Guns in class­rooms are not the an­swer

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Opinion -

Nearly 20 years after Columbine — and de­spite more than 40 school shoot­ings since, in­clud­ing at Sandy Hook and Vir­ginia Tech — the fac­ulty and staff at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School were ab­jectly un­pre­pared for Niko­las Cruz and his AR-15.

So was the Broward County Sher­iff ’s Of­fice, which was charged with pro­tect­ing them.

Those are the bru­tal but in­escapable con­clu­sions of the state com­mis­sion in­ves­ti­gat­ing the Feb. 14 mas­sacre, which left 17 dead and 17 in­jured. The panel re­leased its 407-page draft re­port Wednes­day and will con­tinue to work on it.

The re­port tells a wrench­ing story of warn­ings ig­nored and safety mea­sures un­taken. One com­mis­sion mem­ber, a griev­ing par­ent, did not over­state in call­ing the Park­land mas­sacre “the most pre­ventable” of school shoot­ings, a modern phe­nom­e­non whose fre­quency and fe­roc­ity rep­re­sents a unique na­tional dis­grace.

The com­mis­sion iden­ti­fied a mul­ti­tude of fail­ures, in­clud­ing the fail­ure to be­lieve some­thing like this could hap­pen at Stone­man Dou­glas, the fail­ure to ap­pre­ci­ate the threat posed by a stu­dent in­volved in 69 vi­o­lent in­ci­dents since third grade, the fail­ure to lock or at­tend open gates, the fail­ure to re­spond to an ac­tive shooter by call­ing a Code Red lock­down, the fail­ure to cre­ate safe class­room cor­ners in­vis­i­ble from door win­dows, the fail­ure to con­duct ac­tive-shooter drills, and the fail­ure of law en­force­ment to ad­here to na­tional norms in re­spond­ing to a school shoot­ing.

Re­gret­tably, be­fore de­liv­er­ing its re­port to the Florida Leg­is­la­ture, the com­mis­sion ended its fi­nal meet­ing with a call to arm teach­ers.

That’s dan­ger­ous. No teacher would be a good match for a deranged youth wield­ing a high-ve­loc­ity, mil­i­tary-style as­sault weapon. It’s false se­cu­rity that dis­tracts from what should be done.

Cruz shot 34 peo­ple while an armed sher­iff ’s deputy cow­ered out­side. Ar­riv­ing deputies hes­i­tated to en­ter, too. Ap­par­ently, they re­lied on a de­part­ment pol­icy that flouts the les­son of Columbine, which calls for po­lice to im­me­di­ately pur­sue the shooter, not wait for re­in­force­ments, perime­ters or com­mand posts.

Broward Sher­iff Scott Is­rael had changed the pol­icy to say deputies “may” — not “shall” — pur­sue the shooter. “I want an ef­fec­tive tac­ti­cal re­sponse, not a sui­cide re­sponse,” he told the com­mis­sion.

It took 11 min­utes for po­lice to en­ter Stone­man Dou­glas. Even then, it was four of­fi­cers from the Coral Springs Po­lice De­part­ment. BSO deputies re­mained just out­side the door, the re­port said. This dis­grace was the most egre­gious of BSO’s many fail­ures that day.

Mean­while, the school’s fac­ulty and staff, in­clud­ing des­ig­nated safety mon­i­tors, ap­peared largely clue­less on how and when to call a “Code Red,” which would have alerted teach­ers and stu­dents to take shel­ter in their class­rooms.

It didn’t hap­pen when a school mon­i­tor first saw Cruz — some­one he knew as “crazy boy” — emerge from an Uber car­ry­ing what looked like a ri­fle bag. It didn’t hap­pen after that per­son told a sec­ond mon­i­tor that Cruz had en­tered the 1200 build­ing. It didn’t hap­pen after a stu­dent Be­liev­ing they were re­spond­ing to a fire drill, not an ac­tive shooter alert, more than 100 stu­dents filed into the third floor hall­way of the be­sieged 1200 build­ing at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, not know­ing school shooter Niko­las Cruz was on his way up.

told a third mon­i­tor that Cruz had a ri­fle and told him, “Get out of here. Some­thing bad’s about to hap­pen.” It hap­pened only after that third mon­i­tor was found dead — three min­utes and 16 sec­onds after Cruz had fired his first shots.

