Stumbling Past Sandy Hook

By Daniel Bodden

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The TragedyScreen Shot 2013-04-16 at 1.51.22 PM

Students and staff showed up to Sandy Hook Elementary on Dec. 14, 2012, just like any other morning. What was supposed to be a normal day of school turned into the second-deadliest school shooting in the nation. Shots were fired. Twenty-six victims passed away. Families were forced to face the worst day of their lives.

FHN teacher Theresa Maher knew none of this until she received an email in seventh hour from a friend who teaches at FHHS. Her friend asked if she had seen anything on the news about what happened in Connecticut. This peaked her curiosity, so she went to CNN.com and saw it.

“Initially, I thought I misread,” Maher said. “I just couldn’t believe it. I was in shock. I felt just a big mix of shock and anger, confusion, and even ashamed that that’s the society we live in.”

She didn’t have any students in class at the time, but after school ended, juniors Sophie Gordon and Nathan Mills came to her classroom. Together they discussed what had happened and let out their anger and disbelief.

“They were in agreement about how disgusting it was and they were in shock at how sad I was,” Maher said. “I was thinking about how the parents must feel. That’s the age of my son. He’s four, so the concept of someone hurting someone that small– I just don’t understand it.”

When Maher went to pick her son up from preschool at the normal time, she found that most parents had already picked up their kids and barely anyone was still there. The parents had seen the headlines. Words like ‘horror,’ ‘evil’ and ‘tragedy’ tried to describe the event in Newtown.

Later on, the initial headlines would become a more concrete story of what happened that morning. According to the New York Times and CNN, Sandy Hook Elementary’s doors locked at 9:30 a.m. When the 20-year-old gunman, Adam Lanza, arrived at the school around that time after killing his mother at their home, the doors were already locked. He forced his way in. As the morning announcements were being read, shots were heard over the intercom. Teachers ushered their kids into closets and hid them. As Lanza made his way through the school, he fired 154 rounds in five minutes and took the lives of 20 children and six educators before he killed himself. It has since been found that his mother Nancy Lanza was a gun enthusiast and there were several firearms, all owned by Nancy, and more than 1,600 rounds of ammunition among other weapons in the house. No motive has been concluded, however, records of Lanza’s attendance at Sandy Hook Elementary were found in the home along with various articles about mass shootings.

“I was most shocked about the age difference of the shooter and the children,” Maher said. “I think that Sandy Hook was different [than other shootings] because we didn’t know anything about the shooter because of the age of the victims, and the victims had nothing to do with his problem.”

The Aftermath

In the months since the shooting, legislators in Missouri have debated over what the best response is to ensure safer schools. One of the bills that would impact schools the most is House Bill 70, a bill that would allow teachers with concealed gun permits to have concealed weapons in schools without local approval.

Currently, concealed weapons can only be brought into schools by people 21 and older who meet certain requirements and have approval from the school board or a school official.

Even if a bill passed that allowed teachers to do this without approval, it may not result in any increase in firearms in schools. A survey done by the National Education Association in January found that 68 percent of its members opposed a proposal to arm teachers, meaning that many teachers still may not carry a firearm if allowed. Democratic State Representative Bill Otto believes that more guns in school without authorization may make schools more dangerous rather than safer.

“I am vehemently against that,” Otto, representative for St. Charles and St. Louis counties, said. “I don’t think there should be a gun in school that the school board or somebody in some sort of authority doesn’t know is there. I think most of the time these issues should be left to the school board. I believe we have laws in place that allow them to do what they believe is best for their students and their district.”

Republican State Representative Mark Parkinson believes that teachers having firearms could be a way to make schools safer, but only if they are in the hands of people who are trained and responsible.

“That’s a pretty contentious issue,” Parkinson, representative for St. Charles county, said. “It takes a lot of responsibility for a teacher to take on the role, but if they have gone through a very thorough training, and there’s a lot of rules such as that the firearm must remain on the teacher and never put anywhere where it can be picked up by a student, I’m in favor of that.”

As of press time, this bill has been referred to the House of Representatives General Laws Committee and is waiting for a hearing to be scheduled.

Parkinson’s argument against other bills like an assault weapons ban or laws that limit the availability of guns in general is that criminals will not follow the laws anyway, so the laws will not be very effective.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people that have the propensity to commit these sort of crimes, they know for a fact that they can go in and commit shootings in schools because they know for a fact that they will not be met with equal force,” Parkinson said. “So, it’s easy to say, ‘Let’s go commit a crime. Where are the easiest targets going to be?’ – the gun free zones created by politicians.”

Otto agrees that legislation limiting guns won’t necessarily make schools safer; however, he isn’t convinced that legislation expanding gun freedoms will affect school safety either. He believes the focus should be on who has the guns.

“I think the best way to deal [with this] is to ensure that guns aren’t in the hands of people that shouldn’t have them,” Otto said. “We can do that by background checks when they purchase guns and frankly, we need to increase the amount of money we are spending on mental help in Missouri to ensure that those who might need help get it prior to ending up in a situation that might turn into something worse.”

The Solution

Schools are implementing different measures across the country to try to combat shootings and be prepared if there is an intruder. School districts like District 303 in Illinois are installing panic buttons that people could press to immediately alert the police in an emergency. Many school districts like Santa Maria-Bonita in California are also installing locks on the inside of classrooms, sometimes called “columbine locks” after the Columbine shooting. FHSD already has these push-and-twist locks installed in all classrooms, but after the Sandy Hook shooting, the District assembled a Safety Task Force to determine what else could be done to make schools safer.

“We did take a look at the best information as to what actually happened at Sandy Hook, and there are some things that just aren’t preventable,” FHSD Chief Financial Officer Kevin Supple said. “When you have a determined person with a high powered automatic rifle willing to lose his life, it’s very difficult to completely protect against that, but we know that there are going to be some extensive studies done about Sandy Hook, and just as with Columbine, there will be some best practices that will come out as a result of that.”Screen Shot 2013-04-16 at 1.51.57 PM

The Task Force has finished its research and proposals, and now Supple is working with the Board of Education to decide what action steps to take based on the recommendations.

“I think this work is going to be ongoing,” Supple said. “We have been working at improving security measures in our schools for a number of years and we’ll continue to do that. This work about safety and security will be ongoing work for years to come. It’s probably a job that will never be finished.”

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