Just as we were going to press with this issue of POLICE, a student at a Santa Fe, TX, high school opened fire on his classmates and teachers with a shotgun and a revolver, killing 10. He also critically wounded school resource officer John Barnes, one of two SROs who shot it out with the gunman. Law enforcement officers, including an SRO and a Texas trooper, were able to persuade the shooter to surrender after a gunfight.
School shootings have been the subject of much national debate since the horrifying Valentine's Day massacre at a Parkland, FL, high school. Some of the students at that school have even become national celebrities as they have waged war on the National Rifle Association and sought to weaken the Second Amendment. They argue that the way to protect America's schools is to outlaw certain guns, if not all guns.
These students might be shocked to discover that the vast majority of American law enforcement officers, including SROs, do not believe gun control and "assault weapon" bans are the best way to protect our schools from attack.
In March, POLICE conducted a survey of law enforcement officers that asked multiple questions about AR-15s, gun control, school shootings, and active shooter training. You can read our report on the survey at www.policemag.com/guncontrolsurvey.
One of the things we asked in that survey was: "What measures would you take to prevent school shootings or improve response to them?" More than 1,500 self-identified law enforcement officers took the time to write an answer to that open-ended question. You can read a full article on responses to this question in our Special Report on Keeping Schools Safe (www.policemag.com/KeepingSchoolsSafe). But here's a short summation.
Many officers said they felt the most effective means of preventing school shootings is to identify people who are a threat to perpetrate such terrible acts before they actually carry them out. Some even suggested a nationwide hotline that students could use to report their suspicions.
Officers believe one of the best ways to stop school massacres is to harden the potential targets. Respondents said schools should reduce the number of ingress and egress points used by students and staff and set up metal detectors and video surveillance to monitor who is coming in and prevent them from bringing weapons with them. Some respondents even said that the federal government should establish a program similar to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to safeguard schools.
To protect students in the event of a shooting, some respondents said they want to see classrooms equipped with armored doors that lock when an alarm is sounded. One respondent said each school employee should have access to a panic button similar to the ones some people wear in their homes to alert their alarm companies if they have an emergency. The panic button would alert police in case of an incident and sound an alarm in the school, warning students and staff.
Beyond issues of gun control, one of the most contentious arguments about school safety in America is whether training and arming staff would be a deterrent to school attacks or at least mitigate the body count. Arming teachers was a popular answer. Another popular idea was allowing armed civilian volunteers, particularly retired law enforcement and military, to patrol schools.
It's little surprise that the single most popular response by the readers of POLICE to the question of how to prevent school shootings and improve law enforcement response to such incidents was to put more officers in schools. Many respondents said every school should have at least one armed SRO on campus during school hours.
This last point is critical to making schools safe from active shooters. There are many things we can do to prevent school shootings before they start, but once the shooter starts firing, the only solution is armed and trained law enforcement response. As we saw in last month's Dixon, IL, incident and in a Maryland incident in March, having courageous officers on campus to engage and stop the threat can prevent another Parkland much more effectively than gun control measures or arming teachers.