The very tragic school shooting in Newtown, Conn., has again brought many suggestions for what we might do to stop this craziness. An NRA spokesman advocates armed policemen in every school. Others suggest that we should arm the classroom teachers.
The second idea is often rejected because it conjures up images that are not essential to the idea. We tend to imagine a situation where every kindergarten teacher has a loaded assault rifle kicking around among her colors, crayons, and video discs. But we know that guns are dangerous and that gun accidents are common even in situations better controlled than that. School shootings are rare and it seems probable that any casual introduction of thousands of deadly weapons into the system would increase the toll rather than reduce it.
But nothing works if it is done wrong. Before we reject the whole idea of an armed response we ought examine it carefully to see if there ways or places where it might partly solve the problem without introducing a new one that might actually be worse.
It might not work in small schools, I suppose, but in larger places like Virginia Tech, where 32 people were killed, it seems to me that the old idea of a citizen’s militia, dusted off and adapted to modern realities, could be effective. A militia that was trained, armed, equipped and paid something so that membership and discipline and a command structure would work. Classroom teachers would not be part of the militia since they would be expected to stay with their students. The militia would be drawn from men and women who worked in administration, maintenance, food service, etc.
In addition to the militia, schools could make better use of available technology — especially communication technology. Surveillance camera systems are well developed and could monitor any classroom on command. Software is available that recognizes gunfire and microphones could be located in each classroom to immediately pinpoint the site. Push-button pendants that you wear around your neck are common in old people’s homes and other places. Each classroom teacher could wear one around her or his neck and use it to summon help. Storm cellars, small tornado proof shelters dug into the ground at a location near the house, were common on farms during my Dakota youth. Following that idea we could equip each classroom with a small bullet-proof shelter with a door that could be locked from the inside, and the students could retreat into their shelter if the alarm sounded.
Returning to the militia, it would have regular training and drills, and could be summoned by an alarm. It would have a few selected weapons that would be kept in locked racks within a locked arms room. The arms room would also contain individual flak jackets or body armor that would have a distinctive appearance so that a militiaman or woman would be readily recognized as such by the polite or others. If the alarm sounded, militia members would immediately rush to the arms room, get their weapon and body armor, and be sent in teams of two or more to the site or sites where there was a problem.
With good organization and training it seems to me that the first response to the alarm could be on its way to the trouble within a minute after the alarm sounded. Will that be too late? Perhaps it will be in some cases, or at least too late to prevent part of the impending tragedy. There is no realistic way to make ourselves’ entirely safe. But a “ready to go” militia would be effective in preventing any prolonged assault and would act as a strong deterrent to any assault at all.
But how about the NRA’s idea of armed policemen in every school or, perhaps, on every school bus too? Is this a good idea?
I don’t think so. Bear in mind that school shootings are very rare. Of a thousand schools equipped with armed policemen for years on end, probably only one would ever face an actual incident. Human nature tells us that, in the other 999 schools the mission would eventually go slack. In times of tight budgets we would look around for something productive for the cop to be doing all day. Think of the Minute Men of Concord and Lexington. The militia idea developed as a practical way for the community to protect itself from potentially serious, but rare, threats.
The citizen’s militia alone is not a complete answer, but neither is any other measure. The militia would have to be supplemented by other measures such as restrictive access, the screening of school visitors, and perhaps, mental health regulations and gun laws. But we ought to give it a try.
Author and longtime Stillwater Township resident Bill McDonald most recent book, “At the Oasis,” tells stories from Stillwater’s Oasis Cafe. He can be reached at [email protected]