Securing Schools without Guns: Lots of options, lots of work to be done locally.

I am very happy that legislators are ready to take up the issue of gun control. No one needs the massacre-in-seconds capability provided by assault weapons and large magazines. There is simply no other use for these devices than killing as many people as possible as fast as possible. Until the general proliferation of these things is reduced, however, our schools are sitting ducks for disturbed people who may have experienced things in schools for which they want culturally glorified violence-as-justice (a longer-term problem to be dealt with in our homes and communities). As someone with professional experience in risk analysis, I’m relieved that our state legislators and our local community leaders seem to understand that adding guns for defense to the school environment would add far more risk than it would mitigate, as well as threatening the safe and open environment in school that is necessary for nurturing growing creators and innovators. However, I’m also aware that we have a “Well, what else can we do?” problem. The truth is unsexy, and a lot of work, but thankfully not necessarily too costly; for each school community, leadership must sit down and imagine how their specific facility is currently open to attack and what simple measures could layer deterrence on vulnerabilities or help them to respond effectively in the unlikely event of an attack–looking for the layers of preparation and simple, small things that will add up to more effective overall security. Like, for instance, can we equip staff with walkie-talkies so that if they notice a threat they can quickly communicate the exact location of the attacker to other staff so each teacher can make better-informed decisions more quickly for the children in their care. If a teacher knows the attacker is on the other side of the building, they may realize that their class would be safer to run outside and get away down the street. If our plan is to hide in adjacent windowless rooms with the children in a particular zone, can we choose those places and make sure the doors and walls are reinforced? Can we build a high wall along the side of a playground adjacent to a wooded area where an attacker could hide? Can we put door codes that only parents and staff know on the outside doors during after-school, and change the code every year? Can we coordinate a faster connection with the local police for that emergency speed-dial call? Can we install a lock-down system on classroom doors, and make sure there are places for staff and children caught in the hallways to escape? Have we thought in depth about what would cause us to make the decision to lock down and call the police, and exactly what we would need to communicate so that each responsible adult has the best information possible as quickly as possible. These are all assessments that will yield answers unique to each school building and its accesses and surrounding grounds. But, please, please, don’t think that there isn’t room to improve school security without adding firearms and surrounding the children with an oppressive environment of fear. There are plenty of things we can do, and even inexpensively. It’s our job as their grownups to imagine the unimaginable, think through what we would need to do and be creative about what can help us get to a satisfactory level of deterrence and preparedness.

Published by Kristin Nelson-Patel

Educational background in astrophysics Systems analyst with MIT since 2002 Mother of 2, Belmont resident since 1999

6 replies on “Securing Schools without Guns: Lots of options, lots of work to be done locally.”

  1. HI Kristen,

    Thank you for speaking out on this. You are right on target.

    The good news is that, in 2000, after Columbine, the legislature passed a law requiring all schools to engage in this type of planning. I can’t testify that all schools are doing this well, but I believe that many are.

    I included the relevant text of the law in my piece on the assault weapons ban.

  2. I would appreciate a full assault weapons ban. Where is the legislature on this topic now in 2013?

  3. What about equipping at least administrators with tasers (which are currently illegal in MA except for law enforcement), pepper spray or some other non lethal defense?

    It is worth noting that many schools in the country do have armed guards and President Obama’s executive orders called for the funding of “school resource officers” (though it didn’t actually define what those are).

  4. You know Paul, you raise a good point. Non-lethal weapons such as tasers are illegal in MA, but could do a lot of good in schools to prevent future shootings. That’s something we should seriously consider.

    As a state and a nation, I will simply reiterate that we need to focus on what leads to the problem, an not vilify inanimate objects.

    MA already has very tough licensing, storage, and firearm restrictions. As a state, what we should focus on is ensuring that these existing laws are enforced, and focusing on mentally ill individuals who need help, but get brushed aside because of various reasons.

    If I have to pay more taxes to help support the mentally ill, to help make for a safer, more compassionate society, I’m all for it. However, restricting gun ownership of the law abiding citizens through taxation, or other means, will never stop criminals intent on committing violent crimes. Please everyone, I implore you to keep that in mind.

    When we think about the violent acts committed with guns, we tend to see the vast majority being gang/criminal related (solution: harsher punishments for repeat offenders, more cops etc) and individuals with mental health issues (solution: help give them the help they need, and ensure they don’t have access to weapons).

  5. Jason, I couldn’t agree more. I’d add that not only do people vilify the inanimate object, they vilify the people who own them legally and, especially in MA, have been vetted to a level that practically nobody else is. Further, I see hardly any proposals for improving the economic situation in places like Roxbury, Lawrence and Springfield. Instead we get proposals that would require law abiding people in places like Wilbraham, Littleton and Upton to pay onerous insurance costs (is there a precedent for insuring against liabilities incurred by a 3rd party?).

    I think this guy does a great job of summarizing the statistics involved with this debate.

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