Two years after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., it's tempting to think of the horrific incident as a remote, rare event, unlikely to ever hit home.
That would be naive.
There have been two gun-related incidents in my children's Baltimore County school district in the past two years alone. In 2012, a student at Perry Hall High School fired a gun into the cafeteria mid-morning, injuring a classmate. And just last month, police uncovered a student's plot to attack the George Washington Carver Center for the Arts and Technology, a highly esteemed arts magnet high school — barely a mile from my home — using a gun stolen from his father's workplace, as well as several homemade explosive devices. Police also discovered that the boy had already brought the gun to school on one occasion but was too inebriated at the time to use it.
Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association (NRA), argues that armed guards (and armed teachers and staff) and tighter security measures in our schools are the only credible protection against a "bad guy with a gun." In these incidents in my own school district, however, the "bad guys" in question are teenage students, already part of the school community, with easy access to the buildings and their vulnerable peers.
Staff and students at Carver were shocked by the plot against their school. An administrator said the prospective shooter displayed no "red flags." A fellow student complained that the extensive security measures undertaken by Baltimore County Public Schools in recent years had done little to make her safer — notably from a classmate "bringing a gun into the school in his backpack."
School systems nationwide have spent a fortune on security measures since Sandy Hook, and many have followed the NRA's advice of enlisting armed guards.
Baltimore County has placed police officers in all its secondary schools and spent upward of $12 million in the past two years on a variety of security measures, including — per its website — "state-of-the-art camera systems" in every school, sending live video streams to local law enforcement; new electronic entrance systems in all schools; and a "state-of-the-art visitor identification system."
Yet, school shootings in Baltimore County and around the nation persist — there have been over 30 major school shootings since Sandy Hook, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence — and it is reasonable to wonder what will slow this trend.
At my children's elementary school, it was announced last year that a Sally Port was installed — the kind of entrance typically seen in prisons. Some argue that Baltimore County should also put metal detectors in every school and, as the NRA advocates, arm teachers and staff. A Carver student said that she and her classmates already felt like they were in a prison, thanks to the mounting security efforts.
It is clear that the NRA's approach will not work. Committed shooters will find a way into schools. They will not be deterred by the presence of armed guards, as the NRA contends. An armed guard was present at Columbine High School on the day of its horrific shooting in 1999; he did not cause the attackers to alter their plans, nor could he stop them. As for Sally Ports, attackers can bypass the front entrance and shoot in a window. Should we board up all school windows, then? Or buy still more "state-of-the-art" security instruments for our schools — such as bulletproof whiteboards, backpacks and blankets? Will the NRA finally tell us, in light of enduring security shortcomings, to equip our schools with whole regiments of guards, outfitted with bulletproof vests and assault weapons? At what point do we register the cost to the educational experience of our children, the impact on their impressionable psyches and the damage to our democratic society?
Among modern democracies, only the U.S. hastens to make its schools more fortress-like, more impregnable, more intimidating instead of controlling the abundant guns that make our society so very dangerous. Instituting these myriad security measures steep our children in fear and suspicion. It is an atmosphere and upbringing inimical to freedom, which the NRA ironically claims to uphold and protect. The organization maintains that gun rights are tantamount to freedom and that we are freer to the extent that more of us are armed and our guns are unregulated and unrestricted. One look at our schools tells you nothing could be further from the truth.