[Editor: We’re bumping this to the top of the blog with the release today of documents about the Sandy Hook glory killer.]
Keeping our schools safe
By John Naese
I, along with several other Guns Save Life members, attended a presentation given by Lt. Col. (Ret.) David Grossman in Jacksonville, IL on January 24.
It was worth every penny of the $45 I spent on gas, and worth every minute of the 8 hour plus time investment to drive there and back.
Grossman is an internationally recognized expert on the psychology of killing. This makes some people nervous and uncomfortable, but those people are exactly the people who need to hear what he has to say.
Two of his books, “On Killing” and “On Combat” are now on the required reading list in the Marine Corps. He gives seminars around the country and in a dozen other countries about mass murders and how to prevent them, and on how to overcome the denial that is the natural state of most people.
“Denial has no survival value.”
The people who get nervous and uncomfortable hearing about guns and school safety are in denial. “Denial is the enemy, it gets you killed”, said Grossman. “Denial has no survival value.”
What are people denying? The facts are clear, Grossman says. Armed good guys in the school deter school massacres. That’s what he calls them, “massacres” not “shootings”. “I’m a shooter. You’re a shooter”, he said. “These people, they’re killers. They’re murderers.” “School shooters” is a euphemism; the people who use the term are in denial. When school murderers begin their crimes, they continue precisely until armed opposition shows up. To say that we just need to keep all guns out of our schools, or that armed good guys on campus will cause deaths, is to live in denial.
He said our problem is not money for guards, it is denial. There are easy steps that could be taken, right now and relatively cheaply, to cut down on the chances of a successful school massacre.
He said that cops need rifles, right now. The school murderers often use rifles; sending up cops against them with only handguns is a bad idea, and waiting for SWAT is an even worse idea. The biggest change in policing in decades happened after Columbine; standard operating procedure now is to engage immediately and not wait for SWAT. Grossman said that the thing that school murderers fear most is failure. They don’t mind dying, but they don’t want to fail. The minute a good guy with a gun shows up and engages, they fold.
Grossman laid out three steps to preventing most school massacres and limiting the damage from those that do occur: Deter, Detect, and Delay.
Many, if not most, potential school attacks can be deterred, simply by the presence of armed responders. The psychology of school attackers – the fear of failure – means they always look for the weak link; the soft target. Grossman said that there has not been even one school attack at a school with police on duty. In response to a question as to which is better, uniformed police / guards or concealed carriers, he said both are effective, as long as you advertise the fact to the students and the public that SOMEONE in the school is armed and any attack will be met and dealt with immediately. Utah passed a law in 2006 allowing concealed carry in schools. By 2012, Grossman said, nearly every school district in Utah had staff on site concealed carrying. Total number of school homicides in Utah during that time: Zero.
Grossman gave the example of a school massacre where two unarmed security guards were manning the metal detector; they were the first to be shot. For virtually no extra money, those guards could have been armed. Better yet, (with the steps described below) they could have fired one guard, armed the other, and had a hundred times better security at half the cost.
Concealed carry by civilians
Although this was not the main thrust of the presentation, Grossman addressed the importance of armed civilians. To him, it’s obvious that it’s a good thing. In every state that shall-issue CCW has been enacted, violent crime has decreased. He also pointed out that no state that has ever allowed CCW has repealed their law after trying it. The states are 50 laboratories of democracy, and 49 of them have allowed civilian carry. In a humorous aside, Grossman commented on the irony that he, a big proponent of civilian carry, lives in the only state, Illinois, which does not allow it.
School administrators and police have gotten much better at this, but they need to keep vigilant and take threats seriously. Sometimes we hear stories about a kid found with a “hit list” or making other plans. The ones we hear about let us know that someone is doing their job of detecting. We need to encourage them to not be in denial, but to actively look for and take appropriate action when such things are detected.
Delay #1 – Single Point of Entry
This is where schools can do the most with the least amount of resources. Every second that killers can be delayed from their slaughter is another second for responders to show up and engage. The biggest thing that can be done here is a single point of entry. All the back and side doors need to be LOCKED, and all visitors must come through a single point of entry with a buzzer system so they can be identified before they enter. It may be more “convenient” to allow a back door to be open for whatever reason, or the smokers may want to prop a back door so they can go smoke. But is this worth the risk of allowing a massacre?
Grossman was introduced to the subject of school massacres in a very personal way. He had recently retired from the Army and was living in Jonesboro, Arkansas, in 1998, with his child in middle school there. He got a call from a relative in Florida, asking him what happened at the middle school in Jonesboro, as it was all over the news. He turned on the TV and found out about a massacre that took place that day at a middle school in Jonesboro. Two children, an 11 year old and 13 year old, had stolen rifles, set up an ambush, and then one of them went in the back door at the middle school and pulled the fire alarm. When a girls PE class exited the building, they opened fire, slaughtering 11 students and two teachers.
They would not have been able to pull that fire alarm and then get back into position for the slaughter if the back door had been locked and they had to use the single point of entry.
Grossman immediately went to his son’s middle school, and found out it was at the other middle school in Jonesboro where the massacre had taken place. But you can imagine the horror he went through until he found that it was the other school. Ever since then, school security has been added to the list of subjects on which Grossman speaks and teaches. The presentation was very emotional; and he suggested that each of us should take school safety seriously, and make sure that our teachers and administrators do as well. “Don’t ever lose your sense of outrage,” he said.
Delay #2 – Rooms need to be securable, fast.
