By Michael A. Knox
Adam Lanza, a twenty-year-old recluse suffering from mental illness, was so violent and uncontrollable that even his mother was frightened of him. Reports have surfaced that she was preparing to have him committed to a mental health facility, an action he saw as yet another rejection by society. His mother reportedly had volunteered at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and Lanza thought she loved that school more than him.
It's easy in hindsight to look back at such a tragedy and say, "If only someone had gotten him the help that he needed," or, as has become apparent in the last few days, "If only he didn't have that terrible assault rifle, then maybe this wouldn't have happened." But it wasn't access to guns that killed those children. It wasn't a failure of the mental health system to intervene before Lanza lost control. It was a societal failure to take seriously the threat of violence in American schools.
By not securing our schools, we not only invited Lanza to commit his rampage at Sandy Hook, we allowed him to control every second of the ten minutes he was there; from the time that he shot his way through the main office door until the time he took his own life, Adam Lanza was the one making the decisions. He decided who would live and who would die. Not one person in authority had control of that situation, only a well-armed, mentally-ill twenty-year-old.
Now that the massacre is over, the victims laid to rest, we seek some comfort in believing that such a tragedy will never happen again. So, we turn to our leaders, and before the dead are even buried, Dianne Feinstein has decided that banning "assault weapons" will do the trick. But even an all-out ban on guns throughout the nation will not stop the next Sandy Hook. The massacre at Columbine High School happened five years after the Clinton-era assault weapons ban went into effect, and almost every single weapon that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold used that awful day was either outright illegal, as was the case with the plethora of explosive devices they used, was subject to the assault weapons ban, or was, in fact, legal, even under the ban. The ban limited the capacity of semi-automatic pistol magazines to no more than ten rounds, but that didn't deter Harris: he just brought a total of thirteen magazines and fired his Hi-Point Carbine 96 times. With several reloads, he also fired a pump-action shotgun 25 times. The assault weapons ban didn't save a single life at Columbine.
What we didn't learn from Columbine we must now learn from Sandy Hook. The depth and breadth of the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School cannot be overstated; indeed, the senseless slaughter of six-year-olds is among the most reprehensible acts in human history. But, sadly, it was a slaughter that I have, for some time, predicted. I had no idea when, no idea where, but every idea that it would, in fact, happen. But, still, as a father of five, it saddens me to no end to see the photos of those twenty innocent souls. It saddens me most because, had we, as Americans, taken this threat seriously, those children would still be alive today.
But we didn't take the threat seriously. Inexplicably, we lived in a state of denial. We ignored the signs and symptoms. We took no real action because it was easier for us to believe that, somehow, an elementary school was immune to such a massacre.
What is particularly saddening about this tragedy is that we know how to make schools safe. As Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman so aptly preaches, no student has died as a result of fire in an American school in the last fifty years. Not one single student. Yet, we can account for over seventy school shootings in recent years, and children are dying as a result of violence in school at a rate hundreds of times greater than by fire. Not one student has died from a school fire because every single school in this country is equipped with sprinklers and fire extinguishers and alarm systems. Every single school in this country conducts regular fire drills and posts evacuation routes conspicuously in each classroom. Every single school in this country is inspected by a fire marshal or other authority to assure compliance with the plethora of fire safety regulations in place throughout the nation. And no student has died in school as a result of fire in the last fifty years. Yet, when it comes to securing our schools from violence, we continue to bury our heads in the sand and deny the existence of a problem, deny that there is anything we can do about it.
How can we as American citizens be happy with allowing children to die in school when we have within our power the absolute ability to prevent these acts from ever occurring again. We can, now, this minute, implement measures that would provide an almost entirely fail-safe assurance that there will never again be a Columbine or a Virginia Tech or a Sandy Hook. We can stop these acts, and the solution has nothing at all to do with gun control. In fact, every minute and every dollar we waste debating the issue of gun control is another step toward guaranteeing that there will be another Sandy Hook. No matter what guns we outlaw, children will continue to die in schools throughout this nation unless we learn that the only truly effective solution is to secure the schools, to harden the targets.
