In 2001, a group of 19 terrorists from the Islamist militant group al-Qaeda hijacked four passenger jets and killed more than 3,000 people in a morning that is infamous the world over. While many intelligence agencies on three continents dropped the ball and failed to intercept these maniacs, the final line of defense was the baggage screeners and airport security personnel at the airports that the terrorists boarded at, armed with box cutters and determination. From that incident, the 40,000-person TSA sprung up, the Federal Air Marshal Service was greatly expanded, the Department of Homeland Security stood up, and the Federal Flight Deck Officer program was established.
While the arguments over the effectiveness of these measures will always be up for grabs, the fact is in the past dozen years there has not been another such attack involving jetliners that has not been foiled.
Should the same thing be done for schools?
School Shootings in the US
Even though the media would have you think otherwise, mass school shootings in this country are not brand new phenomena. In 1764 Pennsylvania, four men attacked a schoolhouse and shot the teacher and ten children. In the 19th century, nearly a dozen such attacks occurred from New York to Kentucky. In the 99 years of the 20th century before the 1999 Columbine attack by two youths, there were no less than 150 school shootings, arsons, and bombings including the 1927 Bath School Disaster in which a mad bomber who, after losing an election to the school board, blew up the school itself killing 45 and injuring another 58. It is a scary unpleasant fact that whenever a killer is looking for a target of a heinous crime, they head for a nearby school.
The Bath school disaster
A Layered Approach
Fixing the airport security problem didn't happen overnight and wisely, not all of the eggs are in one basket. Today there are several rings of security that a would-be terrorist would have to navigate to get to a plane with a weapon and attack the crew. Not only are there more screeners and more machines in airport, once on the plane there is the possibility of plainclothes and very well armed Federal Air Marshalls.
Besides the marshals, flight attendants are now often given courses in counter-terrorism that include hand-to-hand defensive tactics. It was a tactically trained and unarmed 51-year old female flight attendant who took down 23-year-old Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the Detroit-bound Christmas Day bomber who has been indicted on six criminal counts including attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction and attempted murder of 289 people in 2009.
On some flights, armed and uniformed private security personnel are aboard. On all flights, the doors to the cabin have been strengthened. Then there is the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program, which places armed pilots in the cockpit as a last line of defense.
School resource officers and campus police are already widespread, and should be increased.
This same structure could work in a school if the political will to protect children was there. Already many schools have School Resource Officers/Campus Police, which are armed and uniformed law enforcement officers on watch. These should be increased as a first line of defense. This step, along with increasing the physical security of the school complex with secured entry points, is key.
The second layer could be increased mandatory active shooter awareness training for school personnel including occupant evacuation plans for responding to an active shooter on the school grounds. These so-called "run-hide-fight" scenario based courses have been lampooned in some circles but failing to train for these events is training to fail.
The Last Line of Defense
In Pearl Mississippi more than a decade ago, High School Assistant principal Joel Myrick responded to an active shooter on campus with a personal gun. The shooter was a troubled young man named luke Woodham. Myrick retrieved a .45 pistol from the glove compartment of his truck and subdued Woodham before he could kill anyone else.
Finally, as a last line of defense, the option of arming a few school district personnel should be evaluated in every school in the country. This would not be mandatory. These volunteers could be selected and screened. In almost every school you will find numerous educators who are military veterans (some still in the active drilling reserves), former law enforcement officers (some still POST certified and working part time with local departments), and others with similar skillsets. As someone who went to school in the early 1980s I vividly remember a teacher of mine, Mr M who told us several times, "boys and girls, I have been in two live shooting wars and if something ever happens here, listen very carefully to what I say and we will all get through this together." The CIB on his faded woodland M65 jacket that he wore on cold days convinced me he was probably telling the truth.
With this as a base to build on, these qualified volunteers should be given additional training in school specific scenarios. In the FFDO program, pilots who pass all the screenings involved pay their way through an intensive weeklong training course run by the Air Marshals that includes shoot/don't shoot, assailant behind cover, and other scenarios with live fire. To ensure that the armed educator is effective, handguns from an approved list should be used and annual if not biannual qualifications should be done. A very strict use of force guideline should be established to limit the use of these personnel to immediate active shooter/unidentified intruder responses while local law enforcement/campus police are being contacted. Finally, level III type holsters should be used to help aid in weapon retention.
In Israel, some settlements in high-threat areas often have educators standing by with issued longarms, in this case a M1 carbine.
Again, this point of view may not be popular, especially in blue states, but it is something each school should look into. A recent Gallup poll stated that 64% of those who responded thought that 'having at least one school official at every school carry a gun for the schools protection' was at least a somewhat effective approach to preventing mass shootings at schools.
It's not an issue of people killing with an 'assault weapon'. If there were none, a madman would simply turn to a regular firearm to carry out his task. If there were no firearms he would turn to a knife, or chainsaw, or can of gasoline. Andrew P. Kehoe, the Bath School psycopath, did not use an assault weapon to kill and injure hundreds of innocents in 1927. At the time the Thompson submachine gun, a full auto room broom was sold both over the counter and via mail order to anyone who had the cash to buy one, so surely firearms with a very destructive capability were available to Mr Kehoe. However, he didn't use them; instead, he used firebombs and explosives made from farm use chemicals.
Perhaps there should be someone there to stop these lunatics before they get started.