The Oxford Shooting
As the country reels from the latest school shooting, the tragedy is heightened by the opportunities missed to avert this disaster. Media reports have focused on the role played by the killer’s parents and the failure of the school threat assessment process undergone only minutes before the shooting began.
The parental’ failure to secure the weapon, indeed even providing the weapon to their son, is unfortunately not a new element in these incidents. A.L., the shooter at Sandy Hook elementary, killed 15 children using a rifle purchased for him by his mother. In roughly 70% of all school shootings, the gun used came from the home, a relative or friend of the shooter.
The Oxford shooting is also a failure of the threat assessment process, a key factor in preventing such tragedies. The assessment team meeting with the student and his parents did not include a police officer. Where the threat of violence, particularly firearms related threats, are noted, law enforcement needs to be present. Every good police officer in the country, given the threat of a gun, would have secured the backpack, searched the student locker, and completed a pat down prior to any conversation between school personnel and the student.
A particularly disturbing image from Oxford was video of a teacher scrambling to barricade the classroom door to prevent the shooter’s entry. Since Columbine, study groups studying school shootings have recommended dozens of steps to physically secure buildings and classrooms. No school shooter has ever breached a locked classroom door. The fix allowing teachers to quickly lock classroom doors from the inside and the technology to allow building-wide lockdowns are easily available. Both were specific recommendations of the Sandy Hook Commission in 2015. How is it that in 2021, we still have schools without these basic safeguards?
What is predictable is preventable. We know that next week, or the week after that, or six months from now, parents, students and teachers at another school will be living through a new episode of this national nightmare.
We are not helpless in the face of these tragedies. Mandating safe storage of guns is a commonsense step. Much is being made of the arrests facing the parents of the Oxford shooter. While these criminal charges may well be appropriate, it is the horrific equivalent of locking the barn door with the horse long gone. Mandatory safe gun storage will not only prevent some school shootings, but can reduce the killing and wounding of over 1000 Americans, mostly children, each year in so-called gun “accidents.” There is also strong evidence safe-storage laws reduce gun suicides,
After Sandy Hook, President Obama worried that mass shootings were becoming accepted by Americans as the “new normal.” His concern was well-placed, but I believe attitudes are changing.
Americans are sick of gun violence. They are also sick of the excuse that nothing will work. The United States is a country of creative people without peer in technological proficiency and organizational expertise. The position that the country is helpless in the face of this violence is absurd. The crowd at a Dayton vigil for victims of the August 2019 gun attack spoke for America when they chanted “Do Something” at Ohio’s government leaders. The “Do Something” cry was a citizen demand for the end to complacency and denial on gun violence. It is time for America’s government officials, educators, law enforcement, clergy, mental health professionals, business leaders and others to sit down and address this problem.
It is not insolvable. Let’s get to work.