply shake our heads and say "what a senseless shame". That's for the talking heads on Cable TV to do.

Yes, there are a number of unknowns, but let us start with the known.

1. An Armed Bad Guy Enters a School.

But, didn't he realize that schools are "No Gun Zones"? Didn't he understand the increased penalties for having a gun within 100ft, 500ft, or 1000ft of a school? Didn't he read the school's policy forbidding the carrying of "any weapon" on property?

Society's well meaning, but totally deluded sheep, are obsessed with their little white signs and placards declaring this building or that to be a "No Gun Zone" or "No Weapons Permitted". (Unless of course you are a homicidal maniac and don't give a damn about the sign, then feel free.) Ask any cop how effective a civil protection order or restraining order is. It's a piece of paper, nothing more.

Shiny placards, clever little signs, and policy papers don't stop crime. They might give the prosecutor one more charge to hang on the guy if he's ever brought to trial, but they don't stop crime. You can't sterilize the world.

What effect do these signs really have? They tell the bad guy that he has a nearly unlimited pool of totally defenseless victims. It doesn't have to be a gun. Do I have to remind you that nineteen fanatics killed three thousand people with box cutters? Why do crazed psycho's hit schools? Why not police departments? Because at the PD everyone has a gun and the psycho would be dead in the first five seconds.

2. One Hostage Died.

During the siege that ended the standoff at the Colorado school one hostage died. The loss of one innocent person, particularly a child, is a tragedy. But it was one, not ten, not twenty, and not more than one hundred. We Americans have short memories and don't really seem to care when bad stuff happens outside our borders. Everyone can tell you what happened at Colombine. How many could tell you what happened in Beslan? How many American citizens can tell you that it was Islamic terrorists, who tortured — yes tortured, and murdered children in Beslan?

Without a doubt the true Monday morning quarterbacks are going to take the SWAT team in Colorado to task because one person died, rather than congratulate them for saving the lives of the rest. Talking heads and society's sheep will opine as to whether a longer negotiation would have been appropriate and you can bet that some spineless weenie will step up and offer that greater gun control would have prevented the crime. Again, to that I would offer that we need greater box cutter control.

We, as professional good guys and war fighters have spoiled the American public. We do our job so well that they expect perfection. We need to kill all the bad guys, one hundred percent of the time with zero loss of innocent life. That just isn't reality and we know it. The world is an imperfect place. As professionals, rather than wring our hands and lament, we need to understand that we can win and we do make a difference. Keep training and training hard. Learn from any tactical errors, correct those errors, and hone the edge of your tactical sword.

3. Schools are Cherries.

If you are a psychopath with a statement to make, whether you are an ordinary lunatic or a member of a political/religious fanatic cell, you need a few ingredients to terrorize the nation. First you need a ready supply of helpless victims. It used to be an airplane full of hostages, but that has become too difficult to pull off. Next you need the tools to threaten and kill. Any firearm will do, but again, knives work too. Homemade bombs are easy enough to make with household chemicals. Of course, you need a willing media to broadcast the horror into every living room in the nation — live if possible.

I'm not giving away any closely guarded state secrets when I say that every school in America is a potential cherry for the determined bad guy. It doesn't matter what their motivation is. What would you do if a team of four or five terrorists took over a school in your town?

If you operate in a small town, its all too easy to say that it can't happen here. Large metropolitan areas — LA, New York, Chicago — have full-time, highly trained SWAT teams capable of deploying rapidly to deal with threats. How about aiddle America? Does your SRT consist of five or six guys who all went to SWAT school a few years ago and train together once a month if the schedule or budget allows?

From the terrorists view point which is the better bet? A big city or small- to medium-sized one? The longer they can hold out, the more they can prolong the inevitable SWAT takedown, the greater the reward.

If they are shut down by SWAT in the first hour, that does not give the Cable TV networks much time to set up and live feed the incident to the world. However, if they can stretch it out for hours, even days, all the better. Don't delude yourself thinking that your community is too small or out of the way to be a target. In the bad guy's mind your town may be the best choice of all.

Over the years I have lived in several states. During the mid-1990's my family and I settled in Florida. While we were living there the state legislature passed a mandatory helmet law for children riding bicycles. That's right mandatory. During the year prior to the new helmet law being passed a total of twelve children were killed during accidents while riding a bike. Even though there was little evidence to establish that any of the kids would have been saved by a Styrofoam and plastic helmet, the law went through.

