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Preventing Violence in Our Schools
By Dave Grossman & Loren Christensen

"To state the obvious, times have changed in our schools. In our day, we had to contend with a thrown egg in an assembly or the theft of the school mascot. Today, hit lists of teachers and classmates circulate at middle schools and deadly weapons are confiscated from book bags and lockers. What was once unimaginable, that a school, society’s ultimate sanctuary, could become a killing field is now a grim reality." (Tamara Jones, 1998)

Police Officer in the Halls
A key deterrent to preventing violence in our schools is to put a police officer in the halls.
We know that a terrorist, whether he is a school shooter or an international terrorist, is not looking for a fair fight, because if he were, he would go to a police station where there are lots of armed officers perfectly willing to oblige him. While there are the occasional incidents where a gunman seeks out police officers in the hope that they will kill him, a terrorist wanting to garner an impressive body count in this new, international game will never go to a place populated by professional, armed warriors.

The same is true of the corrections community. We take the distilled essence of all the people no one else in America wants to live with, we pack them all in one place and we make our corrections officers live with them every day. These officers live in an environment that makes the post office look like nirvana, but they never go “postal.” No one ever tries to shoot their fellow corrections employees, and the obvious reason is because of all those other officers in the towers armed with heavy-duty firepower. Clearly, a police station and a prison are not places to try to butcher innocent people and rack up a high score, nor would a school be the place to go when there is an armed police officer present acting as a deterrent. The kind of pathetic losers who commit these acts seldom go to places where there are people present who can shoot back.

When we put an officer in the school, it becomes a key factor that makes it possible to keep our kids alive. At this writing, a panel of state legislators and legal officials in Virginia are recommending that a police officer or sheriff's deputy be posted at every middle and high school in the state (Christina Nuckols, 2001). It is not a failsafe and it is not a guarantee, but it is one of the most important things that we can do in this day and age. Here is one other advantage to having a police officer in our schools. Let’s say you are an educator and there is a kid with a gun in the hall. Unless it is an absolute emergency, unless shots are being fired and no one else can do it, as an unarmed educator you should not attempt to confiscate a gun, or any type of weapon. In that situation there exists what is called “force inequity.” When Mrs. Adams, walks up and says, “Jimmy, give me the gun,” he feels shame giving it to you. But when an armed, uniformed officer approaches the kid and asks for the weapon, there is no shame in handing the gun to a superior power.

There can be no doubt that a police presence in our schools deters violence. Case in point: In August of 1999, a 37-year-old neo-Nazi named Buford Furrow Jr. walked into the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angels and fired 70 rounds from an AR-15 Bushmaster, hitting five children. During his escape, he killed a Filipino letter carrier. The objective in his twisted mind was to send out a wake-up call for America to kill Jews. In his search to find vulnerable targets, Furrow first scouted three other prominent Jewish institutions to attack, but he found that each of them had a security guard present. Later, when he left the freeway in search of a gas station, he inadvertently found the Valley Jewish Community Center. That one was unguarded.

What is the profile of a school shooter?
Say we have a police officer in every school and all the educators are watchful for problems. What is it that they need to look out for? One of our authors, Col. Grossman, was a co-trainer with the Secret Service when they released their interim report on the profile of a school killer. It was not extensive for the simple reason that there is no specific profile. The killers are white, Native American, African American, and Hispanic. They are upper class, middle class, and lower class. They are from broken families and intact families. While most are males, several are female. There is no profile--although the FBI research says that a "fascination with violent media" is a common factor with all the school shooters.

The Secret Service does say that are indicators that a kid is thinking about killing before he acts. And when a kid indicates that he is thinking about committing a violent act, and an adult does not take decisive action to stop him, the Secret Service says that the kid sees this as getting “permission to proceed.” In an attempted, but fortunately averted school massacre in New Bedford, Massachusetts, one of the kids arrested had written on his bedroom wall, "I hate the world," "Everyone must die," and "Kill everyone." Still, his mother continued to portray the charges as a misunderstanding that has targeted “great
kids.” It is the job of teachers, parents, and police officers to hone in on these indicators. Here are two other case studies.

