Recent school shootings impact UAHS and spur legislation
by Matias Grotewold, ‘13, Anna-Maria Thalassinos, ’14, Carly Tovell, ‘13
From Columbine to Sandy Hook, every school shooting makes the public reel, as if each bullet hit the nation in its entirety instead of individual children. Twelve dead, 27 wounded. Twenty-six dead, one wounded.
Each life lost brings a communal tear and reinstates fear in a nation still staggering from the prior shooting. Every shot fired and weapon used rejuvenates the campaign to limit access to semi- and fully-automatic weapons without infringing upon citizens’ constitutional rights.
Reactions to Violence
Measures suggested by those involved in the debate about what role guns should have in schools span both extremes. Gun rights advocates, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), are in favor of weapons being present in schools in order to combat an intruder.
A New York Times article from Dec. 21, 2012 titled “NRA Envisions a ‘Good Guy With a Gun’ in Every School,” by Eric Lichtblau and Motoko Rich quoted Wayne LaPierre, Vice President of the NRA, who speaks strongly in favor of gun rights.
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” LaPierre said when suggesting that security should be placed in every school.
However, gun restriction advocates are moving to pass legislation at both the state and national level that would greatly restrict the availability of weapons to the public and keep all guns out of schools. So far, the only legislation restricting gun rights that has passed was in New York.
Opinions regarding measures similar to those taken in New York receive mixed reactions from students.
Senior Gus Ackley is in favor of weapons having some presence in schools.
“I think it could be appropriate to have a select number of staff carrying guns, but I don’t think that all teachers should have a gun,” Ackley said. “It is not our teachers’ job to pack heat and try to defend us against [shooters]. That isn’t in their job description, and I think that good teachers would stray away from teaching if they knew that part of their job would be defending students’ lives in a gunfight.”
Junior Paul Verdier said that his hesitation about guns in schools tends to come from the fear of making students uncomfortable in their academic atmosphere.
“School is a learning environment [and] I feel that guns in general can be quite the distraction,” Verdier said. “[Teachers] are carrying a piece of metal capable of ending someone’s life. Whether you trust them or not, it’s still a lot of power.”
While teachers having weapons in schools is not a popular option, the idea of security guards in schools received more support. A Huffington Post article from Jan. titled “Gun Control Poll Finds Broad, Even Bipartisan, Support For Some Limits” said over 60 percent of both Republicans and Democrats are in favor of having armed security in schools. However, in spite of popular support, the plan has logistical flaws.
Recent statistics compiled by The Guardian in an article titled “NRA proposal to post armed guards in schools is debunked by critics” say the cost of having an armed guard in every school could be over $7 billion dollars per year.
Ackley believes that those costs are far too high.
“I think the NRA’s response of putting an armed guard in every school is kind of ridiculous because the cost, if you think about it, would be outrageous,” Ackley said.
Ackley also said that even if there were guards in place at each school as the NRA suggests, there are obvious vulnerabilities to this security measure.
“If somebody wanted to come into the school to kill a bunch of people, the armed guard would be their first target and then there would be no defense,” Ackley said.
Verdier recognizes that security guards in schools may be fine but believes that under no situation should teachers be required to have a weapon.
“If an armed gunman entered a school with the intention to kill, you [would] have a teacher who has to dodge gunfire, avoid hitting students, and maybe shoot at someone who possesses military grade guns,” Verdier said. “If you want to have law enforcement in the school, then fine, [but] teachers are here to teach.”
Junior Dorry Jaffe is against any weapon being present in the learning environment.
“I think the worst thing to do would be putting an adult, an authority figure and a role model of students in charge of a weapon. The idea of having a gun in the school sounds dangerous enough and knowing that a teacher would have it would still not make me feel better,” Jaffe said. “Having a teacher have a gun in school shows that guns are okay around [students] and in closed environments when they really aren’t.”
Security in the District
Taking into consideration the views of parents and teachers, as well as how students may feel, the district administration is currently discussing many courses of action, including modern security measures at entrances and new procedures in case of an intruder.
UA schools’ administration throughout the district has been trained since the Columbine shooting in 1999 to go into a lockdown situation when an intruder is in the building or there is a situation deemed risky in the area. In a lockdown situation, all students are to find a classroom. The teachers are to turn the lights off and hide everybody in a corner of the room— not visible from outside the door.
However, according to UAHS guidance counselor Allen Banks, the district is currently considering whether or not a lockdown is the safest procedure in case of an armed intruder.
“The talk I know of that we’re having now is whether or not a lockdown is the best course of action,” Banks said. “If there is a shooter in the building, maybe fleeing is better than hiding.”
The newsletter sent out to the staff and retirees of Upper Arlington School District, The Intercom, offered the same information.
“Regarding lockdowns and how they are evolving,” the newsletter reads, “trainer James Burke encouraged: ‘Move, run, get out of the way, throw stuff, get out of a window. Don’t be a sitting duck.’”
The school district’s executive director of business, Chris Potts, who has also been placed in charge of the new security measures in the district, commented on alternate responses being considered in case of an intruder.
“We want to give the teachers resources to make their own decisions in case of [an intruder]. We want to teach them to decide whether they should knock out the window, barricade the door or just sit tight,” Potts said.
