A cascade of failure

Once again America is witness to a homegrown atrocity as a deranged teen slaughtered his former peers. The debate on guns, their availability, and lethality is generating a cacophony of unreasoning noise. Lost in the smoke is the devastation wreaked upon another American community and the loved ones left behind.
I genuinely feel the pain of parents whose child was murdered, of those wounded and those traumatized by a life-altering experience. It isn’t something anyone gets used to seeing; we’re supposed to protect children.
In our society some live in a dream world that denies the existence of evil; others clearly recognize evil and prepare to confront it, kill it if necessary. These sheep dogs protect the flock regardless of risk to self. We saw this on a massive scale on 9/11 as responders rushed to rescue people regardless of personal risk.
In Parkland, Florida, the sheep dog was retired on duty, marking time, giving little thought to wolves. When the wolf emerged, he froze and allowed a vicious predator to ravage the flock. We’ll not know why until weeks or months of investigations are completed. The result of his inaction, however, allowed defenseless children to be massacred, as he watched, listened, and did … nothing. (Some reports indicate as many as four officers were present and did nothing.)
The government failed at every level in this incident, from the FBI twice ignoring warnings about the killer, to local police failing to act after as many as 39 calls to the killer’s home for domestic violence issues. Social services gave him a pass despite clear indicators of mental instability, and the schools didn’t coordinate/cooperate with local law enforcement.
Before the dead are buried, media-hyped political polarization is inflicting a disservice upon victims and their families. It needs to stop. We must look deep into the heart of the problem and its causes, and adopt practical measures to improve school security.
Rather than demonizing the usual suspects, gun owners who weren’t there or the NRA, demand the truth, not clichés. Media has virtually ignored several local heroes, such as the three Junior Reserve Officer Training (JROTC) cadets who saved 60 lives. Didn’t hear about that? The cadets herded frightened classmates and teachers into their room and barricaded the doors with Kevlar (bullet-proof) backstopping mats provided by NRA grant funds to support the JROTC marksmanship program. (The program uses air rifles, not real rifles.) The killer’s attempt to shoot through the classroom door was thwarted by their quick and decisive action so he moved on, unfortunately not before murdering a third cadet holding open the door for students fleeing the halls. That young man gave his life for his classmates. (A tactic the killer used was to fire through door windows at students hiding within. The Kevlar mats stopped his bullets.)
In the heat of angst and extremely emotional debate, the clamor for new laws is reaching a fever-pitch. Renewing the “assault-weapons ban” is high on the list, even though that law was on the books in 1999 when two killers, with illegally purchased weapons, massacred students at Columbine High School, an incident with eerie similarity to the dilatory response by law enforcement to the Valentine’s Day massacre in Parkland. Columbine changed the way police respond to “shooters on location” or so we thought. At a minimum, every peace officer in America needs to be required to undergo renewed and annual training with drills on responding to a “shooter on location” incident. We practice it here in North County with full cooperation of the schools. We have a national institute (California Specialized Training Institute) at Camp San Luis Obispo that is the foremost institute of its kind in the nation, created specifically for training peace officers in counter-terrorism, officer survival, and responding to mass shooter incidents. Sadly, whatever training Broward County Sheriff’s Department provided was lost on the one officer the school depended on.
There are many practical things we must do, but first and foremost, harden our schools. As “gun-free zones” (98 percent of mass shootings have occurred in gun-free zones), they are extremely soft targets for the mentally deranged and political terrorists. School districts must immediately close access to campuses, harden classrooms and entrances to schools and ensure everyone entering goes through courthouse-style security with armed officers providing security. This should be a federal funding priority for every school in the nation, regardless of where you politically land on the gun issue.
Finally, at some point, we must take a good look at the society we’ve created, which is depraved and filled with mindless violence dosing our children daily. I refer you to works by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, former Army Ranger and retired Army psychology professor for West Point. His seminal work was his book On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. He followed that up with Stop Teaching our Kids to Kill and Assassination Generation.
After these incidents, everyone wants leaders to “do something,” the danger being they do, but it’s something ineffective as this happens again and again and again. We force parents to send their children to schools; as such we are morally compelled to keep them safe. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.