THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
A Reluctant Vote in Favor of Armed School Guards
Only one of the proposed responses to the Sandy Hook attack promises to have an immediate, positive effect.
I am not a member of the National Rifle Association, nor am I a member or contributor to any Second Amendment rights group. I am, however, a parent of young children who attend a grammar school not unlike Sandy Hook Elementary in an affluent community not dissimilar to Newtown, Conn. Like the entire nation, I grieve for those who lost their lives at the hands of Adam Lanza in a truly senseless and barbaric act.
Most Americans agree that dramatic steps must be taken to prevent the recurrence of a horrible event like that of Dec. 14, 2012. Just what steps should be taken is a matter of disagreement. After considerable thought I have sadly concluded that Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, is correct when he advocates for armed security in the country's more than 100,000 schools.
The solution is only a partial one, but placing armed, highly trained personnel on school premises will move the country more swiftly toward its goal of safer schools than the complex steps being offered up by legislators and commentators alike on Sunday-morning talk shows.
In fact, many of the attractive solutions bandied about stand little chance of ameliorating the problem of gun violence directed at school children or are only long-term measures that cannot yield immediate results. For example, it is not viable, nor is it likely constitutional, to undertake the suggestion of Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), which is simply to outlaw all guns. Americans reportedly own more than 300 million guns, of which tens of millions are semiautomatic assault weapons. The genie is out of the bottle and cannot be put back.
A blanket ban on the commercial sale of assault-type rifles and large-capacity magazines would also impart a false and dangerous sense of security to parents. Had such a law been in place and inhibited Adam Lanza's access to a Bushmaster AR-15 and high-capacity magazines, the results of his rampage would have likely been identical. He could have blown open the front door of the school with the shotgun that he left in his car trunk, and once inside the classrooms he could have reloaded his Glock and Sig Sauer pistols at lightning speed with fresh low-capacity magazines.
It is widely agreed, in the wake of Sandy Hook, that the country's mental-health system needs radical reworking. It was reported that there are at least 70,000 violent, mentally ill individuals walking America's streets at any given time. Several observers have noted that the perpetrators of mass slayings at educational institutions tend to be white males, age 17-24, socially isolated, introverted individuals who dwell significantly in the videogame world.
Perhaps there is a constitutional and medically rigorous method to screen for and profile psychologically such inherently dangerous individuals and thereby intercept them before the carnage. Perhaps not. The country should commit the resources both legally and medically to find out, but this is a long-term proposition fraught with privacy-law concerns. It will not in any event yield the immediate security so desperately needed.
The killers' immersion in videogames has brought to the fore a welcome discussion of what role popular culture plays in desensitizing young males to violence. The casual carnage in movies and videogames may well affect some susceptible young men so profoundly that they are indifferent to the reality and finality of pointing a real weapon at a human being and then pulling the trigger. But this is a societal issue wrapped in the First Amendment and, again, no prompt solutions will emerge from discussions of the matter.
After the terrible killings at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999, almost every school in America put in place emergency plans intended to prevent a similar attack. The grammar school with which I'm most familiar has a lockdown plan similar to the one instituted at Sandy Hook Elementary, including a buzzer system to gain entry after vetting by the school secretary through a window, deadbolt locks on classroom doors, and evacuation drills for students and faculty.
What happened at Sandy Hook was not the failure to plan; it was the failure of the plan. The teachers and administrative staff executed their school district's plan heroically in trying to save lives, some at the loss of their own. Police departments changed their policies after Columbine and now rush to the source of an incident inside a school building at great risk to themselves. But a major flaw in such plans persists to this day—namely that it takes just a few unguarded minutes for a catastrophe to unfold.
I have no desire to turn my children's school into an armed camp. But I firmly believe that had there been armed, trained security personnel anywhere near the front entrance of Sandy Hook Elementary on the morning of Dec. 14, Adam Lanza either never would have approached the school or his attack would have had a radically different outcome.
One-third of the nation's elementary, middle and high schools reportedly already have armed security on campus. In 2000, President Clinton marked the one-year anniversary of Columbine by proposing a significant expansion of the government's existing "COPS in Schools" program. Now that the National Rifle Association's Mr. LaPierre has made a similar proposal, he is being ridiculed. Why?
Dr. Bernat is a physician and attorney in Highland Park, Ill.
A version of this article appeared December 29, 2012, on page A13 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Reluctant Vote in Favor of Armed School Guards.