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Defending Our Children with Trained Staff

I met some amazing people and I’m grateful for it. I’m thinking of the people who protect our children at school. I’ve met teachers who volunteered to be first responders. I’ve met firearms and medical instructors who teach the school staff. I’ve also met the researchers who study violence in our schools. The more I learn the more grateful I feel for what all of them do. I want to share that with you because we’re facing a new problem together. For all the schools and churches that have trained volunteer staff as first responders, there are also many that don’t. I think I know why. We become overwhelmed as we learn more.

Each of us has a pretty good map of what we need to know about our world. For example, we know a lot about our friends and the places where we work. Beyond that, we mostly ignore what we don’t need to know. We ignore it so well that it all but disappears. We know the milestones along the way, but between them we have mental place-holders that might not be real at all. When it comes to safety at school, our mental map has some big holes in it. We’re tempted to fill those holes with our imagination.

Most of us don’t know what school safety really means. Does it mean good counsellors, locked doors and cameras, or armed staff? You’re right that each of those is a small part of the larger answer.

At first, the idea of protecting our schools sounds easy. How hard could it be? Like a place we’ve never been before, we will invent something that isn’t really there to fill in the empty place in our mental map.

As you study the problem of protecting our schools and churches, you find that there are a lot of pieces that should fit together. Suddenly that seems overwhelmingly difficult. It looks impossible until you slow down and examine each element one at a time.

Suppose you work in a school. Could you be one of the staff members who will protect our children? Before you can answer that question you have to think about what it takes to be a first responder. Are you willing to stop a violent person who comes to your school? Are you willing to treat the injured victims? Are you willing to get the victims the help they need as police and EMTs arrive?

The answers to those questions aren’t obvious. Again, you have to think about what each one of those tasks might include before you can say you are willing or not willing. So far we are only looking at our desire to help. We haven’t touched on our abilities yet. That comes later.

First responders are only one piece of the puzzle. There are many roles to play and each of them is absolutely necessary. So is putting the many pieces together into a working whole.

Stopping a violent person in your school means being part of a team. It means training yourself and supporting your colleagues as they practice and learn. That involves time and commitment. It means submitting yourself to instruction where your performance is examined. How would that feel to you?

Lots of people think of armed school staff and their thoughts immediately go to the gun. That misses the biggest attribute that volunteer first responders need. They need a strong desire to learn and improve. Have you practiced applying a tourniquet? Do you even know how?

No one gets everything right the first time. That judgement may sound harsh, but if you can’t face the thought of being corrected in front of others then your abilities hardly matter. You have to accept instruction if you are going to serve.

Having a willingness to learn sounds obvious but it isn’t. I know that most gun owners won’t compete in the shooting sports because they don’t want to see how badly they perform when their abilities are measured by the paper target and the electronic timer. For some people, it is more comfortable to think they are good than to actually test their skills. Some people want to be measured and some don’t. Very little of being a first responder is about the gun.

Of course, there are physical skills involved in physical defense. There are also medical skills to learn in trauma care and first aid. All of that takes practice so we have to be willing to get down on our knees and get our hands dirty. That is true as we train and it is true in real life situations as well. There will be blood, and even fake blood teaches us a lot.

I remember an exercise where I was one of the “victims”. A role-playing actor entered the training site and “shot” some people before he was himself “shot” by one of the defenders saying “bang.” The “victims” rolled out a piece of red cloth that showed where we were shot. A paper card described our symptoms. We laid on the ground and moaned a bit. The school staff I was with were natural actors so it looked and sounded like a chaotic mess.

Some of the participants wanted to withdraw while others were drawn in and intensely focused on the exercise. I was fascinated to simply lay on the floor as a casualty because there was so much to learn. I think the lesson was best summarized during one of the breaks while the staff reset for the next exercise.

A woman put into words what many of us were feeling. ‘I was repulsed by the thought that my students and friends would be hurt at my school. It felt bad, and then I thought how I’d feel if it happened to us and I couldn’t stop the murderer or stop the bleeding.’

That was a life lesson for me. Violence is ugly but being helpless in the face of violence is worse.

Not everyone feels that way. For some of us it is more comfortable to pretend we’re prepared rather than to conduct the training exercises that actually measure our performance. It gives us a comforting sense of security to say that our untrained staff would do a great job if the unthinkable happened to our children and to our neighbors. Adults can play pretend every bit as much as children can. I’ve felt that way sometimes and so have you.

Another lesson they taught us was that our body couldn’t go where our mind hadn’t been before. That is why it is important to do our homework now. Ask yourself who will stop a violent murderer in your school or in your church? Stopping that violence might sound impossible until you look at it piece at a time.

When we think about it, there is so much to do in order to put a good safety program into our schools and our churches. The good news is that other people have done it so we know it is possible. Some of our neighbors can stop the violence and treat the injured. All we have to do is ask them to help.

We should ask them now rather than later. Don’t you agree?


Rob Morse

Rob Morse works and writes in Southwest Louisiana. He writes at Ammoland, at his Slowfacts blog, and here at Clash Daily. Rob co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast, and hosts the Self-Defense Gun Stories Podcast each week.