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Written by Frank Rollason -- BT Contributor   
February 2013

When it comes to protecting our schoolchildren, we need a bunker mentality

A bigstock-Classroom-1173856most horrific incident occurred to close out 2012. Yes, I’m speaking of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut. The crime took the lives of 20 children and 6 adults at the school, as well as the life of the shooter’s mother, bringing the total to 27 senseless killings -- 28, if you count the shooter taking his own life.

Before this shooting, we were all horrified by the shooting in the Aurora, Colorado, movie theater that took 12 lives. In that incident, the shooter, James Eagan Holmes, was captured after his semi-automatic weapon jammed. Too bad he did not resist and save the state of Colorado a ton of money for his defense and probable incarceration, which will stretch on for years to come.

These incidents, along with the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, have brought the issue of gun control to the forefront one more time. Actually, the term “gun control” is a fantasy, or an oxymoron at best. Regardless of whatever legislation eventually passes -- if any -- it will do very little to control the illegal use of these weapons.

The reality is that law-abiding individuals will follow the new legislation and the scofflaws will continue to obtain these weapons and perpetrate even more horrific acts in a perverse game of “Can you top this?”

First, the weapons being used in these cases are not technically assault weapons. Assault weapons are defined as firearms that will fire in the fully automatic mode (like a machine gun or a military-issued M16) with a single pull of the trigger, the weapon continuing to discharge until all the ammunition has been spent.

Those weapons are already illegal to possess, so now the need is to look at semiautomatic weapons (which fire only one bullet per pull of the trigger, but automatically reload between shots; the majority of guns purchased in the United States are semiautomatic). In truth, a semi-automatic weapon is deadlier -- more accurate -- in the hands of a trained gunman than a fully automatic weapon. I saw the damage a combat rifle can inflict in Vietnam and, worse yet, the look on someone’s face when they know they’re seconds away from being on the receiving end of a bullet.

The horror of Sandy Hook just boggles the mind. Who knows what magnificent discoveries may have been erased by the deaths of these innocent children? Was there a Jonas Salk, a Steve Jobs, a Madame Curie, or maybe even another Einstein? We will never know. This, too, boggles the mind, does it not? Besides their lives, what other gifts may have been taken from us all on that fateful day?

So how do we fix it? Well, from my perspective, it is probably not by passing more gun legislation or by increasing the emphasis on mental health. Both are admirable goals, but suffice to say, those bent on this type of activity will probably still slip through the cracks. Friends of the perpetrator will continue to be astonished, relaying to the news media how Johnny was quiet and somewhat shy. Not many friends, but no, never really had a problem, nothing that would make you think he could do something like this.

How many people like this do we know who never became serial killers or mass murderers? Finding the ones who could snap violently is like looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack, don’t you think?

I view these incidents pragmatically and accept that they will continue, and possibly escalate, in the foreseeable future. Therefore I believe that, to stop similar incidents in our schools, the buildings themselves must be hardened beyond what is currently planned.

And by the way, the idea from the National Rifle Association of arming our teachers is beyond ludicrous, as aptly pointed out by former Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Octavio Visiedo in his January 1 “Readers’ Forum” piece in the Herald.

(Think back to the kindergarten teachers your children had and focus on one who made a particular impact on your child. Then imagine that person with an automatic weapon firing at an assailant hell-bent on wiping out a classroom full of kids. It’s an asinine thought, to say the least.)

Then there is the plea for more officers for the school system’s police department, as expressed in the “Readers’ Forum” on December 30 by Howard Giraldo, president of the local union that represents those police officers. Would it be helpful to have a full-time officer in each school -- or would it be an exercise in futility? They would, in a Newtown-style scenario, be facing a heavily armed assailant with the element of surprise on his side. Perhaps we would need two police officers to mount a counter-assault. Or would we need three?

You see where this could lead. A SWAT team in each school might make us feel like our kids are safer, but it would not be a cost-effective use of personnel.

No, I think the answer is in hardening the school buildings so a potential attacker cannot make entry without having to run the gauntlet, so to speak. We have a unique opportunity to do this in Miami-Dade in that we, the voters, just passed a billion-dollar capital projects initiative for our schools.

What we need to do is earmark those dollars to include whatever plant improvements are necessary to make the schools impenetrable: bulletproof glass in all street-level windows and doors (not hurricane-impact windows -- bulletproof glass), poured concrete walls for the first floor (not concrete blocks that could allow the penetration of high-powered projectiles), and a bulletproof reception vestibule.

In the case of the last, once a visitor enters, he or she would be screened via remote methods, by metal detectors and x-ray machines, much like at airports. If anything suspicious is detected or observed, the visitor would be locked in the vestibule until the arrival of the police.

This is certainly not a pleasant topic to write on and not particularly pleasant to read, but we need to embrace realistic measures to keep our children safe -- and hold our officials accountable for implementing those measures. There’s no reason we can’t provide our schoolchildren the same level of protection we’ve come to expect every time we board an airplane.

 

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