By then, Cruz was half­way down the third floor of the be­sieged 1200 build­ing, where no one heard the Code Red be­cause of an ill-equipped pub­lic-ad­dress sys­tem.

The re­port in­cludes a haunt­ing im­age of about a hun­dred stu­dents packed shoul­derto-shoul­der in the third floor hall­way, ca­su­ally re­spond­ing to what they be­lieved was a rou­tine fire drill. They had no idea a muz­zle flash in the mas­sacre two floors be­low had likely set off the fire alarm. Nei­ther did they know Cruz was mak­ing his way to­ward them. The panic those flee­ing stu­dents and teach­ers faced in the fol­low­ing min­utes had to have been hor­rific. Six died. Had the killer as­cended mo­ments ear­lier, it would have been much, much worse.

The re­port also says most class­rooms lacked a des­ig­nated “hard cor­ner” where stu­dents could hide out of sight from a killer tar­get­ing vic­tims through door­way win­dows, as Cruz did on the first floor. In some class­rooms, clut­ter and im­mov­able ob­jects kept stu­dents from squeez­ing into safety zones. One died on the line.

In Novem­ber, Broward Schools Su­per­in­ten­dent Robert Run­cie told com­mis­sion­ers the dis­trict had im­me­di­ately set out to im­prove safety mea­sures. He told the Sun Sentinel Ed­i­to­rial Board this week that among other things, 70 per­cent of schools now have a sin­gle point of en­try, new gate and cam­era sys­tems have been in­stalled, and any­one who hasn’t been to a school lately wouldn’t rec­og­nize to­day's tough pro­ce­dures for gain­ing ac­cess.

But many com­mis­sion mem­bers, who have gained a deep un­der­stand­ing of the dis­trict’s cul­ture, don't trust him.

You could hear it in the ques­tions they put to Run­cie about the dis­trict’s ap­proach to stu­dents who pose pro­tracted threats,

about whether the dis­trict re­ports all vi­o­lent acts to po­lice for re­view, about the con­tin­ued lack of a dis­trict-wide Code Red pol­icy, about the con­tin­ued lack of per­for­mance stan­dards for school mon­i­tors, about the con­tin­ued lack of law en­force­ment ac­cess to school se­cu­rity cam­eras, about the con­tin­ued fail­ure to have cleared and taped-off hard cor­ners at Stone­man Dou­glas and other schools, about a flawed safety assess­ment Stone­man Dou­glas sub­mit­ted after the mas­sacre, and about whether any­one has been held ac­count­able.

“We're 273 days, 15 hours and 53 min­utes, to be ex­act, from the minute that the shooter started his at­tack,” said com­mis­sion mem­ber and state Sen. Lau­ren Book, whose dis­trict in­cludes Park­land. “And, again, to my un­der­stand­ing, there is no Code Red pol­icy in place that is dis­trictwide. Is that cor­rect or in­cor­rect?”

Polk County Sher­iff Brady Judd asked Run­cie to de­fine “a sense of ur­gency.” He later coached the su­per­in­ten­dent on how to hold peo­ple ac­count­able. He made clear that the com­mis­sion, which has a five-year life span, will be hold­ing Run­cie ac­count­able.

Pinel­las County Sher­iff Bob Gualtieri, who chairs the com­mis­sion, says Run­cie has been trans­par­ent with the com­mis­sion and that he asked the su­per­in­ten­dent to hold off on an in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which could lead to dis­ci­plinary mea­sures. But he, too, has pressed the su­per­in­ten­dent to get go­ing on hard cor­ners and a Code Red pol­icy.

