School shootings — they always happen somewhere else.
Except when they don’t.
How many of us, for one fleeting, guilt-drenched nano-second, felt a flash of relief that the latest mass shooting didn’t happen in our own town? We dodged a bullet. Many bullets.
Who amongst us ever even heard of Parkland, Florida before Feb. 14, 2018? It was some average little town, filled with average little people going about their business, and with the pull of a trigger, instantly became the center of the universe.
Well, for now. Until the next shooting. Film at 11.
What if next time, it’s your town or mine that becomes the center of the universe? Are we ready? I decided to find out and do a story for next week’s Winters Express, and interviewed our superintendent of schools, Todd Cutler, and police chief, John Miller, to find out what they’re doing to keep our schools and community safe. The short answer is: everything they can. The other short answer is: not enough.
Is it their fault that it’s not enough? Heavens no. They’re doing what they can with what they have to work with. Both entities have taken some excellent proactive steps. Our school district rekeyed every classroom door on every campus, and every door now locks from the inside. Efforts are made to raise student awareness about being alert for potentially threatening behavior on campus and on social media, and to report it. There’s an unarmed security guard at the high school keeping watch.
Our police department takes reports of threats very seriously and checks each one out. They have a school resource officer visiting campuses and building relationships. Our police department also benefits from Chief Miller’s expertise in active shooting situations — something in which he was trained after the 1999 Columbine shootings.
How can these school shootings not only continue, but be escalating. What has happened to us, as a nation?
Miller outlined for me some law enforcement history regarding mass shootings and how to deal with them, beginning with the 1966 mass shooting at the University of Austin, which resulted in the creation of SWAT teams.
Fast-forward to the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida. SWAT teams were on the scene, but many victims died because the emergency medical personnel were trained not to enter such a situation until the shooter was either captured or killed. As a result, EMTs now receive protective gear and special training to enter “warm zones,” escorted by law enforcement, and get to shooting victims sooner. With each new horror, law enforcement learns a new skill, but sadly, those with evil intent learn much quicker.
We talked about sociopaths managing to kill many, even where guns are illegal. All it takes is a crowded street and a car. How can you prevent this? Ban crowds? Or cars?
Consider the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, using a homemade explosive device contained in a pressure cooker. Do we ban pressure cookers? Or the 1995 Murrah Building bombing in Oklahoma City, detonated from a rental truck containing a bomb made from fertilizer. Do we ban fertilizer or rental trucks? It struck me that these two bombings were labeled “terrorism,” and then it struck me yet further: Why aren’t school/mass shootings?
What, exactly, constitutes terrorism? I consulted with Professor Google, and discovered a website, http://www.secbrief.org/2014/04/definition-of-terrorism/, that lists definitions from several agencies and entities. I zeroed in on the Department of Homeland Security’s definition:
“(15) The term ‘terrorism’’ means any activity that— (A) involves an act that— (i) is dangerous to human life or potentially destructive of critical infrastructure or key resources; and (ii) is a violation of the criminal laws of the United States or of any State or other subdivision of the United States; and (B) appears to be intended— (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.”
Mass shootings inarguably qualify under section (A), and because there’s an “or” in section (B), they also qualify there: (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population. It’s all right there: Mass shootings are dangerous to human life and illegal, and are intended to intimidate civilians.
Mass shootings ARE terrorism.
It’s paradigm shift time.
Let’s call “school/mass shootings” what they are — terrorism — and get the full weight of the Department of Homeland Security behind our gun violence epidemic rather than expecting small local police departments to save us, because people, our homeland is anything but secure right now, and it’s not because of Islamic extremists or ISIS. It’s because of US. WE are the enemy, and we’re under seige.
Redefining the problem will guide us toward more effective strategies than will our collective disgust for the morally bankrupt NRA. The NRA, vile as it is, isn’t the problem. The problem is human evil… terrorists. In my mind, “evil” and “terrorism” are not only interchangeable words, but the true problem.
Does that mean we shouldn’t tighten up our gun laws? Oh, hell no. Were it up to me, they’d all be collected and melted down into rebar for reinforcing our decaying bridges and overpasses. But the trouble is (and it simply destroys me to acknowledge that the NRA is correct on this point) only law-abiding citizens will give up their guns and criminals won’t. Laws mean nothing to sociopaths and criminals. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them, and tighten them up, too. But even then… there are still pressure cookers. And fertilizer. And cars. Evil.
Rather than indulging in our well-deserved loathing of the NRA (because, let’s face it — that is a dead end), let’s turn our energy and focus toward our chronic, ongoing domestic terrorism epidemic. The sad and chilling fact is that as it stands, you and I, our children and our loved ones, are all potential victims of terrorism. We must stare the real monster in the face before we can destroy it. There are terrorists amongst us, right now. What do we do about that? I don’t have an answer. But I’m now asking the correct question.