Lockdown America and School Shootings


W.J. Astore

Five years ago, I remember talking about lockdown drills (or “active shooter drills”) with colleagues at Penn College.  Such drills were voluntary.  Basically, the drill involved locking the classroom door, moving students to the back of the classroom, and having them hunker down, away from windows, while keeping silent so as to avoid detection by a shooter roaming the halls.

I was against these drills.  I thought they added to the fear, and I chose not to do them.  But maybe I would do them today.

After one shooting massacre (I can’t recall if it was Virginia Tech in 2007 or Sandy Hook in 2012), locks were added to the classroom doors.  In theory, if I heard gunshots, I or one of my students could jump up and lock the door before a shooter got in.  But what if a determined shooter shot the lock out?

What a world we Americans live in.  Locked classrooms, lockdown drills for active shooters, and now the proposal to turn teachers into so many Harry Callahans (Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry) and our schools into “hardened” targets by arming teachers with pistols.  Perhaps we should keep an AR-15 in each classroom (alongside the fire extinguisher), with a sign that reads, “In case of emergency, break glass – then lock and load.”

President Trump has argued that select teachers be armed – following the NRA’s theory that a good man with a gun is the best insurance against a bad man with a gun.  It’s a crazy idea, but we live in a crazy country.  Among the worst parts of Trump’s proposal was his stingy suggestion that armed and trained teachers might earn “a little bit” of a bonus.  How generous of our brave commander-in-chief.

Think about that for a moment.  There is an active shooter (or shooters) in a school, armed with military-style assault weapons and perhaps protected by body armor.  Young people are running and screaming, bullets are flying, and in this bloody chaos, we place our faith in a teacher, perhaps armed with a 9mm pistol, thoroughly trained in shooting under combat conditions, willing to risk it all “for a little bit of a bonus.”

It’s a powerful fantasy: the cold bold Harry Callahan-like teacher, taking aim with his or her pistol and blowing away school intruders with perfect head shots.  And that’s exactly what it is: a fantasy.  As Belle Chesler, a teacher, put it at TomDispatch.com, “We are not warriors, we are teachers. We are not heroes, we are teachers.”

It’s one thing to shoot at paper targets on a gun range; it’s another thing entirely to fire accurately in combat when you’re outgunned and someone is firing back at you.  What if, during the chaos of shooting, a teacher accidentally shoots a few students?  So-called friendly fire incidents happen frequently in combat, despite the most careful troop training.

If you want more security guards in America’s schools, hire them.  Don’t try to turn teachers into cheap cut-rate guards.  Yet “a little bit of a bonus” for armed teachers is the best idea our stingy billionaire of a president can come up with.

As we saw in Parkland, Florida, even armed and trained deputies may hesitate before confronting a heavily-armed shooter.  How is your average teacher going to react? At least we know Trump will rush in, heel spurs and all, whether he’s armed or unarmed, to save the day.  Or so he says.

Most people, even when armed, will not rush toward the sound of gunfire.  We tend instinctively to freeze, to take cover, or to run.  It takes a combination of training, willpower, and courage to rush toward danger, often strengthened by teamwork and inspired by one or more leaders who set the example.  The problem is not as simple as “give a teacher a gun, and he or she will blow the bad guy away.”

In a country awash in weapons, there are no easy answers.  One model is to turn our schools into fortresses, complete with surveillance cameras and panic buttons and smoke ejectors in hallways, as in this “safe” school in Indiana.  Trump’s model is to arm select teachers for a tiny bonus.  Limited efforts at gun control, such as raising the age to purchase an assault rifle from 18 to 21, are like putting a Band-Aid on a sucking chest wound.  One thing is certain: better law enforcement is crucial, e.g. there were many warnings about the Parkland shooter that were dismissed or ignored.

Again, there are no easy answers.  And so Lockdown America is now our reality.

Update (3/9/18): In the wake of the Parkland shootings, Florida legislators have approved guns for teachers in the classroom, as well as more spending on school security.  Assault weapons, however, are not to be banned.  So the solution to bad men with guns is indeed good men with guns, according to Florida.  The NRA wins again.

How long before a teacher, teacher’s aide, or coach with a gun accidentally or intentionally hurts a student with a gun?  How long before the inevitable lawsuits result from this, the multi-million dollar settlements?  Will school districts be required to carry expensive insurance against gun shootings by educators?  Are taxpayers ready to pony up a lot more money to cover the costs of insurance premiums and lawsuits?

9 thoughts on “Lockdown America and School Shootings

  1. “If you entrench yourself behind strong fortifications, you compel the enemy seek a solution elsewhere.” — Carl von Clausewitz. — Classic example the Germans in WW 2 going around the Maginot Line.

    Decades ago, I took Algebra, Trig and Statistics courses. Trying to find those elusive unknowns or predict an outcome was true test of logic. If we look at other countries in Western Europe, Japan or Australia, we discover their rates of homicides and suicides are far below ours. The gun lobby and their puppets are casting about frantically to blame mental health failures, faulty policing techniques, and those old reliables violent video games and Hollywood movies. (We would need to exclude violent movies and video games that depict our Warriors gunning down some bad guys in Whateverstan.) The gun lobby and their puppets list of culprits to blame always excludes the weapon.

    This brings me back to Math. When you analyze all the variables mental health failures, policing techniques, and violent video games and movies, the nations I mentioned above would have these variables present to one degree or another. The key variable never factored in here in America is the easy access to firearms.

    So we can “harden” our schools with fortifications arm some teachers, but what about the mall, the church, the restaurant, the sport stadium, day care, the music festival, etc. Then we have some states with open carry.


    1. There’s an old joke that “gun control means hitting your target.” But that’s basically what the NRA believes. Logic to them is defined by influence, profits, and power. They tap emotions (“They’re coming to take your guns!”) to rally their members. They use money and intimidation to cow Congress. And it works.