Current safety procedures during the normal school day include leaving all but specific entry doors locked throughout the day and not allowing anybody to enter when those doors are locked. In addition, all staff members are required to wear an identification lanyard and doors to all classrooms are to be locked at all times, which are new security measures initiated this year.
Reactions regarding the lanyards tend to acknowledge that there is no harm in requiring them district-wide, but that they do not constitute a security measure in themselves.
“I don’t think that UA has done anything wrong in their response to the recent violence, but having the teacher[s] wear [lanyards] doesn’t really do anything,” Ackley said.
Banks sees the lanyards as being a step in the right direction.
“[These lanyards] certainly can’t hurt. It’s just one of the steps we have to take to have a safer school,” Banks said.
In the newsletter, the administration appears cautious and reluctant to make major changes due to fear of disturbing the learning environment.
“[These new measures] will require a shift in culture and possibly result in experiencing some delays in the ways we have become accustomed to doing things in our schools,” the newsletter reads.
Banks agrees that a cautious approach should be taken when refining security measures.
“There is a fine line between feeling safe and having a sterile environment,” Banks said. “A sterile environment might completely prevent a shooting, but it is unwelcoming and we don’t necessarily want that.”
Potts also expressed hesitation about too many new measures.
“We’re not looking to create fortresses…we still want [the schools] to be welcoming and still be a learning environment,” Potts said.
As Potts pointed out, the administration has in mind that there is a statistical improbability of a shooting occurring in a school.
According to an article by the Tampa Bay CBS-affiliated Channel 10 news, James Fox, a professor of criminology, law and public policy at Northeastern University, said that even though a few dozen children are killed each year in school, statistically speaking, it remains the safest place a child will likely ever be.
“When you consider the fact that there are over 50 million schoolchildren in America, the chances are over one in two million [that they will experience a school shooting], not a high probability,” Fox said. “And most cases that do occur are in high schools and less so in middle schools — and hardly ever in elementary schools.”
This is true in spite of the vast media attention that recent shootings have received which, as Banks says, is disproportionate to any trend in the number of shootings.
“The media has perpetuated the exposure of these shootings. There have always been shootings, there are just more reported now,” Banks said.
Ackley said that while it is a grim reality that school shootings happen, and although students know that nobody is completely safe from a shooting, they do not feel unsafe while at school.
“I don’t feel at risk when I am at school, but that being said, I also think it would be very easy to sneak a gun into the school if somebody wanted to,” Ackley said.
Just as Ackley describes the need for change in security at UAHS, there are now increased efforts in order to pass national legislation to create a safer society.
Legislative action is now taking place on both the state and national level to increase gun control. With his second term underway, President Obama is pushing towards stricter gun control measures after the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook shooting.
At a press conference on Feb. 5 in Minneapolis, Minn., Obama spoke on behalf of the changes that Congress is discussing following the recent shootings.
“Expanding background checks to include sales at gun shows and other private transactions isn’t a conservative idea or a liberal idea – that is a smart idea,” Obama said.
A Washington Post article by David Sherfinski on Feb. 4 titled “Obama’s gun control push moves states to fight it” explained the legislation. The gun control legislation would put limits on assault weapons such as the AR-15 and the AK-47. The article also explained that the plan is to get weapons with high ammunition capacity off the streets. With the proposed background checks, a nationwide database would be created to keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and people who are mentally ill.
Senior Casey Beam gives her opinion on the ban of certain weapons to certain people.
“The ban on selling guns to people with mental illnesses can really help keep the weapons out of bad hands,” Beam said. “[However], I don’t feel [that] a ban on assault weapons will help national security very much. Whether you have a revolver or a semi-automatic weapon it isn’t going to change the fact that people could get hurt.”
Parts of the proposed legislation acts have gained the support of students at UAHS, including the proposal for regulations on gun sales. Other students believe that different types of weapons should be regulated.
“There should be some regulations on guns,” Ackley said. “There is no reason for anybody to have a fully automatic AR-15 with a 100 bullet clip unless they are trying to kill a person; you don’t need an AR-15 to defend yourself.”
Jaffe believes that the person who owns the gun is more important than the type of gun.
“Some people hunt for sport and some truly feel like they need protection. That’s a preference and isn’t a problem,” Jaffe said. “The problems appear when we have dangerous people who we don’t know are dangerous until they have a gun in their hands.”
The Washington Post article said that most Americans and gun owners agree that some measures need to be implemented to prevent future shootings. According to a recent poll taken on Jan. 23 by the Gallup polling website, 58 percent of Americans are in support of stricter laws controlling the sale of firearms.
In the Feb. 5 press conference Obama said, “the overwhelming majority of gun owners think [universal background checks are] a good idea,” referring to recent polling that shows most gun owners support background checks at gun shows and for private sales.
The primary goal of the legislation, apart from protecting citizens’ Constitutional rights, is to assure that parents feel their children are safe at school and that the students themselves feel safe.
“I never feel at risk when I’m at the high school but that doesn’t mean I feel safe,” Jaffe said. “You never think that something like Sandy Hook will happen but what kind of protection do we have at our school? Lockdowns? I don’t know how effective that would be if someone with a semi-automatic came in the school.”
Photo illustrations by Natasha Ringnalda