The Kids Want Action: Here’s Some Ideas that Can Stop School Shootings

By Tony Wyman


How much longer until the next school shooting?
Do we have months? Weeks? Days? Or maybe just hours before the next person with a gun goes into one of our schools in a town we’ve never heard of and makes that town tragically famous?
Columbine.
Sandy Hook.
Parkland.
While Wayne LaPierre of the NRA is wasting critical time trying to divert attention away from his organization and the role they play glamorizing guns, the role they continue playing emotionalizing the discussion about responsible gun use, striking fear into impressionable donors that the Second Amendment is in jeopardy, some disturbed, bitter, isolated loner is planning the next school massacre. And we aren’t doing anything to stop him.

We are talking about serious changes, which is better than we’ve done before. Give us credit for that. Actually, give

Student protester in front of White House.
Students across the country came to the Capitol to demand gun reforms in response to calls from the #NeverAgain campaign. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

the kids credit for that. They’ve shown more leadership, more courage, more resolute determination to end this plague in just the week since the Florida shooting than their parent’s generation has in years. The kids are the ones keeping this conversation going, keeping adults from settling for more equivocating, more aimless thoughts and unanswered prayers. They are the ones who want Florida to be the last mass slaughter and aren’t willing to be quiet until it is.

Some of us are listening; some of us are hearing what the kids are saying and are paying attention to their message. Unfortunately, others like Mr. LaPierre, are closing their minds and hearts to the kids, accusing them of ridiculous things, of being tools of one special interest group or another, of being actors or political activists trying to impose some hidden agenda upon the rest of us.
That isn’t who they are.

They are the same people we adults were at 15. They are just as weird and goofy and naive and foolish and confused as we were at their age. They are going through the same things we went through in our teens. First love, hormones, anxiety, insecurity. And, on top of all that, on top of trying to get the attention of their version of Winnie Cooper, on top of trying to find a place in the world where they fit, on top of figuring out who they are and what they want, just like we did, they are also dealing with the fear they might not survive long enough to graduate.

High school students face a range of stresses, from social to academic. Now, they also fear school violence that might cut their lives short. (AP Photo/Eric Hill)
Why is this a real concern to the kids? Because they are smart. Because they know another mass killing in a school shouldn’t have happened after Columbine (15 killed), after Red Lake (10), after Virginia Tech (33), after Sandy Hook (28).
But another one did.
And they saw their parents and their teachers and their coaches and the other adults they look to for guidance and leadership just shake their heads in dismay, before going back to their lives as if something unspeakably awful hadn’t just happened, as if life should just go back to normal.
But it can’t.
At least not for the students and teachers who died. Not for their families and friends. Not for the kids who were there and survived. And now, not for the rest of the kids, either.
They want a new normal, a return to the time like we adults knew, when the only things we had to worry about was flunking tests or being ignored by Winnie.
They want us to make schools safe again. And since we don’t seem to have any ideas, they are filling the void with their own, ones that make sense to teen minds.
Getting angry at them for being idealistic and naive is as foolish as it is cruel. They are kids; they haven’t lived long enough yet to be cynical like their parents. They haven’t yet learned that the normal way of things is to feign outrage and do nothing. Give them some time and they will learn from us.
But they do know this: they are tired of waiting for us to do our jobs as adults.
So, it is time to stop letting our kids down. It is time to do what we should have done after Columbine. It is time to get really serious about making schools the safe place they should be. Here are my ideas on how to do that. They might not stop every shooting, but, put together effectively, they might just stop one. And if that one is your kid’s school…
I think we have to look at addressing school shootings two ways:
  • First, we have to be reactive to the attack itself.
  • Second, we have to be proactive, trying the best we can to prevent a shooting from ever happening. I’ve broken my thoughts down into two groups, therefore.
The first is what can we do to respond to and survive a school shooting. The second is what we can do to keep a kid who believes in Santa at seven from being a kid who believes in murder at 17.

Reactive

  1. Redesign our school grounds to make them safer. The new Sandy Hook school was built on raised ground to make it easier for staff to see people approaching. Designers used existing wetlands to restrict parking in places that funneled visitors over small footbridges that could be closed to pedestrians in an emergency. Planting bushes, shrubs and other plants that provide students with cover from shooters so they aren’t standing exposed in wide open grounds.

    Sandy Hook was demolished after the 2012 shooting.
    Sandy Hook Elementary was demolished after the 2012 shooting that killed 20 6- and 7-year old children and six staff members.
  2. Walls and fences, like those found outside embassies, can be both attractive and protective. No school should be built without such manned barricades. We wouldn’t build an embassy without such protections. Why are our diplomats given a level of protection we don’t afford our children?
  3. Restrict entrances to only one doorway and make that entry as secure as the ones in banks. Teachers and staff should be able to see people attempting to enter the school before they are allowed in. And they should be able to do so from safety. They should also be able to lock a person attempting to enter the school in the entrance until police arrive, if staff decides he poses a threat.
  4. Put cameras in every hallway so staff can see who is moving through the halls at all times. No one should ever be able to move around a school without a security monitor watching him. If he poses a danger, the monitor should have access to the PA system to instruct students where to go to avoid the threat.
  5. All hallways should have gates that can be closed and locked to trap a shooter in an area, making it impossible for him to move about freely. Ideally, these gates could be employed automatically at the discretion of the security monitor. Combined with bullet-resistant doors, these gates could effectively end a shooter’s ability to strike in multiple locations.

