Defense Media Network

Guns and School Safety

As the old adage goes, “In life, timing is everything.” If that’s the case the timing of two recent announcements related to guns and school safety it’s either a case of irony or just plain ole’ serendipity.

In response to the tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., and the rising public concern and debate over school safety from gun violence, the National Rifle Association announced on April 1 the results of its National School Shield Program. Shaped by an independent, national task force led by former U.S. Rep. and former DHS Under Secretary and DEA Administrator Asa Hutchinson, the $1 million study offers a series of recommendations to better protect students, teachers and school personnel from some of the shootings that have plagued America’s schools for nearly two decades. From improved perimeter security to better locks and entrance controls on doors, the most talked about recommendation from the 200+ page report is adding trained and armed personnel inside schools during their hours of operations.

Just as the report was released and comments from across the political, public safety and school spectrum started to weigh in, a day later a more subtle and one might even say subdued announcement came from DHS Secretary, Janet Napolitano at Drexel University. Announcing the names of seven colleges and universities as part of DHS’ first ever Campus Resilience Pilot Program (CR Pilot), the program will draw upon “existing resources, collaborate with federal, state and local stakeholders and identify new innovative approaches to promote campus resilience.”

In addition to Drexel University, the other remaining colleges and universities participating in the pilot program include:

  • Eastern Connecticut State University, Willimantic, Conn.
  • Green River Community College, Auburn, Wash.
  • Navajo Technical College, Crownpoint, N.M.
  • Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas
  • Tougaloo College, Jackson, Miss.
  • University of San Francisco, San Francisco, Calif.

With back-to-back announcements such as these regarding school safety, it gives great comfort to know so many people from so many diverse backgrounds and perspectives care about the safety of kids and educators, from the pre-K to the PhD level. Let’s face it – in some respects, reports and efforts such as these are long overdue. All you have to do is rattle off the names of tragedies such as Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Pearl River and so forth to know educational institutions, regardless of their size or location, are some of the easiest and softest targets from threats by internal and external forces.

Janet Napolitano at Drexel University

Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and Domenic Ceccanecchio, vice president of Drexel’s Department of Public Safety, tour Drexel’s communications center located within the department. Drexel University photo

There are lots of details associated with both announcements, but in any conversation that relates to guns, 2nd Amendment rights and what should or should not be in an educational environment, it is going to be extremely hard for each side to not talk past the other. The rhetoric, its volume and intensity have been almost tidal in intensity of late, coming in waves crashing upon one another. As a result, finding anyone impartial or with a truly balanced perspective is going to be a challenge as decisions about schools, public safety and gun rights are decided. Already actions by state legislatures in Colorado, Maryland, Connecticut and others have been enacted, with more being debated and to be voted upon in the coming days and weeks.

An area I have not seen debated in all of the recent back and forth on these issues is that of “risk.” That is that fundamental factor that can change our life in every decision we make on a moment-by-moment basis. From crossing the street when the “Don’t Walk” sign is flashing to weaving your car in and out of rush hour traffic at ridiculous speeds, those are instances in which we as individuals decide what we are going to do. Oftentimes, though, there are risk factors that are way beyond our control that can have equally impactful results on our lives. It can be a natural event (e.g. weather, etc.), a car accident, or some individual who is deranged, disturbed or just hell bent on the destruction of anyone around them.

In so many of the tragic cases of school shootings, there were warning signs in the behavior exhibited by the shooter(s), but for reasons from not wanting to get involved and respecting someone’s privacy to legal barriers or just plain apathy, the signs weren’t acted upon. As a society, we are often too wrapped up in ourselves to take that extra step to make an inquiry about someone, let alone defuse situations before they accelerate into some of the horrors we’ve become all too familiar with over the past few years.

All too often we give free passes to violent movies, TV shows and videogames and give great viewership ratings to shows that make screaming at each other the accepted norm of discourse. The conversation, much like human care for one another, seems to be on an “endangered species” list. How we treat one another as a people and as a society seems to be a non-existent topic of late, but somehow that topic does not get any type of announcement. I think that says an awful lot about the conditions of today, don’t you?


Richard “Rich” Cooper is a Principal with Catalyst Partners, LLC, a government and public affairs...