School lockdowns coming too late
Politicians love to declare “war” on social problems. We’ve had a war on AIDS, a war on hunger, and now, a war on opioids. Declaring such wars gives us a definable enemy to fight and the means to eradicate it, which begs the question, Why haven’t we declared war on school shootings? Oh sure, some schools now run emergency drills so that students can learn how to hide in the closet if a bad person enters the classroom, but those measures are about as effective in preventing school massacres as when my teachers told us back in 1962, that if we put our head between our legs, we’d be safe from a nuclear blast. Last week, just days after the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre, 18-year-old Devon Erickson and 16-year-old Maya McKinney, waltzed into the STEM School at Highlands Ranch near Columbine, and opened fire, killing one student and wounding eight others. It was the 35th school shooting of this academic year, and just one more in a long line of school massacres, including at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018. In the days following every school shooting, elected officials on the left say we need to ban all guns, while those on the right say we need to arm teachers and offer more mental health counseling. Amazingly, both sides tend to agree that we need an SRO in every school, but thus far, that hasn’t happened, and even if it did, those officers would not be able to stop murderous intruders from entering the school. So what’s the solution? We must augment SROs with preventive security measures. For years now, I’ve used this column and my Triad Today television program to advocate for limited ingress and egress, as well as the installation of electronically locking doors and metal detectors in every school building. Under my plan, all students would enter through one main set of electronically-controlled doors, and be scanned for weapons while the armed SRO observes. After that, students and visitors would have to be buzzed in or out by the SRO, or by designated office staff who can view the entrance way on T.V. monitors. If there is more than one building on campus, then the same safety precautions and devices would be duplicated in each building.
Whenever I float this strategy, educators, law enforcement, and elected officials say, “It’s too expensive, the scanning delays would lengthen the school day, and keeping doors locked would violate local fire ordinances. Here’s my response: Will building security be expensive? Yes, but America is the richest nation on earth, and our government always seems to find the money for everything except making our schools safer. Congress can mandate that every school be retrofitted with secure doors and detectors and that federal dollars be allocated to the Department of Homeland Security which, in turn, would subsidize the upgrades in every locality. Would routine metal detection for every student entering the building cause delays that might lengthen the school day? Yes, but so what? Would locked doors put students at risk in the event of a fire? No. The doors can be designed to open automatically with an emergency override function activated by the SRO or office monitor.
I don’t mean to oversimplify this, but I’ve visited a number of industrial plants where thousands of employees can only enter and exit through one main gate, and I’ve been buzzed into countless office buildings over the years. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and there’s a way for this to work. I also realize that what I’m calling for will make our schools feel like prisons, and it pains me to have to make these suggestions. But before you email me to say how crazy I am, first go interview any one of the hundreds of parents who have lost their children to school massacres, and ask them if they would have minded locked doors, metal detectors, SRO’s, and longer school days.
In the late 1960s, when highway deaths were piling up, our government mandated the use of seat belts. Today, the government also mandates sprinkler systems for large commercial buildings, requires a blood test before a marriage license can be issued, and won’t let you drill a well or install a septic system until your land has been inspected. The fact is, the government is there to protect its citizens, and the time has come for that protection to extend to children while they are in school. We’ve gotten really good at locking down schools after a shooting has occurred, so let’s try something radical. Let’s get really good at locking down schools before a shooting occurs.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).