Lessons from another school shooting

While we still don't know all the details, it is possible to learn from early reports on a school shooting near Denver. We can look at what worked and what did not. Those who care to make schools safer will choose to copy aspects that worked. Unfortunately our recent survey shows that many school officials have chosen to ignore the life-saving lessons and leave untold thousands of children at risk.

On Friday, December 13, 2013, a lone attacker walked into Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado, intent on doing great harm. He reportedly carried a shotgun with about 125 rounds of ammunition, a machete and a backpack containing three Molotov cocktails. He clearly intended to kill many people, but failed in his mission. His lone casualty was Claire Davis, a 17-year-old senior who passed away Friday. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Claire's family and friends.

Before we get into why he was unable to carry out his mission, let us look at all the things that didn't help to stop him.

What failed?

Colorado's new gun control law failed to stop the killer from acquiring his gun, which police say he bought legally a week prior. The ban on standard capacity magazines had no effect on the shotgun or bandolier full of shells he was wearing. The laws failed to stop him from carrying a gun into a school building and firing multiple shots endangering many people. The laws failed to stop him from shooting Claire Davis in the head. The laws also failed to stop him from having many more rounds of ammunition, the machete and the Molotov cocktails. They failed at stopping him from setting fire to the library. The laws will be of no use prosecuting the dead coward nor in helping Miss Davis or her family heal from their injuries.

Any steps taken to identify a killer and intervene failed. Controlling the entry point to the school and keeping the killer outside failed. Partitioning off the school and isolating the killer from getting to other kids failed. Every preventive measure failed. That is not to say they are not important steps to take, but in this particular event, they all failed.

The Colorado legislature failed. After signing anti-gun bills this year, Governor Hickenlooper said, "What we have signed today are several bills that materially make our state safer..." He was dead wrong.

While Hickenlooper and others pushed their anti-gun agenda, Buckeye Firearms Foundation paid for FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response) training to enable schools to stop a deadly threat inside a school.

What worked?

With so many failures, what contained the damage? What stopped the killer?

It is reported that fire was set to at least three bookshelves, but the school didn't burn and no one died from fire or smoke inhalation. The fire codes and all the redundant, overlapping layers of protection worked. No one calls the fireman paranoid. They recognize that all those layers of protection helped save not only the school, but lives as well. The same idea works against violence when appropriately applied.

The critical idea that worked was an armed response from inside the building - the exact same type of armed response that Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, John Benner, Ron Borsch, and other experts on the topic have suggested. We have seen this repeated enough times to know most in the media who mocked the idea will continue on their warpath instead of quietly eating crow.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said of the killer, "His intent was evil, and his evil intent was to harm multiple individuals."

CNN reported:

The rampage might have resulted in many more casualties had it not been for the quick response of a deputy sheriff who was working as a school resource officer at the school, Robinson said.

Once he learned of the threat, he ran -- accompanied by an unarmed school security officer and two administrators -- from the cafeteria to the library, Robinson said. "It's a fairly long hallway, but the deputy sheriff got there very quickly."

The deputy was yelling for people to get down and identified himself as a county deputy sheriff, Robinson said. "We know for a fact that the shooter knew that the deputy was in the immediate area and, while the deputy was containing the shooter, the shooter took his own life."

He praised the deputy's response as "a critical element to the shooter's decision" to kill himself, and lauded his response to hearing gunshots. "He went to the thunder," he said. "He heard the noise of gunshot and, when many would run away from it, he ran toward it to make other people safe."

It is not just that there was a deputy sheriff in the building. He was armed - with a gun. He responded to the threat. He confronted the would-be mass killer, disrupting his plans. He took control away from the killer, who realized he could do no more harm, so he took his own life.

This attack was over less than two minutes after it started, thanks to the school's decision to place armed school resource officer (SRO) James Englert inside the building.

Having a good person, armed with a gun, inside the school worked. Period. End of story. The SRO saved lives. The policy to have such a person in the school worked. SRO's are expensive. I'm sure the parents of the children who did not die feel the expense was justified.

While SRO's are a great resource, the reality is that many districts simply cannot afford to put one in every building. Authorizing qualified parents, teachers or administrators to carry guns offers great protection at little or no cost to the district. When chastised by opponents of our FASTER program, I challenged them to "show me a better way to stop an active killer, and we'll spend $100,000 on your idea. "I was serious, but they had no alternative solution. So Buckeye Firearms Foundation has budgeted that money to conduct more FASTER classes in 2014. Interested people may sign up here.

Another aspect that worked was that the school did not simply go into "lockdown." The supposed intended primary target, a librarian and others left the building when the shooting started. It seems likely that this policy saved lives. It would have been even more critical had the SRO not confronted the coward so quickly. But in concert with a quick armed response, it worked exceptionally well. There is general praise for the actions of many school personal and first responders. Their planning and preparation showed.

For those who rely on a "fast response time" from police, consider that this whole incident from beginning to end took only 80 seconds. Most people take several times that long to read this article. There is no possible way police can be called to the scene fast enough. Effective response must come from within.

Police did respond and enter the building, just as they did at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, after the event was over. The difference is that in Centennial there was an armed responder inside the school. In Newtown there were 6 dead educators and 20 dead children inside the school. Choose one.

Commenting on Colorado's anti-gun laws, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said the new laws would "keep communities safer." He was wrong, but added that "As lawmakers in Congress continue the debate over how to reduce gun violence in America, they should look no further than Colorado as a model of progress."

Ironically, that statement is now true. A Colorado school had an armed person quickly respond and stop a killer, in spite of Bloomberg's desires. Education is about learning. Every school needs armed security to enable them to stop an active killer as quickly and effectively Arapahoe High School.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Foundation President, and recipient of the NRA-ILA's 2011 "Jay M. Littlefield Volunteer of the Year Award" and the CCRKBA's 2012 "Gun Rights Defender of the Year Award."

Additional Information: Washington Times - Armed response, not restrictive gun laws, brought swift end to school shooting

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