To the editor:
Since everybody seems to opine about gun violence and school shootings in America, let me add my two cents worth. Mass shootings are a small percentage of the overall numbers of gun fatalities. Suicide, accidents (some of which are disguised suicides), domestic violence, acts of passion and crime account for the vast majority. But mass shootings are the most horrific, the number of casualties, the deliberate killing of children (Sandy Hook) and the sheer randomness of the event makes these crimes stand out. Like it or not, there are people who will, for whatever warped reason, want to be a mass shooter. Few of these people will be easily identified before they commit the act.
Contrary to what Byron Maduska thinks, the majority of these people will be native-born white men. The problem is that the best available tool for mass shootings is the modern military rifle. Call them whatever you want, the modern sporting rifle, assault weapons, the AR-15/AK-47, all share common characteristics. Light weight, relatively small size, intermediate caliber and slight recoil which means a high rate of fire that makes this type of rifle ideal for a mass shooting. Thirty-round magazines allow the shooter to carry a lot of ammunition.
These weapons are easy to get legally, millions are out there so they aren't hard to get even illegally. Restrict the availability of these weapons and the risk of mass shootings goes way down. There is probably a way to limit access to these weapons that does not violate the second amendment and does not ban them outright but it won't happen anytime soon. This is a terrible thing to say but the body count of suburban and rural white people isn't high enough yet. So what is to be done? While mass shooting can happen anywhere the most recent have been school, church or public gatherings such as the Las Vegas shooting in September. Church shootings may be the easiest to counter, two or three AR-15 armed parishioners stand guard, nothing to be gained by being outgunned. School shootings are far more difficult to prevent. In a time when assault rifles are everywhere, stopping a shooter is a challenge. Look at the numbers.
In Leavenworth there is one high school, one middle school, two or three elementary schools plus three church-run schools. Lansing has a high school, middle school and elementary school. I assume that at least one police officer is assigned to at least some of these schools. The most critical thing to accomplish is to end the shooting fast, killing, wounding or capturing the shooter as quickly as possible. To do this requires manpower trained and equipped to hunt down the shooter. This means AR-15 equipped guards since the shooter will likely have an AR-15-type rifle.
One per school is not enough, two or three will be needed to rapidly overwhelm the invading shooter. Where will these people come from? Does the city police force or the Sheriff’s Office have enough officers or the money to pay for them? Will the school district hire private security contractors? If not are there teachers who are available to pick up their AR-15s at a moment’s notice to join the hunt? What are the training requirements? To begin with, basic rifle familiarization and qualification repeated annually. At least some close quarters battle training, done dry and live fire on a range. Finally and most importantly, dry fire rehearsals done at the school, probably at least quarterly, with police department participation.
Are the weapons privately owned or provided by the school district or police department? Where are they stored? Will you standardize the rifle caliber and ammunition (I hope so) and how much is issued — 30 rounds, 120 rounds, 210 rounds? How do you identify the "good guys" (armbands work). All details that have to be worked out. One would hope that firearms instructors will offer their services at a discount as would ammunition suppliers and firearms distributors. All this requires time and money. Are we willing to pay the taxes needed to fund all this?
Poorer school districts will have less readily available money and the tax base to fund this. Does the state kick in or the federal government? On top of this, other teachers will need to be armed for purely defensive tasks. If an armed intruder gets into a classroom the body count goes up and the tactical problem gets far more difficult. Keeping a gunman out in the hallway where he is more vulnerable, means barricaded or locked doors and armed teachers trained and mentally prepared to shoot the intruder if he enters the classroom.
As the teacher has the advantage here a pistol is enough. Teachers can volunteer to be armed. Training requirements are similar, annual qualification, some tactical shooting practice and participation in dry fire rehearsals in the school. The issues of cost, safeguarding weapons and standardization remain although there is a better rationale here for privately owned pistols. Whenever you have lots of firearms you will have incidents. There will be accidents and there will be accidental discharges. Even experienced shooters have accidental discharges especially with chambered semiautomatic pistols. This usually happens only once, this is one experience you never forget. Hopefully nobody gets hurt. There will be bizarre incidents like the barricaded teacher in Georgia.
There will be times when students get ahold of guns. There may even be shootouts in the teachers’ lounge. The point is that collateral damage is inevitable in firearms weighted solutions to the school shooting problem. Also, as these acts are random, 999 days will pass without incident, on the 1,000th day all hell breaks loose. It is hard to stay vigilant for months on end when nothing happens. But the financial and personal burdens don't go away. Be my guest if you want to poke holes in this picture. My point is that "a good guy with a gun" response is not a simple, easy and cheap solution to the mass shooting problem. It may work but it has its costs.
Ultimately, Americans will have to decide what is the balance between individual rights and the common good. The "assault rifle" class of firearms is a primary example of this. While my opinion is that owning an AR-15 should be a privilege not a right I understand that is a complex issue with no easy or simple answer. I also know that, in all likelihood, the basic question of balance will not be addressed until more innocent bystanders die.