After 9/11, we did not seek to ban box cutters or airplanes; we sought to secure the terrorists' targets. We spent billions assuring that airport security was transformed from a hodgepodge of efforts controlled by airport administrators to a nationalized system controlled by a single federal agency. We invested in tremendous technological developments to put scanners and explosives detectors in almost every airport. We put armed law enforcement officers aboard aircraft. We locked cockpit doors. We trained first responders from coast to coast how to deal with terrorist incidents. We as citizens accept that we will have to remove our shoes, take off our belts, and throw away our liquids before we can get on an airplane. And, with few exceptions, we do it without reservation and without complaining. Yet, when it comes to school security, we think that simply locking the doors will make our children safe. The door was locked at Sandy Hook, but, still, 26 people were murdered.
If we want to make our schools safe, we must make a true investment in the technology, training, and manpower needed to make it happen. We must put armed police officers in every single school in numbers that will assure that violence is either halted entirely or quickly quelled. We must put real doors and bullet-resistant glass in every school to stop predators from getting in. We must install surveillance systems and door alarms to assure that school officials are aware instantly of any security breaches. We must train teachers and school employees how to handle active shooter incidents. We must hold regular "Code Silver" drills to teach students how to react and how to evacuate when violence strikes. We need to assure that local law enforcement agencies, increasingly facing budget cuts, have the resources needed to train and equip their officers to respond to these incidents. We need to assure that every school is complying with regulations. It is harder today to get onto an airplane or into a courthouse than it is to get into an elementary school. Our most precious commodities spend 32 hours a week in school, and, yet, we think its more important to secure airports and courthouses than to secure schools.
When Lanza showed up at Sandy Hook Elementary School, armed with at least six firearms, the school and its teachers and staff were totally unprepared to stop him. The principal tried, but without the tools and the training to act, she died valiantly, as did five other adults at that school. But here's the part that makes us all so uncomfortable: when Lanza showed up at that school, there was only one way they could have stopped him, and that was to kill him. He wasn't going to be stopped by unarmed people lunging at him, or by a bat, a knife, or a chair; he wasn't going to be stopped by hiding under desks or by calling 911. But he would have been stopped instantly had there been someone in that school's front office who was armed, willing, and able to bring an end to him and his planned massacre.
If the idea of killing Adam Lanza makes you shift in your chair, you're like the vast majority of Americans: you abhor violence. But when violence is visited upon an elementary school, we are either prepared to do what it takes to stop the perpetrator, which most likely means killing him, or we allow him to slaughter twenty innocent children. The question is: on that day, when that person comes to your child's school, who do you want to be in control of that situation? The crazed lunatic, or a prepared school staff member? How would things have gone at Sandy Hook if there had been armed police officers securing that school?
The principal, the school psychologist, the teachers, and the staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School did their best during those ten minutes of terror, but we as a society failed those twenty children. We failed them because we are more concerned about that uneasy feeling we get when we think about securing our schools than we are about making absolutely, unequivocally certain that we never let this kind of tragedy happen. It wasn't unpredictable. With over seventy documented shootings at schools, we had to know that something like this was bound to happen. But we failed to act because we would rather live in a world of denial than face reality. But we cannot deny the truth any longer.
Preparing for violence doesn't begin when the shooter shows up at your door; it begins now, today, this minute. Now is the time to take real action toward bringing an end to school violence, toward protecting our children, toward making real change that, if done correctly, wholeheartedly, and without reservation, can assure that no child will ever again die at school as a result of violence and that no parent will ever suffer as the parents in Newtown have suffered. Now is the time for Congress to affect that change. Now is the time to act.
Michael A. Knox is a former Jacksonville, Florida, police officer with over fifteen years of service. He spent a decade in investigations, seven of those years as a crime scene investigator. He has been involved in the forensic investigation of hundreds of shootings, including the deaths of children, such as eight-year-old Dreshawna Davis who was killed in her bedroom when three street thugs sought retaliation against the little girl's uncle. He was the forensic investigator who tracked the course of each of the 29 bullets that ripped through her home and determined which of those bullets ended her life. He currently owns a forensic consulting firm and is a court-recognized expert in firearms, ballistics, and shooting incident reconstruction. He has reconstructed shootings in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. He has trained law enforcement officials on four continents about the reconstruction of shooting incidents. He has testified as an expert in shooting incidents numerous times in state and federal courts across the nation.