So of course, there is one kind of response to mass shootings that gun makers love: throw more guns at the problem. There are two levels to that “solution”: have those guns attached to more police officers, or basically give everybody who works at the school a gun. If recent mass shootings are any indication, neither of these will work.
One element of the aftermath to the Sandy Hook shooting was the rise of the School Resource Officer (SRO) across the nation. First of all, what a depressing statement. But second, there are many problems with this approach. A recent episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” delved into that. What I’ll only repeat here is that there was an SRO onsite when the Parkland mass shooting happened, and that person did not enter the school. Fast forward to Uvalde, and as many as 19 officers (not even SROs) did not enter the classroom where students and teachers lay dying or under threat of being shot. It would seem that expanding the police presence at a school does not have much impact in the end.
To understand why, you have to think about what’s really happening here. Police officers are not RoboCops. They are human beings with all the same inner workings as anyone else. It seems beyond question that somebody should have done something in each of these events, which might have led to fewer people being shot, and/or more people surviving after having been shot. The hour of inaction that elapsed in Uvalde is particularly infuriating in this regard. Why did no one go in? It might be disguised as a tactical decision, but ultimately there seems to be no more fundamental answer than fear. Fear of being shot along with children and teachers by a soulless man with superior firepower. AR-15 bullets can pierce even the armor police wear, which means any attempt to move in was likely going to lead to wounded or worse police officers in the ensuing firefight. The SRO at Parkland was not willing to take that risk. Whoever commanded the situation in Uvalde was also unwilling. There are undoubtedly plenty of police officers out there who would go ahead and take the risk anyway, putting their own lives at risk to save others. But that is apparently not a universal truth in law enforcement, which is not an indictment of police officers, but just a recognition that there are humans of all kinds in professions of all kinds. Further complicating matters is the chain of command, which cannot be tossed aside without setting a dangerous precedent. So all it takes is one fearful person in the group, regardless of how the others may see things.
Ok, let’s pivot to the even worse idea of arming teachers. If fully trained officers, many of whom have been in the heat of battle either in law enforcement or in previous military experience, are too fearful for their own safety to challenge someone with an AR-15, then how many teachers would be able to overcome that kind of fear in the moment? And why do we think it’s ok to be in a situation where we’d be asking teachers to lay down their lives in order to take down a shooter?
There is one common denominator in all of these tragedies: a mass murderer with superior weaponry to those who would otherwise be willing and able to protect. We have come full circle: the only way more police officers and armed teachers would make any kind of difference in mass shootings is if the superior weaponry was unavailable to the shooter in the first place. The only way to ensure that is to enact meaningful gun control measures.