    Gates for school hallways.
    Gates cost anyone from around $300 to in excess of $1400 and could be used to block the movement of a shooter.
  6. All schools should have a rapid response team of teachers and staff who respond aggressively to an attacker. If the local community so wishes, this team could be armed. I am not in favor of arming teachers, but if we are going to do this, they should be extremely well-trained and armed with weapons that would be effective against an attacker carrying an AR-15 or similar weapon. Sending poorly-trained teachers with revolvers after a determined killer with greater firepower is irresponsible. If we want to arm teachers, do it right. But, before we make this choice, we need to be clear what our expectations of teachers are.  Do they go on the offensive and attack the shooter or do they shield students and provide cover for them to escape?  Do they actively patrol the halls looking for the attacker or do they hold their positions and respond with gunfire only if attacked? Teachers need to know what their mission is and they need to have the training to execute it with a high probability of success.
  7. Schools should also have at least one rapid response care team trained in stabilizing gravely wounded shooting victims. These teams should be equipped with the necessary medical tools and supplies to keep victims alive until the building is secured and professionals take over.

Proactive

  1. Schools should aggressively identify children at early ages who are likely to be isolated, lonely, bullied or marginalized during their early educational years and work hard to socialize these students. There are many proven and effective ways to find these kids and help them grow into healthy young adults. The Columbia Lighthouse Project has such a tool, one recognized as the most effective of its kind. Read more about it here. While their focus is on suicide prevention, their director, the wonderful Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber says that up to 90% of school shooters have suicidal thoughts and that her tool can help identify them and get them the care they need.

    Isolated child
    Experts warn that children who feel isolated and lonely are more likely than others to strike out violently at their classmates and at themselves. Tests and observation can identify these children and get them help before they become a threat.
  2. Get kids involved. It isn’t a coincidence that each of the school shooters was a loner, a kid who didn’t fit in, who didn’t have friends. Other kids can change this, if they are encouraged to do so by their teachers. We Dine Together is one group taking this approach. They identified loneliness and isolation as leading causes for suicide and antisocial behavior among young people and decided to fight back. They do this by getting student leaders to seek out, befriend and unite with disenfranchised students at their schools. By doing this, the student leaders draw their classmates together in the school’s community, giving them a sense of belonging.
  3. Stop watching violent movies and buying violent games. Hollywood, always quick to throw money at a cause, is backing student-led efforts to demand real action following the Florida shooting. But if they really wanted to make a difference, they’d stop glorifying killing. Hollywood should immediately depict the use of a gun to kill people as the act of deranged cowards unable to make it the world without the use of violence. These killers should be stigmatized in movies and computer games, not glorified. Until Hollywood gets on board, we should stop rewarding them by buying tickets to see movies glorifying violence or buying games that desensitize kids to the act of killing.
  4. We need reasonable changes to our gun laws that protect the rights of law-abiding gun owners, but that also keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Increasing backgrounds checks to include the sale of all firearms, closing the gun show loophole, and requiring registration of all private sales doesn’t deprive anyone of his Second Amendment rights, but it might keep a gun out of the hands of a killer.
  5. Repeal federal laws that ban gun registries and gun tracking. Specifically, repeal the 1986 Firearms Owner Protection Act. Gun rights extremists won’t like this because they fear the government will create registries for the purpose of taking away the firearms owned by law-abiding citizens, but what they will really do is use the information to track guns used in crimes, sold by illegal dealers or falling into the hands of people with mental health issues or criminal backgrounds. Right now, we have no idea who has most of the millions of guns in this country. We know who owns every car, but not every gun. Why not?
  6. Nationalize California’s firearm restraining order law. The adoptive family of the Florida killer knew he had firearms and knew he was a danger with them, but they had no legal recourse to take his guns away from him. If they could have petitioned for a firearms restraining order, a court could have given the police the right to take the killer’s weapons before he turned them on the kids at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Couple that law with laws making it easier for family to commit their own relatives to mental care facility, and many shooters might be stopped before they kill.
  7. Parents need to talk to their kids. They need to take more responsibility, spend more time, dedicate more of their lives to the betterment of their children’s. And they need to make sure that they impart the right morals, particularly about the sanctity of human life. Parents who need help with their children, should have easy access to parental training, as well as the services of social counselors. They should also consider the forms of entertainment their children are using and ask whether they are appropriate for kids.

    Parents talking to kids
    Parents need to know what is going on in their kid’s lives. The best way to know that is to take an active interest and really communicate with your child.
  8. We should take advantage of technology, too, to help us prevent shootings. Kids use social media today to communicate. Schools and communities should set up anonymous message boards and other sites to allow kids to report concerns about their peers anonymously. One such tip in Steamboat Springs last may averted a possible shooting. Making it easy, safe and anonymous for kids to share information about others who are potentially a danger to others or themselves might make all the difference.
  9. Social media companies can also help. We could enlist Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and other sites to report violent posts threatening others or the poster. Studies show that repeated violent posts are often precursors to deadly actions. Protecting the privacy of a potential killer or someone planning to commit suicide is less important than protecting the lives of his possible victims.
These are just some ideas that might help prevent the next mass shooting. There are, undoubtedly, many more that would be even more effective. We can no longer just shake our heads and shrug our shoulders. Our kids have put us on notice. If we do nothing now, we aren’t just negligent; we are complicit in the next killing spree.
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