Lockdown drills are an important feature of a school safety plan. But it doesn’t do much good to lock down a classroom if it is not securable. Take, for example, a door with a glass window. An attacker can shoot out the glass, reach in, and open the door, defeating the purpose of the lockdown. This is VERY easily fixable. Glass in doors should have wire mesh embedded. If not, a transparent film can be put over the glass, making it shatterproof. You can shoot through it, but it will not shatter and fall out. You can hack a hole in it, but that takes time, and time is what you’re trying to buy. This is a very low-cost step (about $1 per window) that can be taken immediately.
Rooms also need to be locked as a general condition. Just like when you get in your car, as soon as you get in and start driving, the doors lock automatically; so should the classroom doors. Shatterproof glass won’t do much good if the door is kept propped open during class, or left unlocked.
Where are these killers coming from?
In his school safety presentation, Lt. Col. Grossman not only addressed the “how” of keeping schools safe from mass murderers, he explored, from a psychological perspective, “why”.
Grossman noted that we’ve had murder since Cain and Abel; we’ve had gunpowder arms for 500 years, and repeating firearms for 150 years. But up until 1976, there had not been one case of multiple murder in a school by a student. The first case happened that year – in Canada, where two students were murdered. A double homicide happened in California in 1978, and the numbers have only gotten worse since then. The record for the most murders in this category? Germany holds that distinction.
What changed? How did we go from zero to Columbine to Virginia Tech? What’s different? What all of these types of events have in common is the sickest video games and the sickest movies. Violent visual imagery inflicted upon children is the biggest change.
In the “Grand Theft Auto” series of games, for example, players’ characters gain more points and levels by, among other things, killing cops, stealing, selling drugs, patronizing prostitutes, and then killing the prostitutes. Another series of games, “Manhunt 2” for Wii, has players using the motion sensor controller for the game to actually physically reenact the actions of the character on the screen. Players learn how to use a knife to slit throats and a baseball bat to smash in the heads of people. Grossman said that all of the multiple school killers tended towards being loners and anti-social, and all of them spent many hours playing these types of violent video games.
Grossman did not just assert the ill effects of violent imagery; he backed it up with science. When violent acts are depicted on screen, or in some cases even initiated and pantomimed, the brain is filled with “fight or flight” hormones. He showed a picture of a side by side brain scan, comparing the brains of a teenager who plays a lot of violent video games, and one who does not. The areas of the brain used were markedly different.
What to do about it
The good news, according to Grossman, is that the brains of children and teenagers can “detox” from the overflow of fight or flight hormones in about 48 – 72 hours – if no violent imagery is presented to them. He said he’s heard anecdotal evidence from people who run church camps, that the first two or three days (as the kids are going through withdrawal from their steady diet of violent imagery) behavior is not very good. The pastors at these camps commented that there was no spiritual movement the first two or three days. But after that, the kids are detoxed and ready to listen.
Grossman highly recommended a TV tune out curriculum called Take the Challenge www.takethechallengenow.net. Families, classes, schools, and even whole school districts are employing this curriculum, where the participants pledge to go electronics-free for a week. Kids get outside and play, they talk and interact more with their parents and others, and the detoxing of their brains from the fight or flight hormones does wonders for them.
Some critics say that video games and violent movies can’t be blamed, because murder rates are dropping. Grossman countered that it’s not the murder rate you need to pay attention to; it’s the rate of serious assaults per capita. Studies have shown that the murder rate is down because of advancing medical technology, not because there are fewer murder attempts. If today’s medical technology was the same as in the 1970’s, the murder rate would be three times as high. If we had 1930’s medical technology with today’s assault rate, the murder rate would be ten times as high. The rate of serious assaults is up five times since 1957. Regarding school massacres, before 1976 there were none. Then middle schoolers started mass killing (Jonesboro, Ark.), then high schoolers (Columbine, CO.) and now college age (Aurora, CO., Newtown, CT). Grossman urged those present to check out the Take the Challenge site, implement it themselves, and bring it to the attention of those who can make a difference in our schools.
What I took away from this presentation (just my opinion, not David Grossman’s)
Lots of things can be done to make our schools safer, and for not a lot of money, but only if there is the will to do them. We are fighting denial. Even if we individually are no longer in denial, the people who run our schools may be. It’s up to us as parents and as concerned citizens to speak up; to counter the knee-jerk anti-gun responses that are rife in this discussion, and to insist that steps be taken and denial be defeated.
Regarding the violent imagery, I firmly believe Grossman is on to something. Unfortunately, I also firmly believe that our society as a whole is too selfish and too lazy to keep violent imagery away from developing brains. So it’s going to be up to us as individuals. Raise your kids right. Don’t let them play games where their character murders or engages in mock illegal violence. Limit their exposure to TV and movie violence. Learn to say no. Do things with your kids that don’t involve TV or movies. Since you can’t even watch TV on a typical evening without seeing blood, multiple murders, and other harmful images, maybe it’s time to turn off the TV and learn to be a family again without staring at a screen.
The most important thing is to BE a parent to your children. Say NO when it’s necessary. Love them and engage them in conversations and activities. Don’t count on the electronic babysitter to keep them busy while you’re off doing “important” things. If keeping them from watching violent images means you have to give up your favorite cop drama or violent movies while they’re awake and paying attention, then GIVE THEM UP. Prioritize your existence. DO NOT live in denial. BE the squeaky wheel in your school district that gets your school to adopt safer policies. DO NOT apathetically sit on the couch, whining that there’s nothing you can do. Learn to be a sheepdog, not a sheep.