The shooting Tuesday morning at Great Mills High School in St. Mary’s County is terrifying — both because something like that could happen so close to home and because it clearly could have been so much worse. The gunman, identified as Austin Wyatt Rollins, a 17-year-old student at the school, opened fire in the hallway. He is now dead, and two students are injured, one of them critically. But it’s certainly possible that he would have inflicted much more damage if not for the intervention of a school resource officer, Blaine Gaskill, who confronted Rollins and exchanged fire with him.
Mr. Gaskill’s actions are bound to form a central part of this story, both because of the failure of a school resource officer to even attempt to stop last month’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 were killed and 17 wounded, and because of the increased calls since that tragedy to encourage school districts to arm teachers. A good guy with a gun may very well have made a crucial difference at Great Mills. He made a difference where panic buttons, hardened classroom doors, ID checks and other elements of physical security might not have.
But let’s remember this: Mr. Gaskill is a law enforcement official whose role is specifically to keep his school safe. He wears a uniform. He is trained. That made him not only equipped to act in this situation but also able to do so in a way that did not make matters far worse.
An exchange of gunfire in a school hallway is immeasurably dangerous; the potential for a stray shot to wound or kill an innocent person is tremendous. Even as it is, it’s not yet clear whether Mr. Gaskill hit Rollins, hit one of the two students Rollins shot at, or hit no one. If the incident had lasted long enough for other law enforcement officials to arrive, the potential for confusion and further tragedy would have been compounded if multiple people without uniforms were armed and firing weapons.
In that context, President Donald Trump’s effort to encourage states to arm teachers is particularly worrisome. No matter if the particular teachers are, as Mr. Trump suggested, naturally gifted with firearms — whatever that means — and receive special training. Their roles in a situation like this one would inevitably be divided, and the profusion of weapons in a school only increases the odds that one will fall into the wrong hands. Two teachers with guns fired them accidentally on the same day earlier this month.
The approach Maryland leaders have been taking since the Parkland shooting — and one that is likely to get an additional push now — is much more prudent. Gov. Larry Hogan is proposing emergency legislation to provide more funding, support and training for school resource officers like Mr. Gaskill as well as for more school counselors. He wants to beef up Maryland’s Center for School Safety to give it greater capability to monitor social media for possible threats, and he wants to require school districts to conduct annual safety assessments. The focus is not only on making schools better equipped to respond to an attack but to foster conditions in which educators are able to intervene beforehand through better awareness and counseling. Members of the General Assembly were working on similar initiatives of their own.
We may never know what led Rollins to begin firing on fellow students or whether someone missed a chance to intervene earlier in a way that could have stopped Tuesday morning’s terror. We also don’t yet know where he got the gun and whether stricter national regulation of handguns — Maryland’s laws are already a model — might have made a difference. But there are lessons we can already draw. We don’t need to turn schools into armed fortresses. What we need to do is what Maryland Center for School Safety Executive Director Edward A. Clarke advised in a recent hearing on Mr. Hogan’s legislation — build relationships of trust between adults and students. It’s not as easy as promising to give guns to teachers, but it’s necessary if we want to keep our children safe.
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