Remembering the Sandy Hook Massacre

On December 14, 2012 a lone gunman went to Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut to kill a record number of people. The school had locked doors and controlled access and other procedures to keep occupants safe. Most people would have considered the building safe and secure.

The killer bypassed the security by shooting out windows in the office. He climbed through the broken windows, killed staff members and headed down the hall to the youngest students' classrooms.

The goal was not to kill a classroom of kids. The goal was to set a record, a new "high score" for mass killings with a gun. Not content to surpass the 32 killed at Virginia Tech University, but to surpass the 77 killed and over 300 injured in Norway in 2011. Thankfully, he quit killing others and killed himself long before his goal. We must understand how much worse it could have been. We must understand that he was not stopped by police or anyone else. He simply quit before he finished. Thank God.

I went to bed angry that night. My wife, who knows I'm not often in that mood, asked what was bothering me so much. I told her that "20 little kids were brutally murdered, and no one cares!" She told me I was wrong, that many people cared. She too was horrified by the events. I responded, "What I mean is that everyone talks about how terrible it is, but no one actually cares enough to do something about it. This will be just like every other mass killing. Nothing will change and there will be another and another and more kids will needlessly die because adults refuse to make meaningful change." In hindsight, I could not have been more wrong.

In the days that followed there were the usual town hall meetings and media coverage with pro-gun and anti-gun people repeating their talking points. Ken Hanson, legal counsel for Buckeye Firearms Association, was scheduled to be on an ABC sponsored event in Columbus, Ohio. He called with an idea about doing something different. "I hate these events because everyone talks, but no one does anything. Why don't we do something different? Can we work with John Benner of Tactical Defense Institute (TDI) and train school teachers to carry guns to stop these killers?"

I called John Benner to inquire about such a class. He told me he was "already working on it." Ken checked into Ohio law to verify that schools had the authority to authorize staff to carry firearms. In less than 20 minutes, what would become FASTER (Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response) was born. Buckeye Firearms Foundation would pay for tuition, ammo, housing and food for a class of 24 teachers and administrators to attend a three-day class at TDI.

We took applications for those interested. Soon we had over 1,000 people vying for those 24 spots while worldwide media watched and monitored. Selecting the people was time-consuming, but a rewarding and life-changing event for me. I began to focus on the answers to one question on a survey we asked applicants to fill out: "Please provide any other information you think is important."

The applicants ranged from a former law enforcement officer who carried a gun everywhere, except to protect his students, to a women who was afraid of guns, but willing to try anything to protect her students.

Mothers dying to protect their young is common in the animal kingdom. But no cat dies for another cat's kittens, and no goose for another's goslings. But in Sandy Hook, teachers willingly died trying to protect other people's children. What I began to realize was that the love teachers have for our kids is stronger than I ever realized. They are not just our kids, they are their kids too. And as sure as a mother will die for her kids, so will many teachers and other school officials. The love and bond really is that strong.

We never imagined anything other than doing one class to prove this was a viable concept. After that we figured schools and trainers would get together and continue if there was any demand. But we could not pat ourselves on the back for a "job well done" after training just 24 of 1,200 applicants. We had been asked many questions by school superintendents and board members that we researched and for which we found answers. We were fortunate to work with very gifted people in the educational community to learn about schools systems. We became a liaison between the school systems and various active killer experts. And financial support poured in allowing us to conduct more classes.

We asked Lt. Col. Dave Grossman to come talk to interested school people in March of 2013 just hours before our annual Buckeye Bash. We hoped to get 100 people to attend, but ended up with a packed room of 400 plus. They left that day changed, determined to make changes in their school security procedures. I've become friends with many in attendance that day. FASTER is recognized by multiple districts as the standard for training and certification. We have invested over a quarter million dollars in our schools, and trained over 300 people. Chris Cerino training group also teaches classes for us.

The evening of the Grossman event, I told our Buckeye Bash audience that I believed the events of Sandy Hook would have a greater impact on our society than the terrorist attacks on 9/11 when viewed 10 years after each event. Many thought I was greatly exaggerating events. However, while the changes after the 9/11 attacks were fast and dramatic, we largely returned to normal over the following 10 years. The changes after Sandy Hook were sporadic and mostly out of public view, but they continue in striking ways. Armed staff is the future of our school system, just as it is in Israel and Utah. It works, and sadly, it is needed in today's world. Not a month has gone by that we have not taken multiple calls from school officials wanting to learn and improve their policies. I no longer think my prediction was right. I know it was.

We are developing a new website dedicated to providing information to schools. And we are already filling spots for next year's FASTER classes. The first schools to authorize staff to carry have sent us additional people to train and some of their people have attended Level II training. There are primer classes to prepare shooters for the intense FASTER training. Trauma kits are being added to Ohio schools. People from five states have taken FASTER training, and legislators from some of those states have requested our help to reform laws to enable schools in their states to fully participate. Universities and hospitals have asked assistance in copying the FASTER concept in their buildings.

Going forward, we need corporate sponsorship and funding. We are honored to have been able to meet the demand so far, but know we cannot train the world, or even all Ohio schools without additional financial backing.

We thank those who have embraced a realistic understanding of violence and taken every step they can to have multi-tiered layers of protection in place to protect our school children from violence. Children are our most precious resource and they deserve real protection. We are grateful to have the opportunity to work with those determined to ensure our kids don't just feel safe but actually are safe.

Today we remember those employees and innocent children who were gunned down by a merciless killer. We pray for their families whose lives will never be the same. And we steel our resolve to learn from past events and be fully prepared for the future attacks that are sure to come. "Prepared" is not a destination one reaches, but a life long journey that one embraces and commits to.

Jim Irvine is the Buckeye Firearms Association President, BFA PAC Chairman 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."

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