Can teachers protect our students? Does self-defense really work? I wondered that myself. First, I looked up the numbers. Under President Obama, the Center for Disease Control spent ten million dollars to prepare a report on armed self-defense. The CDC said that ordinary civilians defend themselves with a firearm about two thousand times a day. We protect ourselves very well. What does that mean for defending our students at school? Teachers are our neighbors. On average, they are average students of self-defense. We would expect the average armed teacher to do very well at protecting our students.
Protecting students is a large and complex problem. It would be great to have armed and armored law enforcement officers protecting all our students all the time. We don’t, and we won’t. These very capable officers won’t be on the half million school busses we use twice a day. We have about 125 thousand schools, and many times the number of school buildings. Armed officers won’t be there. They won’t be at choir practice before school. They won’t be at theater and sports practice after school, and the problem grows from there. These law enforcement officers won’t be at daycare centers, private schools, and church schools. The officers won’t be joining the students on field trips. Only elite members of our society can afford to protect their children everywhere all the time.
What can we afford to do with the resources we have? What we do is critically important. 60 percent of the time the school murderer is stopped before the police arrive. Either the intended victims stop the murderer or the murderer stops himself.
Can we protect our children at school? Look at what we’ve already done to protect our students. We designed schools to withstand fire and earthquake. We planned for those disasters. We changed our building codes to make schools safer. We practice for those disasters as well. Teachers, students, firemen and EMTs all practice fire drills a few times a year. Our fire safety program works phenomenally well. It has been years since a student died in a school fire. Unfortunately, we ignored interpersonal violence in schools for far too long. We can and should make schools more defensible. That buys us the time we need so that help can arrive. At a minimum, we reinforce doorways, modify locks, and add shatterproof films to windows.
That won’t be enough because these murderous madmen change their plans to kill our kids. Madmen learned that classrooms are relatively secure. These murderers used the school fire alarms to move their victims into the hallways. Some schools are verifying that there is a fire before they evacuate the classroom. They might only evacuate one building rather than empty the entire school. All of those plans and practices save lives.
Do we have any known solutions? We know that emergency first aid saves lives. No one questions the utility of training school staff to treat the injured before EMTs arrive. The question remains if teachers can stop an armed murderer. Fortunately, this isn’t the High Noon gunfight they show in the movies and many of us imagine.
The teacher has an advantage when they defend their classroom. The teacher might have only a minute to prepare her classroom, but the murderer has to come through the doorway. That minute of preparation, maybe only a few seconds, is enough. The door is locked and bolted. The desks are pushed up around the classroom entrance. The teacher is inside the classroom with her students behind her.
The classroom isn’t a castle, and a murderer can certainly get in given enough time and effort. What the murderer cannot do is enter into the classroom quickly. The teacher knows exactly where the intruder will be. If she is armed, the teacher knows where she has to aim. The teacher will stop the murderer if he steps in front of her gun before help arrives. Now she can wait, and every second means that help is coming closer. Yes, a teacher who is armed with a handgun can even stop a murderer trying to enter her classroom with a rifle. The teacher has other advantages as well, but I’m not going to give away all her secrets.
The defender’s advantage is well known. SWAT teams often have to advance into a building where they face an armed criminal. These trained and armored officers hate going through doorways … and for good reason. They call the doorway “the fatal funnel”, and they expect to be shot as they enter. Now, the armed teacher has that same defensive advantage, and the attacker faces that same disadvantage as they advance through the fatal funnel.
The public policy decisions are simple. We know training in trauma care saves lives. We know that some teachers will barricade in their classrooms. We know that other teachers will grab their medical kit, enter the hallway, and lock their classroom door behind them. They will look for the killer and try to stop him. That is what we’ve seen time and again when murderous madmen attacked our schools. The question we face is simple.
Would you rather the murderer shoot students or engage a defender? Do we want that defender armed or empty handed?
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