Monday, December 17, 2012

This Just Hurts

Lit candle in the church
Image courtesy: Erwyn van det Meer

I did not want to send my children to school today. But I am not ready to homeschool them out of fear—yet. I am a mathematician. I understand the odds of them dying in a school shooting are tiny.

Our school district sent out an automated phone message last night assuring parents that they were working hard with the local police and would meet to review safety protocols. That’s good, but will it be enough?

Would banning assault rifles make a difference? I’m not a gun owner or enthusiast. Banning weapons that spit out lots and lots of bullets seems like a fine idea. But I don’t have any confidence this will happen in today’s political climate.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had buckets of money to throw at the problem? How about bullet-proof safe-rooms in every classroom? Or maybe those fancy airport security machines at the door that let the operator see every mole and freckle on your bod.

Those fantasies are even less likely to happen than a gun ban. So, do we just hunker down and pray this doesn’t happen in our town, in our school, to our kid? We could just hope the odds will remain in our favor. But that feels like giving up. It also also feels like reality.

As a novelist (yes, still aspiring), I’m not a big fan of reality. So let’s take off into a different fantasy. You remember 9/11, right? The last plane went down in Pennsylvania after the passengers realized their lives were in danger, that their plane was en route to kill others.

It wasn’t a happy ending, but it changed the way people reacted to terrorism on a plane. Before then, the prevailing wisdom in such a crisis was to hunker down, cooperate, and wait for things to get resolved. That’s not the case anymore. Since 9/11, some intended victims have gone on the attack. Richard Reid (the 'shoe bomber') was subdued by flight attendants and passengers. A passenger also helped subdue the ‘underwear bomber’.

I wonder: would it be possible to attack a gunman in school? Now, I would not suggest placing guns in schools for defense. But are there things in the classrooms that could be used as weapons? What if a gunman gets into a classroom and everyone started flinging desks, chairs, and heavy metal staplers at him? How about a couple cans of long-distance wasp sprayer?

Crazy, right? Realistically, there may not be enough time to grab anything. But I wish there could be some way to fight back. My kids have been given fire-safety training and have lots of drills. Our district even has a small ‘fire house’ on a trailer that comes to the schools. Kids go inside and fake smoke is pumped in so they can practice escaping. Could you imagine a traveling 'school-shooter' trailer? Some guy in lots of padding holding a wooden gun prop comes in and everyone attacks, knocks him to the ground, kicks away the fake gun and wraps him up in duck tape and shoe laces. High fives ensue.

I know this is nuts and will never happen, but dreaming up these scenarios makes me feel better, for a moment anyway.

Children are taught to never hide during a fire. Yet, with a gunman it's best to stay out of sight. But would it be of some value, no matter how small, to possess self-defense skills in case the worst happens: if the gunman does see you?


  1. Oh, man--I completely agree. I would LOVE to see the assault weapon ban return. I think you make a great point about the heroes. I'm not sure at an elementary it's feasible, but in a lot of places, it is. At that mall in Oregon a guy who worked there helped a whole bunch of people get out 'a back way' rather than just escaping on his own.

  2. Those wasp spray cans shoot a long way, too.

    How do you really prepare for something like that, especially when it comes to 6 year olds? And it could happen anywhere. We'd all need to learn self-defense.

  3. Here's the thing... A gun ban will not happen. It just won't. Our only hope is that somehow, people will take responsibility for the guns that they own, and the situations they are in. For instance, if his mother had been realistic about the fact that he had a highly functioning mentally unstable son living with her, she would not have had guns in the house. Period. If she was a marksman, she would have kept the guns somewhere else rather than at home where her son could get hold of them. If she was in fear for her life, she'd have only had a gun, and not semi automatic weapons. Owning a gun goes beyond just keeping it locked away and knowing how to shoot it. It is also the owner's responsibility to ensure that NO ONE else can access it.

    Personally, I think the best we'll get from this is maybe bulletproof glass at every entrance of the schools. Course, if a crazy wants in, he'll find a way.

    Funny though, I had many of the same thoughts as you. How do you fight back? Sadly, being a mail person I was thinking "I'd have been getting there right about the same time of day" and then I thought, "If I had sen him entering the school, I'd have driven my mail truck straight at him, up over the curb and through the windows if I had to..."

    Course, my boss would be pissed...

  4. Thanks guys, for those thoughtful comments. Trying to prepare unarmed children or even adults to fight someone with a gun does sound ridiculous (maybe I've been seeing Home Alone one too many times). But it's nice to dream.

    I'll be keeping a close eye on this story as the details come out. I am very curious on what, if any, documented mental problems can be placed on the shooter. Right now it all seems like hearsay.

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