Don't paint me as some kind of monster here. The loss of twelve children is sad in and of itself. But we are talking about twelve out of what, tens of thousands? A tiny percentage indeed, particularly when compared to the other causes of childhood death including fire, poison, and disease.

Fast on the tail of nationwide mandatory seat belt laws were mandatory child safety seats. If you fail to put your three year old son into a government approved safety seat you can and likely will be fined. In the State of Ohio the fine is $100. According to published child seat safety regulations, the fine in South Carolina is $150 and in Texas it's $200!

Many state legislatures have been pushing through laws to make it a crime if a child is accidentally killed or injured with a firearm that was not equipped with a lock or stored in a safe. Of course this goes hand in hand with the "guns are inherently bad and people who own them are therefore bad" philosophy Can you imagine someone proposing a law to make it a criminal act if a child was accidentally injured or killed in a car you were driving? It's not that big of a leap.

OK — what's my point and what does this have to do with school shootings? Each year new laws are proposed and many enacted to try and make the world a safe place for our children. I can only imagine the thousands of trees sacrificed to print the bills, amendments, and legislature designed to "make our children safer." Not to mention the money spent to enact these regulations.

With all this effort put into "protecting our children" from harm, you would think that any area that is populated predominantly with kids would be safer than Fort Knox. Particularly a school, after all don't our kids spend seven to eight hours a day, perhaps longer, five days a week at school? Given the previously highlighted trend, shouldn't schools be guarded better than a Brink's truck?

We care so much about our kid's safety that we put colored stickers and placards up at school entrances warning visitors that it is a crime to carry a firearm or any type of weapon on to school property. We install video surveillance cameras to cover every square inch of the grounds. We lock the doors and tell everyone to sign in at the front desk. Kids are forbidden to carry book bags or backpacks in school. Certainly these measures are more than enough to keep our kids safe in school, right?

Someone explain to me how it is that with all of this political posturing, self-congratulatory back patting and "feel good" legislation that one loan sicko with a gun can get into a school, terrorize the student body, commit unspeakable acts of depravity against children and murder them? Didn't they read the sign?

How can this be? It's because psychopaths and deviant sickos aren't dissuaded by shiny signs or placards. They can't be stopped by surveillance cameras. Any determined person can get into a public building if they try hard enough.

So, how do you stop an armed sociopath? Perhaps you stop them with a gun, wielded by a well-trained and competent good guy? Nope. Can't do that. Guns are inherently evil and any person, though well-intentioned, with a gun cannot be trusted. We can't turn our schools into armed camps. Just think of the psychological harm the children would endure being in the presence of an armed police officer. Why they might revert to bedwetting or thumb sucking just from the sight of an evil firearm.

I am sure you know more than one well-meaning though completely out of touch with reality person who would tell you that protecting our children with arms is a terrible idea. It's funny how these people can't seem to consider the psychological and physical trauma that is inflicted by a knife or gun wielding maniac who takes school children hostage and sexually molests them before turning to murder.

School Resource Officers: Guardians for Our Children? The use of the School Resource Officer or SRO is not a new idea, though it is certainly not one that is employed nationwide. Going back to my Florida days, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office ran the SRO program where I lived. The trouble with selling the SRO program is that it only seems to be in place in densely populated areas where gangs and drugs are a problem. However, as we have touched on previously, recent school shootings and domestic terrorist incidents have not been in large metropolitan areas, they have been in places where the common thinking is "it can't happen here."

If your community does not have an SRO program the argument against it will likely be that A) we have never had the need for one, B) we don't have the budget for extra officers, or C) we can't put armed police in the schools — it will scare the children.

If you do have an SRO program, can you honestly say that the officers put in the schools are competent enough to stop an armed intruder? Don't give me that look. Let's be honest here. I have known jurisdictions that used the SRO program as a place to "stick" officers that could not cut it out on the road. So they can't cut it on the road, but we expect them to stop an armed maniac who blasts their way into the school? Maybe you have good people in your SRO program. Are they forgotten about when it comes time for extra/additional training? Do you keep them up to speed on their tactical skills or will you get them some training if you have time or if you can budget it?

Do your SRO people feel that they are part of the big team or are they sent there and forgotten? Are they kept fresh or do they become burned out donut eaters?

Don't frown and get indignant. Sometimes the truth hurts. Are we more concerned with protecting our egos or do we really want to stop homicidal maniacs from using our schools as shooting galleries or places to act out some twisted deviant fantasy?

You tell me.

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