When an active shooter comes to your school


The Orlando mass murders remind those of us on the right that western civilization has been under attack since the late 1970s, while those of us on the left are reminded that loose gun control is the problem. The New York Times stretched to blame Republicans.

And since I like to think outside the box, I am reminded of a question that keeps recurring in my mind.

How many?

That’s my question for teachers, administrators, support staff and even school board members in our school systems, whether public or private. It requires explanation, but I don’t think you will like the question, and you might not like me very much for asking.

How many kids must die at the hands of an active shooter before our school officials enact sensible policies to defend them? Even though unlikely it will happen in your school, it is possible, so how many kids must die before you put your life on the line to protect them?

Yes, I know, in attacks on schools there have been a few heroic sacrifices made by teachers and others trying to stop the lunatics. Think how many kids would still be alive if ALL the school staff had acted to block the active shooter.

I also know the question is completely unfair, especially to teachers. We never have paid you enough for what you do. And we have made your work life miserable with an ever-expanding pile of requirements that distract from core teaching duties. We have given you lousy support on adequate classroom supplies and time to prepare for class or to grade student work. We have given you too many undisciplined parents spring-loaded to blame you for their darling’s poor performance or disruptive behavior. And now you are asked to become a combatant.

The problem is, we have become a nation of sheep, conditioned to expect protection from our government instead of from ourselves. At San Bernadino, the victims lined up as directed and waited for their bullet as the shooter asked about religion then shot the Christians in the head before moving on to the next one. In that and any other mass shooting you can think of, if all the targets had quickly attacked the shooter, he might have shot a few but he would soon have been overwhelmed, and the targets-turned victors would then have had the jubilant opportunity to beat him to death with his own gun. Or read him his rights if that makes you feel better.

That kind of quick, coordinated counter-attack is only going to happen if we change the way we think, change the way we plan and practice for such an event. No place needs it more than our schools.

Law enforcement officials here in Fayette County held seminars within the last year guiding the public to respond to an active shooter with these three steps: run, hide, fight. I don’t wear a badge, so ignore me if you like, but I’m going to offer a different set of three priorities, especially for schools.

Plan, prepare, attack.

PLAN: 1. Get rid of the gun-free zone policy. It only tells the lunatics they will be unopposed.

2. Realize hiring an armed guard isn’t enough since he or she can only be in one place. A bunch of inexperienced school staff carrying concealed guns would be dangerous, but you could identify the few who are trained and experienced with firearms, have them screened by local police, make a policy of frequent firearms practice for those selected, and either encourage them to carry a concealed weapon or have a combination code lockbox hidden but within easy reach. The front desk should be a priority.

3. Every classroom and strategic spot should have long-range pepper spray canisters covered in an easily visible and known color for quick, instinctive grabs when trouble walks through the door.

4. Access doors should be locked to outside entry where possible, with visibility from a desk with push-button release on a case-by-case basis.

5. I walked through a local high school recently that I will leave unnamed, and was surprised to see that each classroom door was not only closed but locked while class was in session, with access granted only by opening from inside, perhaps after looking through the door window at who is knocking. What a simple concept to limit an active shooter and facilitate immediate lockdown. A coded knock might help.

6. Establish simple signals for lockdown, and coded location of the shooter.

7. Establish with all adult staff, that the response to an active shooter is an immediate shout and all hands attack since the shooter will be astonished by the noise and will soon be overwhelmed even if he shoots a few. I know, how horrible! But keep in mind, no matter how good they are, your local police are just minutes away when seconds count. There are times you must take care of business yourself, and in this case keeping the shooter from the kids is paramount.

8. At some age-appropriate level, at least high school, teach the kids the same immediate shout and attack mentality.

PREPARE: 1. Put the plan into action.

2. Have regular drills and reminders of the very difficult and high-risk response you are being asked to deliver, and the high purpose of protecting the kids.

3. Remind each individual to think it through, however uncomfortable, to be better prepared to decide immediately if the time ever comes.

ATTACK: 1. If that time ever comes at your school, the lunatic, whether bringing a gun or knife or suicide bomb, should find himself under unexpected and disorienting attack if only half of those who have been conditioned to attack do so.

2. When a terrifying situation occurs, nobody but you can determine what you will do. But at least you will have been prepared for what the staff collectively expects of itself to keep the lunatic from killing kids, and you will have been conditioned to make a snap decision.

I’m sure school officials can improve on my suggestions. But waiting until the time comes is too late. By preparing and drilling, chances are far better that the active shooter will be stopped by your own shooter, disabled by pepper spray, or disoriented and overwhelmed as some of the staff make noise and attack. And I do hope they beat him to death with his own gun.

If it were me working at the school, I cannot guarantee I would overcome the fears we all would have in that situation. There are too many variables to know for sure until the time comes.

But I do know this. If kids were killed while I was hiding in safety, I wouldn’t be able to look at myself in the mirror each morning.

Whether you are on the left or right, whether you are pro-gun or anti-gun, if you work in the school system the question that only you can answer is, how many?

[Terry Garlock of Peachtree City occasionally contributes a column to The Citizen. He has a child currently in the public school system.]