THE YELLOW-BRICK ROAD OF 'GUN CONTROL' SOLUTIONS TO SCHOOL SAFETY
=The Wizard of Oz is a classic piece of literature and cinema in which an innocent girl and her lovable dog find themselves in a world they don’t recognize and where there is danger at every turn. Oz is a place where even an innocent young girl could meet sudden death at the hands of unimaginable evil. It is also the story of a quest to return to the familiar, warm and safe world she once knew.
America is on its own, similar, post-Newtown quest. We have all been thrust into a new world where innocent children meet sudden death at the hands of unimaginable evil, and we are all desperately longing for the world we knew before, where loving friends embraced us, where we were safe, and where the world still made sense.
Like Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore. Unlike Dorothy, we can’t go back.
Yet still, we’re being told to follow a ‘Yellow-brick road’ which promises to guide us back to safety and security. But this road is both monolithic and naive. It is a route which depends upon equal parts wishful thinking and emotion. But the hard truth is that the genie is out of the bottle; guns will never be erased from the world, nor this society in particular. Depending solely on a solution which has at its core a requirement for the complete unavailability of guns is simply a dizzy panacea Neville Chamberlain might have championed. Prohibition taught us that, the 'war on drugs' tells us that, and the increasing size of the 'nuclear fraternity' tells us that.
People from all sides of the political spectrum have suggested road maps out of our current crisis. It seems, however, that many want to disregard answers which do not support their pre-determined position or advance their political view of firearms (good or bad), the second amendment or civil liberties. One example is the suggestion of putting armed protection for the children in schools, which is inexplicably drawing criticism.
Likely, most of the criticism is due to the source of the suggestion; Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association (NRA), rather than due to the merits of the suggestion. The reluctance of some Americans to be willing to protect the lives of their own children in school is mind-boggling and frankly, troubling.
Sadly, the road of gold we’ve been told to follow leads not to the promised land, but to the land of false hope. Along the way we, like Dorothy, are meeting a cast of strangely familiar characters.
THE STRAW MAN
Oz’s straw man, “Scarecrow,” had a specific need; he lacked a….well, he lacked knowledge.
John Crisp, a teacher at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas, is in all likelihood a principled, intelligent man. However, he recently commented on a topic on which he appears to have little experience or knowledge. Mr. Crisp opined on the topic of armed guards in elementary schools (as postulated by the NRA) on January 2, 2013 in a syndicated newspaper editorial. In that editorial, Mr. Crisp alleges;
“The NRA imagines that no deranged killer would dare enter a school protected by a retired police officer with a .38 revolver.”
No, they actually don’t, Mr. Crisp. You and you alone have postulated that our children be protected by “a retired police officer with a .38 revolver.” What was actually said, according to the transcript, was a call for "qualified" armed security, and THE statement about a .38 revolver is not helpful; especially at the time when anti-gun movements are labeling anything more capable than a revolver a 'semi-automatic' weapon. The answer intentionally infers lack of qualification or ability. Putting untrained, armed persons (even ex-police officers) in schools is not a safe option, and not one that any serious player is advocating.
I have no idea of what Mr. Crisp teaches at Del Mar College, but he apparently has not made himself familiar with the behavior, actions, history, strategy or statistics involving active shooters and active-shooter attacks. I have. I spent years studying and instructing on active shooter prevention and interdiction. I am a certified firearms instructor, and have spent hundreds of hours instructing law enforcement officers and private executive protection teams how to respond effectively to an active shooter. I spent more than two straight years training active-shooter response teams at a major university how to effectively end an active-shooter attack on their campus.
Mr. Crisp's first misconception involves the attacker himself.
Almost always, the active shooter’s end-game is to die in the attack. Their homicidal ideation requires control of the world around them to the point that they cannot allow themselves to be killed by law enforcement. Part of the satisfaction they get is denying that ‘privilege’ to anybody but themselves. Therefore, in almost every single recorded case, the active shooter has ended their attack, fled or (usually) killed themselves at the moment they were engaged by any armed resistance, police or civilian. This is a statistical fact, not some imagined theory about what such an attack would look like. This fact is proven by the Newtown shooting itself. Lanza, though he was wearing a ballistic vest, killed himself when confronted by the first police officers. He had no intention of “shooting it out.” It mattered not their training or even their weaponry. He killed himself at the sight of them!