In in­ter­views, Gualtieri has sug­gested the cul­ture wasn’t unique at Stone­man Dou­glas be­fore Valen­tine’s Day. He be­lieves other schools sim­i­larly fail to ap­pre­ci­ate the threat of a school shoot­ing, as though it won’t hap­pen to them.

Given that cul­ture, a be­lief that law en­force­ment can’t be ev­ery­where and that most deaths hap­pen in the first few min­utes, com­mis­sion­ers voted 13-1 this week to rec­om­mend that the Leg­is­la­ture al­low teach­ers to be armed.

While we agree that a re­newed and heavy em­pha­sis must be made on school safety, we take strong ex­cep­tion to the com­mis­sion’s head­line-grab­bing rec­om­men­da­tion. There are too many ways that arm­ing teach­ers could go hor­ri­bly wrong.

Gualtieri notes that Cruz paused five times to reload his gun and that dur­ing those mo­ments, armed and trained vol­un­teer teach­ers could have taken him out.

But teach­ers were hid­ing in their class­rooms, afraid to look. Some were afraid to open their doors to lock them, which could only be done from the out­side. Some were afraid to cross the class­room to call a Code Red on the in­ter­com.

It takes heroic courage for peo­ple to con­front killers. Peo­ple who go into teach­ing say they want to teach. They ex­pect law en­force­ment to ad­dress ac­tive threats. We all ex­pect that. And the com­mis­sion’s re­port shows even armed deputies were afraid to con­front Cruz.

What the com­mis­sion didn’t ad­dress is the law of un­in­tended con­se­quences of arm­ing teach­ers.

While the names of those wear­ing guns wouldn’t be iden­ti­fied, you can bet stu­dents would quickly fig­ure out who they were, es­pe­cially given the ca­sual dress of teach­ers these days.

Now con­sider that last month, Cruz rushed a jail guard and grabbed his stun gun in a strug­gle. What if an out-of-con­trol stu­dent tried to snatch a teacher’s sidearm?

Would the weapons in­stead be locked in a class­room gun safe, safe from mis­use but es­sen­tially use­less in an emer­gency?

Plus, stu­dents can be ex­tremely provoca­tive, chal­leng­ing any teacher’s self-con­trol. Guns don’t be­long in that sce­nario.

And what would pro­tect teach­ers from friendly fire? If they wear spe­cial cloth­ing, wouldn’t that make them the first tar­gets for a killer? In the re­cent mass shoot­ing at a bar in Thou­sand Oaks, Cal­i­for­nia, it was a state trooper’s bul­let, not the crim­i­nal’s, that killed a deputy sher­iff. And at an Al­abama shop­ping mall, of­fi­cers rush­ing to the scene shot a good guy with a gun.

Arm­ing teach­ers is eye­wash, an ut­terly un­ac­cept­able al­ter­na­tive to the many other steps, how­ever more ex­pen­sive, that would keep our schools safer with­out de­grad­ing the learn­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Stu­dents shouldn’t be ex­pected to learn un­der the tute­lage of teach­ers bear­ing weapons.

Sad to say, the Stone­man Dou­glas com­mis­sion re­port says noth­ing about bet­ter gun con­trol, which would in­clude a lon­gover­due ban on mil­i­tary-style as­sault weapons like the one Cruz used to mas­sacre so many. The com­mis­sion has un­til

2023 to com­plete its work. Com­mon sense gun con­trol be­longs on its agenda.

In the last 20 years, schools have faced tar­geted at­tacks 46 times — 33 by stu­dents,

10 by for­mer stu­dents.

It’s go­ing to hap­pen again. You can’t stop it, all you can do is pre­pare for it. There can be no more ex­cuses for fail­ing to pre­pare.

Ed­i­to­ri­als are the opin­ion of the Sun Sentinel Ed­i­to­rial Board and writ­ten by one of its mem­bers or a de­signee. The Ed­i­to­rial Board con­sists of Ed­i­to­rial Page Ed­i­tor Rose­mary O'Hara, David Lyons and Ed­i­tor-in-Chief Julie An­der­son.

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