Permission to Proceed
A Mississippi sheriff told me of a boy who wrote a school paper about a kid who poisoned everyone in his family. The boy included lots of details, such as how he would do it and how it would feel. When he finished, he turned in his writing for a grade, and the teacher gave him one, too; in fact, she gave him a good one. Sadly, the story does not end there. Shortly after he had turned in the paper, he stole cyanide from the school laboratory and used it to kill his entire family. By not taking action upon seeing the boy’s terrible paper, the teacher inadvertently gave him permission to proceed.

What if he had turned in a school paper full of sexual ideation, an intimate, detailed paper about having sex with everyone in his family? Do you think the teacher would have bought off on that? Teachers are required by law in most places to report such a thing. What if he had turned in a paper full of suicidal ideation, intimate detail about committing suicide and how he had given all of his possessions away? Do you think the teacher would have taken that to the counselor, and the counselor would have called the parents to inform them of a suicide risk with their child? Of course. So what is the lesson here? Suicidal ideation and sexual ideation by children are out, but homicidal ideation gets an “A.” That is the sick double, tragic standard that is hurting us.

Another example of kids getting permission to proceed occurred at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. Two high school students were given an assignment to shoot a video, so they taped themselves wearing black trench coats as they walked through their school with toy guns pretending to shoot fellow students. Afterwards, they turned the video in for a grade and, you guessed it, the teacher gave them a good one. Afterwards, she wondered if there could be a problem, as thoughts of places like Pearl, Paducah, Jonesboro, and Springfield floated about in her mind. So she informed the principal, but still no action was taken, other than to give the boys a good grade. Shortly thereafter, the boys committed the largest school massacre in American history -- and the school had given them permission to proceed.

At this writing, Columbine is being sued down to their socks, and if the authors of this article were on the jury, we probably would not be too lenient. What if the boys had turned in a video of them having sex with their girlfriends, or leaping on girls in the hallway and committing rapes? Would the teacher have bought off on that? What if they had turned in a video of them forming a suicide pact, giving away all of their possessions and then enacting their suicides on tape? Do you think the teacher would have bought off on that? No. They would have been reported as a suicide risk and there would have been preventative action. So what is the lesson in this sick society? Sexual and suicide ideation by kids is out, but homicidal ideation gets an “A.”

No Humor Zones
Another critical element for making schools safe is to create what I call a “No humor zone.” If you go through the security checkpoint at an airport and make a joke about a bomb or a gun, you are going to miss your flight. If we want our schools to be as safe as our airports, we have got to have the same serious attitude. Violence is not funny and it is not a game. The concept of “zero tolerance” in our schools is probably counterproductive because such a policy often locks people into a mindset. We have to be flexible and adapt to the environment that we are in.

Most of our educators are magnificent people and brilliant educators, but there are a few who are not, and every few months one does something stupid. In one school a five-year-old pointed a chicken finger at his kindergarten teacher, and said, “Bang-bang. You’re dead.” The kindergartner was expelled because the school had “zero tolerance.” A child in another school, which also exercises a zero tolerance policy, was expelled because he had a picture of a gun. A picture! That is not zero tolerance; that is “zero brains.” On the positive side, for every one incident of zero tolerance, there were 10,000 incidents that occurred the same day in which there were appropriate applications of the No Humor Zone.

No Gun Zones
Schools must also create “No Gun Zones.” Everyone from the NRA to the ACLU agrees that kids should not take guns to school. There is no way to argue that it is okay for a kid to pack a weapon in school. Let’s examine school violence and the environment in which our kids are living. How many kids have been killed or injured by fires in American schools in the last five years? The answer, to the best our knowledge is none. Go into any school in America and you see fire sprinklers, fire exits, fire alarms, and fire extinguishers. Kids practice fire drills over and over in preparation for a fire, something that has not killed or seriously injured a school student in years. Clearly, the preparation and fire drills are working.

How many were killed or injured from violence in American schools? According to the Secret Service, in 1998 there were 35 murders and 257,700 serious injuries. How many were killed or injured by fire? Not a one, but a quarter of a million were killed or injured by school violence. The job of law enforcement is not to prevent fire; their job is to prevent violence in the schools. If we were to award grades, the firefighter would get an A. What grade would you give our cops?

