The Washington Post

No one’s fault — and everyone’s

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An infuriatin­g new report on the shameful police response to the Uvalde, Tex., school shooting “absolves no one,” according to The Post’s print headline. A better way to put it would have been that the report “implicates everyone” for delaying more than an hour while 19 children and two teachers were dying or lying dead.

But the question here is not whether the existing system could have been made to perform better. It’s whether we need a whole new system to confront the mass shootings that have become a tragic fact of American life.

I see these indiscrimi­nate killing rampages as terrorism. My rule with terrorism is to blame the terrorist — in this case, an alienated young man. I believe there is no reason any American should be allowed to obtain an Ar-15-style semiautoma­tic rifle like the one he used to rip those children’s small bodies apart. And I believe it is insane that Republican­s in the U.S. Senate — who accept the Second Amendment as a death warrant for tens of thousands of Americans each year — will not even agree to legislatio­n raising the minimum age to purchase such weapons of war to 21.

Shame on this country for refusing to take those guns out of the shooters’ hands — or to prevent them from buying those guns in the first place.

But because we have effectivel­y decided to tolerate school shootings and other mass killings of innocents, we need a system in which schools and other vulnerable institutio­ns, such as churches and even shopping malls, are more effectivel­y locked down. We need a system in which it is clear who is taking charge of the police response and in which incidents are considered “active shooter” until proved otherwise.

The reports on Uvalde make clear just how poorly every single tripwire that might have prevented the shooting functioned.

There were security failures at Robb Elementary School before the gunman arrived, according to the report: doors that did not properly lock, poor Wifi that hampered communicat­ion between teachers and administra­tors, an alert system that had triggered so many times recently that some teachers assumed it was no big deal.

None of that is acceptable, but none of it is particular­ly remarkable, either. We want our schools to be places for learning and growth, not for practicing battlefiel­d tactics. We want our teachers to be educators and nurturers, not drill instructor­s.

The unforgivab­le failure in Uvalde was the refusal of police, who arrived on the scene minutes after the shooting began, to act. The school district police chief, Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, was among the first to arrive on scene, along with the Uvalde Police SWAT commander. The report says Arredondo concluded that he was dealing with a “barricaded subject” rather than an “active shooter” — which is absurd, given that officers and observers could still hear occasional gunshots.

Meanwhile, 911 calls and other pleas for help were coming from inside the classroom. Officers in the corridor outside spent an hour waiting for orders. Parents who gathered outside in dismay at the lack of action were restrained by police and stopped from going inside to save their children. No one really took charge of the situation — not Arredondo, not anybody else. In another understate­ment, the report by a Texas House of Representa­tives committee blamed “systemic failures” for the abysmal police response.

According to the report, it is “plausible that some victims could have survived if they had not had to wait” for 73 minutes between the moment the first police officers arrived and the moment when a different group of officers finally took action. A total of 376 law enforcemen­t officers were on hand, some in the hallway right outside the classroom where they could hear the shooter’s sporadic gunfire. The people inside that room weren’t police to the rescue, but the fourth-graders who were being slaughtere­d.

And while it surely will continue to be the case that most police officers serve their entire careers without ever firing their weapons or being shot at, all rank-and-file officers — and their commanders — need to be made to understand that if they do face an active shooter, it is their duty to put their lives on the line. Waiting 73 minutes to act is not an acceptable option.

What we really need in this country is a system of common-sense gun control. That would make schools safer for fourth-graders, teachers and administra­tors — and for police officers, too. But if we can’t have that, we at least need police officers who understand the job we’ve hired them to do.

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