By Clinton Gill
Glade Sun editor
Sadly, that's what I thought when I first heard the news as it began to unfold on Friday afternoon. The initial reports didn't realize the full scope of the tragedy and neither did many who, instead of feeling sympathy, felt the cold callousness that comes from words that have become all too familiar. Since the infamous Columbine attack in 1999 there have been, at best count, 179 school shootings. Some of these instances didn't involve injuries and thus didn't make the national news, while some only had a few people killed.
The attack at Sandy Hook was not just another school shooting though. The targets were 6 and 7 years old, some were shot up to 11 times. What kind of monster targets young children and does so in such a brutal fashion? This attack was much darker, much more sinister, than other shootings. As I conducted research on this piece, the details of this day were played out in my imagination in gruesome detail, yet they no doubt pale in comparison to reality. I cannot imagine the pain of those who are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives, the nightmares of the first responders who were left to pick up the broken bodies, the terror that those children's classmates will have to live with for the rest of their lives.
School shootings that inflict mass casualties have several things in common. The shooters are usually loners, outcasts from society. A lengthy study by Mother Jones magazine found that at least 38 of the 61 mass shooters in the past three decades "displayed signs of mental health problems prior to the killings." Psychotropic drugs have also been linked to an alarming number of these incidents. Many times, as was the case in Connecticut, the shooter(s) ends up committing suicide before police show up. By doing so, these cowards commit an even more sinister act of evil by leaving the survivors no recourse for justice.
Part of the healing process is to try to figure out why these things happen, which is why I'm writing this article, as much as it pains me to do so, especially around Christmas. The victims in this instance, as is the case so many times, had no connection to the shooter. They had done him no wrong. It stands to reason that he was not acting out against them, per se, rather, he was indiscriminately targeting society-at-large. Perhaps he felt wronged by society, which is not surprising. Today's culture teaches our youth that nothing is their fault. Someone else is always to blame. It then follows that, if they are not happy, it's society's fault. For them, the more pain they can inflict on society, the better they will feel about themselves. These shooters are weak individuals. They choose children and venues like schools because they are soft targets. Bullies don't like it when you fight back.
This shooting could have happened anywhere. It could have happened in Crossville. It could have happened in Cookeville. Sandy Hook Elementary has the same student population as the school where my wife teaches. While we need to spend time figuring out the causes of these tragedies, we urgently need to take steps to prevent future catastrophes.
Over the past 50 years, not one student has been killed in a school fire. Schools conduct fire drills regularly, at least once a month. Materials used to build schools are fire retardant. Fire marshals conduct regular walk-throughs to ensure these things. And not one single student has been killed in a school fire in 50 years.
Violence, on the other hand, is an exponentially greater threat to our children yet not much is done in terms of preparing for it. Some schools, like Sandy Hook, have security measures that require administrators to push a button before anyone is allowed in. Some schools, like Sandy Hook, have closed circuit cameras that monitor the entrances. Some schools don't even take those precautions. All schools have signs on the front clearly indicating that firearms are not allowed on the premises. These measures do not work.
When someone starts shooting, people call the police because the police will bring guns. Response times vary drastically though, and are particularly slower in rural areas. One witness recounted that it only took the Connecticut shooter two minutes. The accounts I've read have police going in about an hour later. Whether or not that ends up being factual is a semantical argument. In a gunfight, seconds seem like hours.
The overwhelming response from some is that there needs to be more laws. This is an emotional response rather than one based in fact or reason. There are nearly 300 million privately owned firearms in the United States: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, and 83 million shotguns. Does anyone really believe those weapons would magically disappear with a ban? In places that have employed this strategy, like Chicago and Washington, D.C., the result has been complete and utter failure. The violence only increased. Conversely, in areas with less restrictive gun laws crime and violence have decreased. The Connecticut shooter broke 41 laws before killing himself. Let me say that again, the Connecticut shooter broke 41 laws before killing himself. Who in their right mind believes that he, or anyone who intends on committing mass murder, would have had any more regard for any number of laws Congress could enact? The truth of the matter, is that given the choice between doing Good or doing Evil, some people will choose the latter. In such case, in order to protect the populace the government would have to ban free will all together.
Others believe we should hire more police officers, or enlist the national guard to help protect schools. Logistically speaking, those are not feasible solutions. A great number of municipalities are already strapped for cash. Not only that, while we need to keep our children safe, do we really want them to view school as a prison camp with armed guards? Logically speaking, there is a better solution. There is an untapped resource of protection already in place. Arming teachers is the simplest, quickest and most efficient way to protect our children from future harm. Politically speaking, there are many obstacles that would prevent such a solution. People trust police with guns but not teachers. I have news for those people, most departments only require their officers to qualify once a year and that's the only time they fire their weapons. Does it make sense that we trust teachers with our children's future, but not their present? A teacher who is trained well enough to be proficient with a firearm would not only be able to stop a killer more quickly but would also serve as a deterrent that would most likely prevent their school from being targeted in the first place. Remember, bullies don't like it when you fight back. In any case, we need to find a stop measure and we need to find it quickly. Just as evil begets evil, these tragedies are sure to become more frequent unless we act.