Chief Michael Dorn, one of our nation’s leading trainers on guns in schools, gives a demonstration that Col. Grossman borrowed (with Chief Dorn’s permission) and performed with his son in front of every sheriff in the State of Illinois. His boy was in high school then and dressed like many other kids do: big, baggy gang pants and a big shirt hanging over the pants. After he helped Col. Grossman set up his equipment for the presentation in full view of the audience, his dad introduced him to the room.

“You know me,” he said, “but you don’t know my son. He’s a fine young man, and I’m very proud of him, but today we have a problem. Joe, you got something you want to share with these sheriffs?”

His son reached into the cargo pocket of his big baggy gang pants and pulled out a full size, automatic pistol. He reached into another cargo pocket and pulled out a full-size revolver. Col. Grossman asked, “Joe, what else you got for us?” and he pulled up his shirt, revealing the butt of a big revolver and the butt of a big semiautomatic pistol sticking out of two more pockets. When his dad asked again what else he had for us today, he pulled his shirt up higher, exposing a full-length, 12-gauge pump action shotgun that was extended down the pant leg of those big baggy pants. Running down the other pant leg was an AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle. Finally Col. Grossman asked, “Joe, what else you got for us?” and his son reached into the butt of those big baggy gang pants and pulled out a Thompson submachine gun.

There were two things that made it possible for this boy to carry over 50 pounds of mass killing instruments in front of all of those sheriffs. First, he had a remarkable set of suspenders. Second, he wore the type of clothing we permit children to wear in school. They are called gang pants because gangsters “criminals” -- wear them. They want to dress that way because they are ideally suited for concealing guns and shoplifted goods. Now, a kid can hide a little gun anywhere, but if he wants to do some serious killing, and he wants to bring a semiautomatic shotgun or a semiautomatic deer rifle into his school, he has “permission” to do so by virtue of the clothing he is allowed to wear. If a quarter of a million kids a year were seriously injured by school fire, and the “fashion statement” was to wear gasoline soaked clothing and carry matches, do you think the fire chief might have something to say about it? And if a quarter of a million kids a year are seriously injured by school violence, and the latest “fashion” is to wear clothing ideally designed to conceal weapons, do you think the law enforcement community should say something about it?

If law enforcement were to take its responsibility to keep guns out of the schools half as seriously as firefighters take their responsibility to keep fire out of them, we would go after the schools to mandate appropriate dress codes. One of Chief Dorn’s initial points in his programs on guns in our school is the importance of a strictly enforced dressed code. Some even advocate school uniforms.

Counter-Terrorism Warfare
Let’s also consider metal detectors in school, but let us call them “Counter-terrorism warfare.” Whether we are battling domestic terrorism, international terrorism, workplace violence, or school violence, it is counter-terrorism warfare. If we are going to use metal detectors in schools, they need to be employed advantageously.

They are ineffective when always placed in the same location, just as a speed trap is ineffective when it is always set in the same location. Chief Dorn suggests that they be employed at a few, randomly selected school buses every day, so that kids have to pass through them as they get off. Inside the school, randomly selected classes are chosen throughout the day so when the bell rings kids pass through the metal detectors as they exit. Several times a year, everyone enters the assembly through a metal detector. Once a year, the kids must pass through the detectors to leave the assembly. All locations are chosen randomly and without advance publicity. According to an article on ABC News.com., concerning security in grade schools after a six-year-old allegedly shot and killed another six-year-old; metal detectors in elementary schools are rare. Less than half a percent of elementary schools had them in 1996-97, the most recent year for which the National Center for Education Statistics has figures. Only 1 percent nationally conducted random metal detector checks, and only one in 10 had police or law enforcement officials at school. (ABC NEWS.Com,. 2000) Overall, only 4 percent of all schools in America conduct random metal detectors checks and of those, only 1 percent do it every day. (Newsweek, 1998)

The Kids are Helping
We have some wonderful kids in America today. The teenage pregnancy rate is down, the teenage drug use rate is down, and teenage alcoholism is down. Although some juvenile violence indicators have gone up, the bottom line is that most kids today are a notch or two better than they have been in a long time. These kids are courageously and heroically reporting the presence of guns, bombs, and threats in their schools. We have stopped more school bombings and school shootings in recent years, than ever before, and in most cases it is because kids reported it.

