This one hit closer to home. Our daughter teaches in a public high school in the same school district, not far from Parkland, Florida. The shooter once attended her school, but she didn’t know of him. Tragically, she knew and enjoyed a friendship with one of his victims, a high school senior who sang in the same church choir with our daughter. This innocent life was stolen by a senseless monster in an inconceivable act of violence.
As I watched and read news reports over the past few days, I heard many sincere suggestions. All sane Americans want to curb violence in society and particularly in our schools. A common thread in these suggestions is the notion that a simple solution exists. Congress as well as state and local authorities need to act! People with mental disturbances should not be able to obtain guns! Schools need more resources! We need more effective gun control! The FBI and local law enforcement need to do a better job of finding these killers before they act! All of us should report to authorities when we see or hear any hints of such evil! Parents need to do a better job of raising kids! Schools need to do a better job of educating and socializing children! Social services need to do a better job of intervening when evidence of future violence is discovered! And finally, all the above and more!
Now for some context, if only one in ten thousand Americans is an evil and dangerous person capable of heinous acts of violence, that means 33,000 dangerous people live among us in the United States, statistically that’s 2,200 in Florida and about 200 in Broward County. Sometimes there are signs, but unfortunately, those indicators usually stay hidden or ignored until it’s too late. In other cases, the evil person only commits one heinous act in a lifetime with no warning. The good news is that sometimes the warning signs are evident and future tragedies are prevented, but we don’t know anything about them, because they obviously and happily did not occur.
As I often do when I’m frustrated by a problem, I make a list. In this case, I made two lists.
First List: What could have been done to prevent or stop this most recent act of violence. Think of this as time travel, knowing what we know now. This is an entirely hypothetical exercise, but valuable for analytical purposes. It is not intended to be exhaustive, only exemplary.
- An armed school resource officer might have stopped the perpetrator before anything harmful was done.
- Trained school volunteers with technology resources might have observed the entrances to campus facilities and alerted appropriate authorities and school personnel.
- The Uber driver might have recognized the suspicious looking item carried by the perpetrator and called school authorities and 911.
- The school might have installed technology by all building and campus entrances that would detect firearms or other suspicious items entering the campus and triggering an alert.
- Social services might have intervened with the perpetrator after school personnel, students, neighbors, and parents notified authorities of signs of the perpetrator’s potential for disruptive and violent behavior.
- The FBI might have traced and successfully intervened with the perpetrator who posted on YouTube that he wanted to be a professional school shooter.
- A background check of the perpetrator might have accessed school and social services records and prevented him from legally acquiring or possessing a weapon.
Second List: What political conflicts prevent solutions. This is a list of differences of opinion about solutions that require a balancing of values and political interests.
- Surveillance of the public versus the right to privacy
- The right to bear arms versus the desire to eliminate armed violence
- The rights of individuals versus the rights and protections of communities
- School safety versus an optimal learning environment in our schools
- Mental health and social service interventions versus individual rights and liberties
- Family and parental rights versus community safety
- Freedom of speech versus limiting offensive speech or behavior
- Federal government solutions versus state and local government solutions
- Freedom of the press to sensationalize and exploit tragedies versus public safety
- Innocent until proven guilty versus prevention of future violence
Violence in society and in our schools is what I call an eternal problem. No matter what we do, it won’t go away completely. There is evil in a free society and in any society. We surely don’t want to forfeit our hard-earned liberties and create a police state to control the evil inclinations of a small number of monsters living among us. But we do want solutions that prevent such tragedies as occurred this week in Parkland. Those solutions require each of us to act when necessary and our elected representatives to find solutions without regard to partisan political pressures.