Protecting Schools and House of Worship is More Important than Gun Bans
We need to learn more about the Nashville Covenant School's Security Measures
No matter what you think of gun control, or bans on assault rifles, the fact is that schools and places of worship are not safe unless they have real security. By that I mean security guards and security measures on a full time basis. That is one of the lessons about the shooter at the Nashville Covenant Christian School that cost the lives of three children and three adults, including the head of the school, 60 year old Katherine Koonce.
We need to learn more about the Nashville School’s security measures.
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The guns in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting were stolen. The weapons used in Nashville were legally purchased.
The truth is that a killer can use any type of gun, whether legally or illegally acquired, or for that matter knives or swords.
Today many public schools do have guards, but not all of them. Most also have put in place measures to make access for any intruder difficult. Code Red procedures also play a not inconsiderable role in blocking an intruder from carrying out armed assaults.
Guards of course can best provide protection if they are visibly armed. Visibility is important, because an armed guard that can be recognized as such acts as a deterrent to a wanna-be killer. guards also need communications, both to the school public address system and administration and to the local police. Police departments should be provided in advance with up to date diagrams of a school campus and buildings, and critical locations should be named ahead of time, so if a guard calls in an emergency he can't point to the exact place where help is needed.
Unfortunately there is controversy on using guards, especially armed guards, both at houses of worship and at schools.
In Judaism there is a rule of conduct called Pikuach Nefesh that basically advises that every priority must be given to saving a life, and that other rules (like strictly keeping the Sabbath) are waived if saving a life is a priority. Even in strictly Orthodox Jewish circles, it is possible to have armed guards with radios, even if religious rules normally would oppose both.
But even Jewish schools sometimes struggle with the issue of armed guards. That's because school boards, in the case of schools, and congregational leadership in the case of houses of worship, sometimes oppose having guns present for ideological, not religious reasons (and in some cases, both).
Obviously we are speaking of well trained professional guards, not volunteers, and not armed citizens. There is a lot of talk about concealed carry in schools and churches, but there are many dangers. One of them is lack of training. Another is lack of reliability in the sense of being there when needed. And there is the issue of liability, either if something goes wrong, or if too much force is used. As for professional guards, many states have set standards for training and certification. Moreover, if guards are hired from reputable and proven organizations the chances are good they will have proper instruction and a high standard of professionalism.
One of the reasons there isn’t better security is funding, or at least places that don’t have security make that claim. In struggling places of worship, where dollars are scarce, the lack of funds is a problem, but there are Federal government programs to help. Private schools, religious or not, can get also get Federal funding, provided they are not for profit. Public schools need to get support from the state or municipality where they operate.
It is very true that the Nashville police responded very quickly when summoned. But even though they were on the scene in two minutes, there was a greater lapse of time between when the shooter entered the building and the call went out to the police. The police were very brave, they did not hesitate, and they killed the shooter in an intense, if brief, gun battle.
We don't know much about the security measures at the Nashville school. Little reporting has focused that way. But it would be a real service to the Nashville community, and to America, if we had an honest accounting of what, if any, protection was in place. No parent wants to see a child's life put unnecessarily at risk, and no school teacher or administration should be unprotected. The same is true in churches, synagogues and mosques.
[Stephen Bryen is the author of Security in Holy Places (Morgan James Publishing, August 2020).]