School Shooting Thoughts

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

I was teaching high school History when that Columbine scene went down. As you might imagine, no other topic would be discussed in class afterwards.

It was a more rational discussion than you'd imagine, aside from the typical teen goofing. Students and teachers- and, to a certain extent, cops- are the ones who, when school shootings are discussed, are speaking of a direct threat to themselves. Therefore, the discussion is more strategic than when housewives or Senators kick the topic about. For instance, the matter of Gun Control never came up when we chatted in class.

Nor was there any What's Wrong With This Country talk. Kids don't remember the 1950s bliss because they weren't alive then. They've grown up in a world where terrorists topple skyscrapers, so they take certain evil things for granted. They viewed the situation as something that could happen, and the discussion was more What If? than WTF?

I did manage to get them thinking with this monologue, which I had thought out in advance somewhat. This is sort of a paraphrasing, from memory... and if you think I got this speech off without interruption, you've never seen a high school.

"I'd like to think that, if someone started shooting in this school, I'd stand and defend you. It's what is expected of me, and it's what I expect of myself. I do love each and every one of you, in a teacher-student way. As I look around the room, I can't bear the thought of any harm coming to each and every one of you.


It is your life that is on the line when the shooting starts, and you are ultimately responsible for that life. No one will miss your lost life more than you. People will tell you what you should do, but, in the end, it is you who have to decide what to do.

In this life-on-line scenario, it pays to think worst-case scenario. If you expect the worst, anything less than the worst is now an unexpected asset, a gift from Heaven that just may save your life.

Take our poll: Should the U.S. add gun control laws & ban assault weapons?None of us knows what we will do if someone started letting off shots in this school. The guy who says, 'I'd hide behind the door and jump the shooter as he entered the room' may actually wet his pants and cry like a wussy if someone even lit a firecracker in here. The quiet kid who cowers during Dodge Ball may, in a crisis, make some command decision that saves us all. The geek who is still doing Boy Scouts may be the only one who knows how to set (or spell) a tourniquet, thus saving a Homecoming queen or the varsity quarterback.. The teacher you've always admired may abandon you. You never know...

The school expects me to keep you all in this room, lock the doors, and wait for the cavalry. The community expects me to defend you against whoever comes through that door. Maybe I will... it is what I expect of myself, to be honest.

We'd actually have a good chance with that strategy... those walls are cinderblock, we could barricade the door fairly well with the desks and filing cabinets in the room, we could hide in the furthest corner, we have phones with which we could call for help, and, if it came down to it, the gunner couldn't shoot all 20 of us before we got to him.

Keep that in mind, because I may not be here to implement that strategy. There is a good chance that I'll be out that window and running for my life, perhaps even trampling you in the process. Be prepared for that. You can never say what will happen in a crisis, and that includes me heading for the hills.

See that red Jeep out in the parking lot? If I flee, and if you can be in it before I get it into gear, I'll drive you to safety at a great rate of speed. I'll be taking the 5 or 10 fastest of you, i.e. those of you who can get into the Jeep before I flee. Also, there is no shame in hanging off that spare tire they have on the rear door or laying flat on the hood as I speed off, although you may be safer with the gunman at that point.

It'd be the end of my teaching career. No one wants a teacher who abandons the kids. I'd be a pariah. The expression 'I could live with that' never emphasizes the word 'live' enough. Even if it meant a jail term... I'd rather be tried by twelve than carried by six.

We'd be rolling the dice by fleeing. No one would know where we were. Your parents would be told 'We can not account for your child's whereabouts.' We could run right into the shooter as we climbed out the window. The school grounds could be booby-trapped. We could even be shot by the police, who would view people fleeing a shooting as suspect. Exiting the school didn't do this guy very much good. We'd be forfeiting the cinderblock fortress, the desk/cabinet barricade, the responding police officers, the ambulances, the safety of numbers... for a bit of distance.

That distance is key, however. We should all be able to bail out a first floor window in a minute or so if we hear gunfire. Even the fattest of us should be able to run 100 yards in 20 seconds or so, and those woods across the street offer some fine shelter from gunfire. If you get a few hundred yards away from the school, your chances of survival increase greatly... unless, of course, if our school is attacked by The Guy Who Was Angry At The School AND The Particular Side Street That You Happened To Flee Down.

You can call Mom once you're safe. I have a feeling that even the parents of the children who weren't harmed will have an agonizing wait before they know their kids are OK. There is a chance that you can make it to a public place and use a phone to call Mom before the authorities will notify other parents.

There are a lot of variables in this flee-or-take cover decision, some that could break for you, some that could break against you, and some that don't really matter. To an extent, it's not for me to say what you do if that situation should develop. I don't even know what I'd do in that situation, and the teacher who says that they know what they'd do in a crisis is lying to you.

Before you even decide to decide to think about what you'd do in a school shooting, ponder a few numbers. There are 24000 or so public high schools in America, and maybe 10000 private ones. There are 13 million kids in public high schools, a bit less than half of that in private high schools. There are also middle schools and elementary schools to factor in, probably quadrupling those numbers.

Balance against that a school shooting or two a year, with a dozen or two dead. You have a bit less than a one in a million chance of being in a school with a shooting rampage, and 'one in a million' is actually a conservative estimate of your chances of being killed in a rampage.

They award 52 Powerball lottery payouts a year, so- balanced against Columbine's 13 dead- you have a greater chance of being handed enough money to conquer Mali than you do of being murdered in a school shooting rampage... about 4:1, actually. If I got 4:1 on the last Super Bowl, I wouldn't be in this classroom today, I can tell you little f***ers that much.

You can very easily watch the news, feel some great pity for the victims and their families, express regret that such a thing could happen... and then just never think about it again, and it would never make a difference in your life unless you end up on Final Jeopardy or something. Statistically speaking, you are very, very safe here.

Any-who... those are the facts as best as I can state them. I don't know if I'd abandon you or not. I'm not sure if I'd advise you to flee if I stay to defend and barricade the classroom. I have no idea how to disarm a gunman, and neither do any of you. I'm very much not sure if the official policy is the proper course of action.

I suppose that, if I didn't hear the shooting and instead heard an announcement of a gunman on the premises, I'd go with the barricade. Like I said, we'd stand a fair chance of getting the doors blocked and holding the gunner off. If the gun shots were just outside the classroon door, I'd be out the window with the quickness, and I don't think I'd try to stop any of you who tried to flee out of a window. I wouldn't risk the hallway for all the riches of the Far East, but that window would be mightttttttttttyyyyyy tempting.

Run towards the sirens, and don't mouth off to the cops when you get there. They may knock you down and search you, so don't take it personally. Shucks, thank them when they're done, because their presence pretty much ensures your safety at that point.

The final decision is yours. It's a horrible thing to have to think about, the stakes are enormous, and your best defense is to cower in the balance that exists between the sheer mass of schools in America vs. the few maniacs who go into them and start shooting.

Anyhow, start thinking. Welcome to the real world, kids... I'm sorry that we handed it to you like this."

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