I have been an FBI first-responder to a school shooting where five-year olds were machine-gunned coming back into the school after playing soccer. I have seen the blood, I have spoken with terrified parents. I have been on site while the SWAT teams searched for the shooter. I spent years on those SWAT teams. I have interviewed a school-shooter hours after he shot children. He told me face to face that he had chosen the school he attacked over all others he cased because the others had security. He didn’t even remember whether the guards which intimidated him were armed or not.
The shooter also told me that he stopped shooting and fled the school when he heard sirens. He had intended to kill himself, but didn’t have it in him. It’s one thing to shoot a defenseless child, it’s another thing to kill one’s self or fight it out with cops. If school shooters were brave fighters, they wouldn’t be shooting children.
(As a point of fact, the following was true in the shooting to which I responded:
1. The gun used was a Chinese-made "knock-off" of an Uzi, which was shipped to the U.S. from China. Yes, a "knock-off" like a Gucci purse or fake Ray Bans. Knock off guns are made in dozens of countries around the world by unregulated, unregistered entities; much like cocaine.
2. The gun was illegal in all fifty states.
3. The gun was unregistered, and not purchased through a gun store; the purchase was illegal even if the gun was legal.
4. The gun had been heavily modified--it had been shortened and converted to a sub-machine gun--by the shooter using tools he purchased at Lowes--not purchased or regulated gun parts.
5. The shooter was a convicted felon who was not legally allowed to possess a firearm of any kind.
6. The shooter was two months out of a mental hospital where he had checked himself in for "an overpowering urge to kill people." He warned the doctors not to release him--that he would kill. They did, and he did.
7. It was illegal to possess that gun on school grounds in California.
8. In possessing the gun and committing the crime, the shooter violated over a dozen existing gun laws. Laws against what he possessed and used were useless.
9. The U.S. Justice Department, specifically the United States Attorney in Seattle, Washington, refused to prosecute the individual who illegally procured the weapon for the known-felon shooter, even after a personal letter to Janet Reno from the United States Attorney in Los Angeles.
10. It can hardly be said that gun laws allowed the crime. The shooter just ignored them. This was much more an abject failure of the mental health system.)
Mr. Crisp simply doesn’t understand the subject about which he is offering an opinion. This illustrates the importance of experts making decisions; not uninvolved, unfamiliar pundits. Crisp’s reasoning, by the way, would also invalidate the need for anybody to know first aid or CPR. Though nobody is suggesting “a retired cop with a .38,” just such a person at Newtown would have saved lives, regardless of Crisp’s opinion. Not because the retired cop would win a gun battle with Lanza, but because Lanza would have killed himself had he been confronted.
There is another type of “straw man.” As those who have passed high-school level logic courses know, a ‘straw man’ is an argument which is invalid because it misrepresents the opponent’s position. "Retired cop with a .38" is a straw man.
The fallacious status of Crisp’s argument is well-demonstrated by an opposite straw man example in another opinion piece which nonetheless agrees with Crisp’s overall position on armed protection for children. This time, it’s (not surprisingly) the tabloid New York Daily News, which published the following breathless headline on December 21, 2012:
“NRA's 'ludicrous' proposal to have armed guards at every school would cost $3.3 billion”
They followed the headline with an inflammatory photo of an FBI SWAT agent and a caption which might one day be known as "the mother of all straw man arguments."
“If NRA chief Wayne LaPierre had his way, all school kids would see something like this heavily armed FBI agent as they walked into their schools.”
Really? I couldn't find that in LaPierre's transcript.
Well, which is it? A heavily-armed FBI SWAT agent, which will, according to one of the quotes in the article, “Ruin the learning environment," causing students to believe "...their schools are prisons," or an old, retired cop with a .38?
If you’re going to misrepresent the words of a man, you might at least both want to get on the same page.
