Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sandy Hook And Common Sense

A recent Courant editorial, “Sandy Hook Panel's Focus Turns From Guns To School Safety,” begins with the following lede: “Officials can turn a school into an armed camp, in an effort to make it safer, with metal detectors, bulletproof glass, armed guards and armed teachers. Or they can take a different approach.”

Naturally, the Courant, which is averse to “armed camps,” prefers a different approach. Schools “can promote good basic building security measures for access and corridor control. They can train faculty and staff to embrace the post-9/11 mantra: If you see something, say something. They can make smaller-scale changes that are easier to implement and pay for, such as more security cameras and, importantly, help for troubled students.”

Will this solution work in Connecticut schools? The obvious corollary question is: Work to do what? We were told by an assortment of politicians days after Adam Lanza shot his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School that Connecticut and the nation at large would have to craft legislation to prevent such events from happening in the future. All the decision making politicians in Connecticut jumped on that band wagon. Their script appeared to have been written somewhere in central casting, so uniform was it.
The first line in the editorial carries a load of unsupported rhetorical freight. Who are the politicians in Connecticut who said after the assault on the school they wanted to turn all Connecticut schools into “armed camps.” This was a rhetorical spook under the bed from day one. And the other rhetorical spook on a stick was the AR-15 “assault weapon.” An assault weapon is any weapon used successfully in an assault. Lanza arrived at the school armed to the teeth. He left an semi-automatic shot gun – an assault weapon? – in the trunk of his car, shot his way into the school with the AR-15, and committed suicide when armed first responders appeared on the scene.

That is what we THINK happened; we are still awaiting a criminal report from the state police and Danbury State Attorney Stephen Sedensky III, months after we were told it would be available by mid-June. In this particular incident, one wants to know whether “corridor control,” or a staff prepared to “say something” after they’ve seen something, or any of the “smaller-scale changes that are easier to implement and pay for, such as more security cameras and, importantly, help for troubled students,” would have altered the turn of events.

To ask the question is to answer it. These measures may be proper and advisable, but Adam Lanza would have brushed by them quickly during his murderous assault.

Among the first people Lanza shot when he broke into the school was school psychologist Mary Sherlach who, under happier circumstances, would have been pleased to sit down with Lanza to ease his psychological burdens.  On this occasion, she was not a bar to his murderous intentions. And frankly we should be prepared to acknowledge that an “armed camp” might have been an effective preventative – even though we are not prepared to turn every school in the state into am armed camp. The first responders, whose appearance in the school brought a stop to the mayhem, were not armed with Freudian text books, and they were successful in thwarting more slayings BECAUSE they were armed.

Sherlach and Sandy Hook Principal Dawn Hochsprung were the heroes of the day. No song about heroism can be sung loud enough to do them justice. They both put themselves in the line of fire to save their students, and they are rightfully remembered as heroes who, in laying down their lives, showed the greatest love possible. So too with the first responders who put themselves in harm’s way to save the lives of blameless little children: They were all heroes. But the first responders, we ought to remember, were successful BECAUSE they were armed.

According to the editorial, it is good that the commission appointed by Governor Dannel Malloy, a 16-member panel of experts charged with studying “measures to improve school security, mental health services and gun violence prevention,” has taken sufficient time to compile its report, because the state thereby “avoided the panicked response seen in a few parts of the country of arming teachers, which is a potentially greater risk than the one it is supposed to prevent.”

Courant editors should be challenged to cite a serious piece of legislation proposed by anyone in the Connecticut’s General Assembly that would arm teachers.

That has happened elsewhere in the nation. The nation’s federalist structure is such that it allows states to serve as experimental stations, and in time we will see whether arming teachers is a more successful measure in turning away school assaults than, say, the psychological profiling of students.

It’s telling that the paper is lobbying for “sufficient time” so that the panel of experts might create a state-wide camp of psychologists armed with predictive models to prevent future Sandy Hook-like assaults, even as the paper eagerly joined in the PANICKED rush for legislation that preceded the criminal report everyone is still waiting for. An indeterminate date has now been assigned to the release of that report. The Courant permitted itself to wonder in a previous editorial what the hang-up is, since it is unlikely anyone else will be charged in the crime.

The gun legislation so far passed by the General Assembly does not rely on the necessary hard data that would have been available to legislators had a preliminary criminal report been released earlier in camera to legislators who, rushed by political exigencies,  were in the process of creating a comprehensive gun restriction bill. Heeding common sense, the editors at the Courant should have understood early on that the way to build a legislative sand castle in the air is to deprive legislators of the hard data – the ground – that is necessary in all sound legislation.
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