Thoughts on School Shootings and Proposed Safety Measures

We are quickly approaching a very dark anniversary in the history of our nation. December 14, 2012, will go down as one of the most horrific events ever seen in America. That was the day that a madman, after having taken weapons from his mother just before killing her in their home, strolled into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut and mowed down 26 people before taking his own life. It would be indescribably horrible if that was just a one-time, isolated event, but as we know, these kinds of things are far from rare in America.

As December arrives, I think often of that dreadful day in 2012, and the many awful school shootings that preceded it and that have followed it. The frequency of school shootings has changed the educational landscape. New safety procedures have been put into place and many others have been proposed. Some of those proposals have sparked intense debate.

A policy that, so far as I know, is universal in schools around the nation are the regular active shooter drills practiced at all grade levels. The very fact that these trauma-inducing drills are necessary casts a dark pall over the landscape of education. Now, when school shootings happen and survivors are interviewed, we inevitably hear them say things like, “we’ve always expected something like this to happen.” Isn’t that a damn shame? But, as a veteran teacher, I can relate to that sentiment. I would not be the least bit shocked if a shooting happened in my school at any given time. It’s just part of the fabric now, no different than the possibility of a fire or a tornado occurring. So, we drill. We train teachers and students what to do when an active shooter is in the building. We go over the different scenarios where we may need to run, or hide, or even fight to survive and, once a month, we practice doing those things. Each time we do, our young students are brought face to face with their own mortality. If you think that doesn’t weigh on kids, think again.

Those kinds of active shooter drills are a reality that are, for better or worse, here to stay. But many people think more should be done. Many of our current national leaders, including Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, believe the answer is in arming teachers and training them how to use guns in the event of an active shooter. I want to address this suggestion. Let me start by saying I think it’s a stupid idea. I say this as a person who has been trained in the use of firearms, owns several different kinds of firearms from handguns to shotguns to high powered rifles. I have a concealed carry permit, although I almost never carry. I am also a large man, standing 6’5″ tall and in reasonably fit condition. I am exactly the kind of teacher who’d likely be selected to carry a weapon, should my school ever go in that direction. I still think the idea is stupid. Bringing more guns into a school on a daily basis is a recipe for disaster. A nightmare scenario wouldn’t be an “if” situation but a “when” situation. A large male student overpowers a teacher and wrests the gun from them–a teacher panics and mistakenly shoots a first responder in a “fog of war”–a teacher overreaches during a volatile student interaction and pulls the gun, causing students to panic, causing the traumatized teacher to fire the weapon–there is no shortage of things that could go very wrong.

The area I’d like to see us investigate further is increased security at all entry points. Nobody should be able to just enter a school without passing through some kind of checkpoint. I believe this should include a metal detector. I often have the morbid realization that it would be extremely easy for anyone to enter my school with a weapon. We have taken a good step toward a more secure building by making sure that visitors must buzz in and pass through the front office when they arrive, but there is no measure of security that would catch them if they brought a gun in. It seems to me that this would be a great place to begin making schools safer. I’ve heard it claimed that it would be cost-prohibitive, but I can’t believe that if we wanted it badly enough, we couldn’t find the funding. Bill Gates…Warren Buffet…Jeff Bezos…what say you?

I’d love to hear from you about your thoughts on this topic. Please leave a comment and let’s talk.

I’d like to close this piece with an excerpt from an article I wrote on another platform last year about the Sandy Hook Shooting. It includes a poem and a song that I hope you’ll take the time to listen to.

The following originally appeared at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/shanephipps/2019/04/11/twenty-wont-be-teens-remembering-newtown/ on April 11, 2019.

Last December, as I was watching my 8th grade class take a quiz, I had an article pop up on my screen about the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. As a teacher, that day is one of the most gut-wrenching memories of my career. I couldn’t believe it when it happened and I still can’t get my mind around it. That a madman could stroll into an elementary school and coldly mow down 26 innocent lives–20 of them small children—is as inconceivable a notion as I can imagine. But it did happen–variations of this scenario continue to happen. One point brought out in that article I read really floored me. Those kids would now be teenagers. I did the math and realized that many of them would be 8th students right now–just like the students I was watching at the moment the article notification popped up. That hit me pretty hard. Those 20 kids never got to be 8th graders.

I immediately started putting some words together in my head, as I always do when something affects me on a deeply emotional level. When I got home, I wrote down a poem and then it quickly became a song. What follows is that poem and a video of the song.

I dedicate it to the memory of those 20 precious children who never got to be teens and to their families who still mourn them.

God bless them all.

Twenty Won’t Be Teens

By: Shane Phipps

As I look out on teenage faces

Just being kids as they know how

I’m haunted by your fading traces

You would have all been teens by now

That awful day comes back to mind

That madman spraying death

Someone must have missed a sign

As a nation held its breath

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

no longer alive

6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Won’t be seen again

11, 12, 13, 14, 15

They would all be teens

16, 17, 18, 19, 20

And one would be too many

You’d think that would have been enough

To anger us to change

Instead we just accept this stuff

And blame it on deranged

When will we finally see the light?

So much pain from one machine

Kids shouldn’t have to run or fight

Those twenty won’t be teens

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

no longer alive

6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Won’t be seen again

11, 12, 13, 14, 15

They would all be teens

16, 17, 18, 19, 20

And one would be too many

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