With the attack in Connecticut just as in the Columbine and Virginia Tech shootings, we grieve for the victims and their families, while we also search in earnest for an answer to the question of who’s to blame for these tragic events.
In general, I am a strong proponent of 1) not blaming others and 2) giving the benefit of the doubt.
However, when it comes to the search for increasing safety – in this case to protect our children and our educators - we need to fully analyze the situation and perform a root cause analysis to determine if there are more effective ways to try to prevent future deaths. Do we look at gun control, mental health delivery systems, school security, parents, or violent video games? Are there reasonable changes that we, as a society need to accomplish to keep our children safe?
There are also those who have put pointed fingers at schools for not adequately training teachers, staff, and students on how to adequately deal with these types of situations. As a positive psychology practitioner, I believe in judging others favorably, believing the best in everyone, and that people are basically good. As a martial artist and self-defense instructor, I believe that knowing how to defend yourself is extremely important and that we can’t plan for mental illness or the aberrancy of certain individuals. We learn how to fight not because we hate those in front of us but because we love those behind us.
There have been some who have criticized Sandy Hook Elementary School for not adapting certain safety measures which teach children to “counter”, i.e distract and confuse an armed attacker, rather than sit and wait in a hopefully protected location. The truth is that we just can’t predict an outcome. Crazed armed gunmen may indeed be distracted and stop shooting when children are throwing things at them. On the other hand, in 2008 for an Ohio high school student who walked into a room with a gun and was “talked down” without shooting anyone, “counter” maneuvers may have incited more violence.
As a parent, I believe that the ultimate sign of teacher dedication is that they view themselves as surrogate parents. Reports suggest that teachers at Sandy Hook not only acted appropriately, but they performed bravely, honorably, and selflessly. Teachers like Vicki Soto, sacrificed themselves and stood in front of gunfire to protect those they loved. The principle and school psychologist each lunged at the attacker and gave up their lives in attempts to disarm the gunman.
It is reasonable to be optimistic and hope that this type of event will never happen again. It is also realistic to expect that it probably will. Gun control may be of some value. This may, but does not necessarily mean a change in laws. Being more mindful as gun owners to keep our guns locked in cabinets and safes limits access for those who should not be handling weapons. This is taking personal responsibility for gun control.
Preparing for these types of situations is an unfortunate necessity. Teaching our children how to deal with an active shooter in their school without undue scarring or scaring is extremely difficult. Age-appropriate knowledge of how to respond in high-stress situations can and should be addressed. However, unless there are regularly scheduled training sessions, our expectations of our children should be somewhat limited to following the teachers’ instructions and looking for a safe place.
In addition to taking on the role of a surrogate parent, teachers and school administrators can and should be prepared with knowledge and techniques to effectively confront an active shooter. Disarming an attacker seems like a formidable and virtually impossible task. However, proper training, practice, planning, and preparation can reduce some of the incapacitating stress associated with these types of situations.
While our hearts and deepest sympathies are given to the families of those involved in the recent shootings, let’s remove blame and focus on a search for practical, effective, and realistic solutions.