There was a special poignancy here in Maryland related to the past weekend’s demonstrations in Washington and communities across the country because the most recent shooting – at the Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County – occurred in our own backyard. While it was not the only incidence of violence in a Maryland school, it is the most recent.
Coincidentally, the same day as the shooting in St. Mary’s County, Carroll County announced that armed guards will be assigned to some of its public schools.
The marches were impressive, and hopefully will lead people to think about what is happening in our country and what can be done about it. There are lots of aspects to this issue, but, at least partially, I believe we are reaping what Hollywood and video game makers have been sowing for years. A steady torrent of violence has been flooding over America’s youth. Most are able to recognize the difference between reality and fantasy, but some cannot.
There are only limited ways to tackle this, however. Constitutionally we cannot ban free expression, however distasteful, because that road could take us to tyranny. But as parents and grandparents we can and should say “no” to the common and constant use of violent games by our youth and, if enough of us do, the resulting economic pressure on the purveyors of violence may force change.
Additionally, some well-intentioned people are calling for severe restrictions on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. That is akin to punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty and likely could not pass constitutional muster either. However, there are common sense restrictions that could and should be considered and that I would support, such as increasing the legal age at which one can purchase a gun and accomplishing a more comprehensive review of a purchaser’s criminal record and mental health.
But these steps will take time to develop properly, to implement and to have any meaningful impact. So the question remains: What can we do now to safeguard our schools? My answers are:
#1 – Lock the doors. At Sandy Hook in Connecticut and at Parkland in Florida, for example, the gunmen simply walked into the school. Some schools already require that doors be locked, but infrequently check to see that they remain so and are not, instead, propped open for someone’s convenience. This needs to be monitored.
#2 – Coordinate with the police to have a cruiser in the general neighborhood during school hours – or perhaps make random visits. And provide teachers and other school personnel with emergency alerts such as you see advertised for when someone who has fallen needs to summon help.
#3 – Plan a defense strategy that teachers can practice with students. Schools routinely have fire drills. As sad as it is, it is now time to practice what to do in case of a shooter.
#4 – Insist that laws already on the books be enforced and that public safety organizations talk to each other. In the Florida shooting authorities failed to communicate.
Will any of this stop a determined shooter? No. What it may do, however, is buy a precious minute or two for an in-school resource officer, such as the one at the Great Mills High School, to respond or for nearby police to arrive.
Down the road, but not very far, schools should also look to bolstering their defenses in the ways Governor Hogan has recommended…a fence, a gate, a metal detector, a mental health counselor, and perhaps more resource officers.
Some will no doubt argue that more should be done, and they may be right but, as one weeping mother asked, “Why can’t we do anything to keep our children safe in school?” Answer: we can. I will.