In the last three decades, there have been at least 67 mass shootings in the United States.
Friday, an LAX airport TSA agent was shot and killed while doing his job protecting Americans from outside threats. As our fellow Michael Cohen notes in The Guardian, “he died from a threat that we as a nation tacitly accept as a ‘price of freedom’: practically unfettered access to firearms.”
While our legislators laboriously debate gun control provisions, how do Americans defend against gun violence domestically, particularly in our most vulnerable institutions?
Saving Our Schools
On December 14, 2012, President Obama addressed the shooting that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Obama stated the country must “come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics.” Sadly, we stand in the same place we did nearly one year ago.
From 1999 to 2012, there have been 31 school shootings within the United States. The number of school shootings from 1999 to 2012 in every other country combined is 14.
In October 2013 alone there were two incidents of school violence. When comparing these numbers, it is obvious the United States is in desperate need of revising U.S. schools’ emergency response programs.
With the controversial and ongoing gun debates aside, let’s talk about ways that school employees can help avoid school shootings in the United States.
When Antoinette Tuft, a front office employee at Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy, encountered a 20-year-old man named Michael Brandon Hill who was holding an AK-47 type weapon, she didn’t run. Instead, she talked to him.
While on the phone with 911, she told Hunt it was going to be all right and that she was proud of him for being willing to drop his gun and surrender to the police. She even told him she loved him. After the ordeal, she was called directly by President Obama who called her a true hero.
Tuft knew how to handle this type of event because Discovery Learning Academy trained her. She had been coached on how to address potential shooters directly. Unfortunately, only three of the Academy’s staff, including Tuft, was provided this training.
A New Type of Crisis Response
An FBI Law Enforcement bulletin from 2010 focused on active-shooter protocols for schools, stating most protocols contain advice similar to Tuft’s training: lockdown the building, prevent injuries and mortalities and wait for the police.
Staff and students are directed to hide, barricade entrances and turn off any equipment that could attract the shooter. Nonetheless, the bulletin does not mention any protocol if a member of the staff happens to be face-to-face with the aggressor.
While most schools implement an emergency response protocol, the scope of the training is limited. For instance, Baltimore has a Critical Response and School Emergency Safety Management Guide focusing on safety planning and emergency response, but does not have a section instructing faculty on what to do if coming into direct contact with the shooter. This is a glaring oversight in crisis management for schools.
Simply put, what Antoinette Tuft did worked. Though frightened and face-to-face with the shooter, she became his counselor and his mentor. While she followed regular emergency protocol, such as calling the police, she made him feel that she cared about him and showed him empathy. This is a technique that should be explored by school district officials. Mental health counselors and negotiating teams could train school staff on how to handle these situations without putting themselves in danger.
Of course, staff should not go out of their way to confront any aggressor, but if this does happen to an employee, the training could be extremely useful to prevent future shootings. Until laws are passed to prevent such horrific tragedies, it may be up to school faculty to keep aggressors at bay.
Below is a look at mass shootings from 1984-2012.