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GUEST OPINION: Beyond fear, find remedy to school shootings

  • Eric Mueller, a high school art teacher, places wooden angels, one for each of the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in front of his home in the village of Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., Dec. 16, 2012. A monsignor at the church, which was evacuated during noon Mass, said that a man had called and said, "I'm coming to kill, I'm coming to kill." (Michael Appleton/The New York Times)

The recent tragedy in Newtown, Conn., has prompted a national debate on how to protect our children at school. It is no surprise that out of fear people resort to extreme measures in hopes of preventing a similar tragedy at their schools. FDR once said, the only thing to fear is fear itself. We cannot let our fear overwhelm reason and lead to bad decisions.

After the shooting, I had a discussion with my students about what could be done to prevent further school shootings. Several students suggested that I be allowed to have a gun at school. The reasoning was that I am a military veteran with combat experience. While I appreciated the vote of confidence in my abilities, let me leverage that experience to explain why it is a bad idea to arm teachers, or even have armed guards as suggested by the NRA.

In almost every case, these shootings are over in a matter of minutes, seriously limiting the time anyone has to react. Any defender has to be at or close to where the shooter emerges to have a chance to stop it. Second, they have to have immediate access to their weapon. Third, they have to have the presence of mind to act tactically, so as not to get shot immediately themselves. Fourth, they have to be a good shot under the ultimate of stressful situations with a very high potential for friendly fire. Finally, bullets have a tendency to go through walls and in most gun battles there are far more bullets fired than actually hit their intended target.

To be effective under those circumstances requires a lot of constant training. Most police officers, with the exception of elite SWAT Teams, do not consistently train in the type of assault tactics needed to ensure a successful takedown of a school shooter. It is possible to find security guards with that level of training, but they will be very expensive. There are 26 schools in our district times $50,000 per security guard, which is probably extremely low for the level of training needed and you are looking at about $1.3 million a year.

What would happen in reality is you will have either regular beat cops assigned to schools, $15 an hour private security guards, or teachers with guns strapped to their hips while they teach. Our police force is already under-manned to fight regular crime, which poses a much more likely and immediate threat. We simply can't afford to place security guards at every school. And if we did, would they be well-enough trained for what we would be able to pay? Finally, does the public really want armed teachers in the classroom? I could easily see a teacher's own gun used by a student. We could lock up the guns in our classrooms or the principal's office, but then it is highly unlikely we could get them in time to make a difference.

Let's not give in to fear and resort to extreme measures that create their own problems. Instead, we do know one thing that has consistently worked in every shooting. If the shooter can't get to the students, the students survive. This allows time for a SWAT team to arrive to do what they are trained to do. I am recommending that we put Columbine Locks on every classroom door. They allow the teacher to lock the door from the inside with a key and even if the shooter breaks a window in or next to the door, they can't reach in and open it.

This is where we need your help. It will cost our district $1 million to install them throughout the Santa Rosa City Schools. Even with the passage of Prop 30, we are facing a $7 million shortfall and there is very little left to cut. However, you can go directly to our District's website and donate or give a check directly to our main office at 211 Ridgeway Ave. for that specific purpose.

(Andrew Brennan is president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association.)


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