  2. This is a bit off the subject but I thought you might be interested in this article. Afghanistan: Mission Impossible https://www.truthdig.com/articles/afghanistan-mission-impossible/

    If you search for Maj. Danny Sjursen on the internet you will find many articles he has authored. That lead to the same conclusions many of us have here an out of control war machine.

    The War That Never Ends concerning what is a War Gaming exercise on the Vietnam War.

    He mentions the Schools of competing thoughts about the Vietnam War – Historian Gary Hess identifies two main schools of revisionist thinking. There are the “Clausewitzians,” named after the 19th-century Prussian military theorist, who insist that Washington never sufficiently attacked the enemy’s true center of gravity in North Vietnam. Beneath the academic language, they essentially agree on one key thing: the U.S. military should have bombed the North into a parking lot.

    The second school, including Petraeus, Hess labeled the “hearts-and-minders.” As COINdinistas, they felt the war effort never focused clearly enough on isolating the Vietcong, protecting local villages in the South, building schools and handing out candy — everything, in short, that might have won Vietnamese hearts and minds.

    Both schools, however, agreed on something basic. That the U.S. military should have won in Vietnam.

    The danger presented by either school is clear enough in the twenty-first century. Senior commanders, some now serving in key national security positions, fixated on Vietnam, have translated that conflict’s supposed lessons into what now passes for military strategy in Washington.


    1. Yes. Even when they’re fighting the wrong war, they still think they can and should win. How’s that for lack of logic?


    2. I remember Counter Insurgency School at Coronado Island, San Diego and Warner Springs (SERE) back in 1969. The textbook materials spoke of “winning the hearts and minds” of indigenous Asian peasants. Our instructors translated that dogma into its actual military equivalent: “Grab ’em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow.” Funny thing, but I’ve never heard General Dave (the human Christmas tree decoration) Petraeus mention any of the U.S. military’s actual slogans for explaining U.S. strategy and tactics to the mainly draftee enlisted men (and enthusiastic Navy SEAL team “professionals”) who would have to do the killing and dying:

      “Kill a gook for God.”
      “Kill a commie for Christ.”
      “Happiness is a high body count”
      “Don’t knock the war, it’s the only one we’ve got.”
      “Kill ’em all and let God sort it out.”
      “The only good Vietnamese is a dead Vietnamese.”

      That sort of thing.

      You can forget today’s senior military officers and their warmed-over, self-serving theories about “counter insurgency” since none of them actually did any time in that disaster or have any appreciation for the Vietnamese who fought and died for their national independence not once but twice: first against the French and then against us Americans over a thirty-year period. If you want a true and accurate image of the U.S. military in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) just picture overfed, ignorant U.S., officers and enlisted men running around grabbing at the crotches of thin little Asian men (and women), burning their crops and villages, and driving them off their ancestral lands into stinking slums while expecting love, obedience, and gratitude in return. What galactic morons.

      Or, you could just look at what these same “big-thinking” U.S. military types have done in Afghanistan and Iraq and Libya and Syria, etc. over the last sixteen years. To use the word “learning” in connection with these asinine bovine blowhards defames not just English, but language and thought itself.

      Many of us enlisted veterans of that cosmic cluster-fuck in Southeast Asia had slogans of our own to help maintain our sanity in the midst of mindless, pointless, needless slaughter:

      “We are the unwilling, led by the unqualified, to do the unnecessary, for the indifferent.”

      “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

      And last, but not least, the one lesson the U.S. military “leadership” will never, ever learn because to do so would explain why nobody needs them and whatever they claim to know about anything:

      You can’t do a wrong thing the right way.”

      Or, as I like to say about the ticket-punching, kiss-up kick-down, fuck-up-and-move-up U.S. military brass (the perfect combination of Parkinson’s Law and the Peter Principle):

      If they knew what to do they’d have done it already. If they could have, they would have; but they didn’t, so they can’t. Time’s up.

      Just cut off the money for any further military misadventuring. Nothing else will save the Republic.


  3. People without any character, and perhaps mentally disturbed, sometimes believe that killing people because they don’t like them, or perhaps just to demonstrate power to themselves, is proper behavior. In fact it’s been a common behavior for people in the United States from the arrival of the first non-natives. Back then it was local, mainly killing native Americans, and others, and later it became customary not only for citizens locally but also for the government to kill people in foreign lands.
    U.S. presidents became enamored of killing lots of people, and our recent secretary of state enjoyed the killing of an allied head of state (in Libya). A previous state secretary declared, in essence, the obvious fact that the purpose of a government killing force is to go somewhere and kill people. Otherwise what good is it?
    So the U.S. has always been a violent place, but now homicide has been “refined” to kill more people at the same time, perhaps because it gets more publicity and thus makes a bigger statement. Presidents brag about “body count” so what’s fair for the goose means that we we shouldn’t expect commoners to be any better than presidents when it comes to killing, should we.


  4. Parkland, and 9/11, and probably other disasters happened primarily because the people we pay to protect us, didn’t. They had information and didn’t act on it. They aided and abetted homicides, and got away with it. They weren’t punished for not doing their jobs. That isn’t right.


  5. I think the gun culture in Canada is very different from the gun culture in USA. While we do have less guns per capita, we still have a fairly high rate of gun ownership – about 1 in 5 households own a gun here. The big difference is that only about 5% of gun owners view their gun as a weapon for protection, most view their gun as sports equipment, to be used for hunting or shooting range sport. About 60% of US gun owners view their gun as a weapon to protect themselves/family/property.

    Of course, this could lead to questions about why US citizens feel the need for weapons to protect themselves – I guess we really have quite different cultures, in spite of our many similarities.


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