Writer Michelle Galley writes in Education Week, “The shooting at Santana High School near San Diego last week [2001] came amid a series of recent incidents involving students' alleged plans for violent acts on school grounds. But most of those potential episodes were averted when students reported threats or plots to authorities.” And at least 32 students at schools across the country were arrested for threats of violence or actual shootings in the four days following the incident at Santana High, according to police and press accounts.

“In Elmira, NY, an 18-year-old student was charged with 11 felony counts of weapons possession after three of his classmates reported his planned violence. Police said the student had carried 18 homemade bombs and two loaded guns into the 1,100-student Southside High School.” (Education Week on the Web, 2001)

While writing this article, a kid in New York was caught in possession of bombs, guns and a hit list just as he was ready to commit a massacre that would have made Columbine pale in comparison. He was caught because other kids came forward and reported it.

While most kids today are a notch or two better than they have been in years, the ones who are bad are the worst we have ever seen. That might be a bold statement, but when was the last time in American history that we have had so many five- to eight-year-old killers that we lose track of them? When was the last time in history when we had so many middle school and high school mass murders that we lose track of them? Jonesboro, Pearl, Paducah, Springfield, Littleton, Edinborough, San Diego, Conyers, Fort Gibson, and on and on. Most of the kids killed and wounded in the middle school shooting that occurred in Jonesboro, Arkansas were shot with a World War II, M-1 carbine. That weapon has been in existence for over 50 years, but to a kid with a desire and the ability to use it to commit mass murder, this is new. Most of the kids killed at Columbine in Littleton, Colorado, were shot with 12-gauge, pump-action shotguns, a weapon that has been in existence for over 100 years. Millions of such weapons have been in existence for over a century, but it is only today that we are breeding kids who have the evil in their hearts to take that shotgun and shove it in the faces of fellow students and blow their brains out the backs of their heads, one after another. While the good kids today are generally pretty good kids, the new ingredient is that the bad kids today are the worst we have ever seen. There is evil in some of our schools, an evil such as we had in World War II. In the Second World War there was enemy easily labeled as evil, Nazi Germany. If you were ever going to use the word “evil” most people would agree to use it on Nazi Germany. The magnitude of the evil of our enemy galvanized and polarized our nation into action, creating what is now called “The greatest generation.” Today, in virtually every school in America there are kids who have sold out to evil. They are the ones who think Nazis are cool, Satanism is cool, and they think the Columbine killers are heroes. They listen to music by artists named after mass murders and serial killers. These kids dabble with evil and, in the process, the rest of the kids are profoundly frightened.

Many of us remember growing up under the cloud of thermal nuclear holocaust. It was only a decade ago that we knew that we could wake up any day, and the world could be gone in a flash of light and series of mushroom clouds. It was an abstract concept and happily no one in America was ever nuked, but still the reality hung over us every day.

Today, the concept of thermal nuclear holocaust is not even on the average American kid’s radar. Instead, they are growing up under the cloud of Jonesboro, Columbine, Oklahoma City, and the Twin Towers. It is real. It really happened. They watched it happen on their TVs. So now when they see kids in their school dabbling with evil, it scares the living daylights out of them.

Though we do not want our kids to be fearful, their fear of the evil kids is galvanizing and polarizing them into action. Gavin de Becker encourages us in Fear Less to become antiterrorists by relying on our own intuition and suspicions. He writes: "The nature of conspiracy is that the elements of planning and logistics happen out of view of each other. If you have an intuitive feeling that something you've observed might be relevant to a crime, even if you can't fully explain why you feel what you feel, any effective law-enforcement officer will want to hear about it." (de Becker, 2002)

This is exactly what the kids are doing. These good kids are going to grow up and clean house in this toxic culture of ours. Meanwhile, we have 10 to 20 bad years in front of us as we continue to clean out the garbage floating through our culture. Law enforcement and our kids are working hard, and they have already done more to prevent school violence than ever before. There is much more to do as there are many kids slipping through the cracks every day. It is really a microcosm of what is happening to our whole society.


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