THE COWARDLY LION
On her journey in Oz, of course, Dorothy met a blustery but cowardly creature. To hide his fear, he tried to frighten others. He might have reminded one of the Daily News.
The Daily News headline screamed that protecting our own otherwise defenseless children in their schools would cost “$3.3 billion dollars” annually.
Is that all?
Following the attacks of September 11, the United States moved forward to protect airliners and their passengers, as well as those to whom they posed a danger to on the ground.
Sky Marshals were recruited and highly trained, and are on a large number of the tens of thousands of airline flights which launch throughout the United States every day. Does anybody doubt that Sky Marshals are highly skilled and well-armed? Does having them on our planes make anybody feel less safe? Does their presence make anybody feel as if they are in not an airliner, but a prison?
Have you ever even seen a Sky Marshal on a flight of yours? Have you ever even known one was there?
If the United States could, within just a few months, create the TSA and institute the training and deployment of highly-skilled, highly-trained, plain-clothes professional security personnel on board flights, why are we unable to conceive of that for our children? If we are willing to protect 150 businessmen and vacationers on an airline flight, are we not willing to protect 500 unarmed, helpless, innocent elementary school children in their school? Do they deserve less? We have armed security in our banks. Is our money more important than our children?
No, we're not in Kansas anymore, and we're not going back. Yes, it’s a harsh reality that we have to contemplate our children being shot in their own schools. But does anybody doubt anymore that there is a danger?
Or are we simply lacking the courage to deal with the danger in a way which does not advance our personal political and social philosophies?
THE TIN MAN
Finally, Dorothy met the Tin Man, a man who lacked a heart. He didn’t know how to love, he didn’t know how to care. He likely wouldn’t spend the money it took to protect somebody other than himself.
If the Daily News’ hysterical headline was true, it would cost $3.3 billion dollars annually to protect our children in their schools. To put that in perspective, TSA’s budget (including Sky Marshals) is $8.1 billion per year. Apparently, to some people, businessmen and women are more important than our children. Two-and-a-half times more important, to put a number on it.
For further perspective on the relative importance of $3.3 billion and our children (which the tabloid implied was "ludicrous"), the Daily News Headline for 1/2/13 screamed:
“'They told us to basically drop dead!' Angry New York residents and pols fuming over latest Sandy snub”
The snub, of course, was the failure of congress to vote on a $60 billion bill for relief for victims of hurricane Sandy. But $3 billion to keep our children from being shot to death in kindergarten? That's too much?
Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My!
After 9/11, America’s number one national priority was the war on terrorism. I know, I was in charge of the FBI’s Al Qaeda investigations squad in Los Angeles. But concurrently with combating terrorism, (which only the most naïve person would believe will ever be completely stopped), we began protecting our facilities, our airliners and our people, with security, with guards and with weapons. But after Newtown, armed guards to protect children are 'ludicrous?'
A cynical person might be tempted to believe that anti-gun activists don’t want security in schools because that might undermine the perceived need for gun control. Guns as a solution? Horrified silence.
Do we need to learn better how to keep guns out of the hands of psychotic people? Yes.
Do we need to keep unnecessarily dangerous weapons out of civilian hands? Yes.
Do we need to rigorously enforce existing gun laws? Yes.
Should we be working on those things immediately? Yes.
Will 'gun control' be sufficient in the short term? No.
Will 'gun control' solve the problem in the long term? No.
We need to deal with the situation as it is today, not what we want it to be in a year. And we need to deal with a world where guns--even if drastically reduced, even if controlled and criminalized--and regardless of the fondest hopes and desires of many people, will never disappear from the face of the earth.
Unlike Oz, when unimaginable evil arrives at our door, we cannot depend on a house to drop on the wicked witch. Unlike Oz, we cannot find comfort in beautiful scenery, bumbling but kind friends and comic villains. Our world is non-fiction, and our villains are terribly real and possess unspeakable evil we would have thought almost unspeakable just thirty years ago.
By not taking rational steps to safeguard our own flesh and blood while other steps (such as gun control) are underway, we are skipping down the yellow-brick road to oblivion.