Friday, February 23, 2018

The Parkland Shooting: Failure By Design

The mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was a barbarity. The wanton slaughter of 17 people was--and is--an outrage.  If you are not angry reading about it, you are either mentally ill or not really paying attention.

As our minds grapple with the sheer inhumanity of such an act, we seek to bring order and structure to the madness.  We want to know who did what, who did nothing, who had a hand in the commission of this crime. We point fingers, because as human beings that is what we do.

There is but one person to blame for this shooting, and that is the shooter himself. He alone opened fire on defenseless high school teens.  He alone decided to take human life.

But while the shooter is to blame for the shooting, let us not fail to note that, regardless of the choices the shooter made or did not make, this tragedy was absolutely preventable. This tragedy should have been prevented. That it was not is every bit as horrific as the shooting itself.

The most galling aspect of the failure to prevent this shooting is that the steps needed to prevent the shooting are uncontroversial and not terribly expensive. No curtailment of civil liberties are needed to stop school shootings, no problematic gun laws that inevitably run afoul of the Second Amendment need be enacted. We need not rely on law enforcement to diligently follow protocols, and investigate every tip and warning given. Had the school been properly secured, this shooting would never have happened.

Consider the timeline that has developed of the shooting itself:
  • 2:19 -- The shooter exits an Uber car and walks into the school
  • 2:21 -- The shooter opens fire in several classrooms.
  • 2:28 -- The shooter drops his weapon and exits the building.
How does someone--someone not even a student at the school--simply walk into the school unimpeded? How is any person able to carry a firearm through the front door of the school without being stopped?

That is the real horror in this: that the shooter had easy access not to firearms, but to the school. With or without a weapon, he should never have gotten through the front door, or even on school grounds. There is no reason that should be allowed in any school anywhere.

Yet Marjory Stoneman Douglas is a typical high school in the United States. And--unsurprisingly--this was a typical high school shooting. By some measures, Parkland was the 208th school shooting since the 1999 Columbine tragedy. In every single one of these incidents, the same galling questions must be asked: how does someone merely walk into a school unimpeded, and how are they able to carry a firearm onto school grounds? In every single one of these incidents, there are no good answers to be had.

Add to those questions this further damning interrogation: how is it that, after more than 200 such events, almost nothing has been done to make schools more secure? 

It is true that some schools, such as Southwestern High School in Shelbyville, Indiana, have implemented strong security systems, but they are by far the exception and not the rule. By and large, America's schools are as unprotected and vulnerable as they were two decades (and 200 shootings) ago.

Nor is it necessary to have a state of the art security system to stop the would-be shooter.  A few basic security elements, such as a "man trap" at the main entrance to the school, make unauthorized access far more difficult. Nearly every courthouse in the nation has metal detectors at their main entrances, as do all airports as well as most concert venues--yet security "experts" argue that their use in schools is a bad idea!

In his classic treatise on strategy and tactics, Sun Tzu wrote "You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked." This is the goal of all security: invulnerability to attack. It should be the goal of school security--and it has not been.

Yet hardening schools, and making them invulnerable to these attacks, has not been at the forefront of the media coverage of this event.  We have heard of the evils of guns, and the need to shred the Second Amendment to confiscate guns. We have heard of the multiple failings of law enforcement, from the FBI on down to the Broward County Sheriff's Office. We have heard of the wisdom or unwisdom of arming teachers. We have not heard much of man traps, nor of metal detectors, nor other basic security mechanisms that would impede the miscreant and make doing mischief within a school that much more difficult.

The horror of Parkland that every parent in America must now face is this: our schools are not safe--by design. Our schools are not built to keep our children free from harm during the school day. Our schools are not built to thwart attacks by evildoers. Our schools are the antithesis of secure--they are vulnerable when they should be invulnerable.

Tragically, even after Parkland, there is no indication that will ever change.