My background is a factor, so let me tell you in advance that I have a concealed-carry permit and believe in the Second Amendment, which is the constitutional right to bear arms. I have a long history with this subject, as I was involved in the Columbine tragedy on many levels. I am the father of the family that turned the shooters in to the police in 1997 and 1998. I have researched and studied school shootings for years, including Columbine. I would venture a guess and say that there are few people in the world who know more about the tragedy, its causes and lessons, than I do.
There is currently a group called FASTER Colorado that is promoting training teachers to carry concealed weapons in a school. There are approximately thirty hours of training involved, and then these teachers will carry concealed weapons in a public school for the purpose of defense of that school. There are currently armed teachers in some schools in Colorado. The school boards for those schools have approved this. They believe that a teacher with thirty hours of training can be skilled enough to defend a school from a school shooter.
Let's review the concept.
Bob the Biology Teacher buys a short-barreled pistol. Because long-barreled pistols are difficult to conceal, a short-barreled pistol is needed to conceal-carry. This is the beginning of the problem. A pistol with a three- or four-inch barrel is incredibly inaccurate. Imagine a cone coming out of the end of the barrel: The cone widens as it gets further away from the barrel, and it widens quickly. The pistol can hit anything in the imaginary cone. At four feet from the pistol, the cone has expanded to two feet. At twenty feet away, the cone has expanded to ten feet. At fifty feet, the cone has expanded to twenty feet or more. The farther from the pistol the target is, the more inaccurate the pistol is. Logically, and practically, this means that firing a short-barreled pistol at a target more than ten to fifteen feet away is very dangerous for other people in the line of fire. In fact, this places many people in the cone of fire.
To a weapons expert, these numbers will seem larger than reality. But that is using a non-stressed shooting situation. In a range situation, in an indoor firing range, a pistol is very accurate. In a school shooting, a pistol is not.
You have all watched Dirty Harry Callahan fire his .44 Magnum at the bank robbers in the Dirty Harry movie. The model 29 Smith and Wesson he fired has a 6 1/2-inch barrel, certainly not one that a teacher could carry as a concealed weapon. He fired it six times in the famous movie shootout, and he missed two times. He fired a high-powered pistol on an open street full of citizens in San Francisco, and he missed twice. Yes, it is a movie. Yes, it is imaginary. But this is the scene that many people remember, and Bob the Biology Teacher remembers it well. It looks heroic. It looks brave. It is a false paradigm. It is a ridiculous, unattainable goal.
In truth, it is absurd and dangerous. Harry should have been fired for being so reckless. He instigated the firing of weapons. He fired into backgrounds filled with citizens and with no concern for the safety of citizens. He missed twice. Where did those bullets go? His bullets were powerful enough to go through walls, windows, car doors and more. Did he shoot an innocent bystander? Of course not; this was a movie. But Dirty Harry was an idiot for that firing sequence and situation. His pistol is so powerful that it can shoot through one person and kill someone else. It can shoot through six to ten layers of drywall.
But Bob the Biology Teacher doesn't think so. He remembers the movie. In real life, this shooting could have had serious and dire consequences, but movies don't show that side of a shooting. Sure, the bodies lie on the ground, and they are all bad guys. No innocents are shot or injured in the movie.
I strongly suggest that you look on YouTube at police shootings. There are hundreds of videos. They show policeman, trained professionals, firing their semi-automatic pistols, eight to ten rounds, in rapid fire, while their partner is running through the line of fire. “One shot and then wait” is not reality. Eight rounds can be fired from these pistols in just a few seconds, and that is the standard-issue pistol without modification.
But back to Bob the Biology Teacher.
In a comment made by one of these armed teachers in training, one man said that he could hit a six-inch target from fifty yards. Fifty yards. A six-inch round target. That is possible. With the right pistol, and a lot of practice, one of these teachers might be able to hit a six-inch circle at that distance. But given a school-shooting situation, with smoke alarms, fire alarms, sprinkler systems, screaming children, sirens and adrenaline rushing through his veins, that six-inch target is an unattainable goal. And Bob will not realize that. He will remember the movie, and his 300 practice rounds fired at the range, and he will fire. Being the hero is too hard to resist. And the casualties of innocent children by friendly fire will live with us all forever.
This is where the truth needs to be factored in. In a school-shooting scenario, the police and teachers will be outgunned. They will be at a distinct disadvantage. School shooters have, historically, used rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic weapons. They can fire without any worry of hitting someone, because that is their plan. A teacher has to be careful to fire only at the specific target. Using a short-barreled handgun against a rifle is a distinct tactical disadvantage.
Now would be a good time to review one school-shooting incident: Columbine.
The highly trained SWAT team members at Columbine fired 167 rounds into the school.
Some of these were fired while in a short exchange of gunfire with the shooters, but most of them were fired after the shooters were already dead. The trained SWAT team fired into doorways, at shadows, into the library, and into monitors and books in the library. They actually fired down the main hall of the school from the back door of the school, with their bullets ending up buried in the front door of the school. During all of this response, they did not hit the shooters one time. It is possible they did hit innocent children. This is the best that fully trained SWAT members could do. They even remarked, after the shooting, that they were lucky they didn’t shoot each other. Their bullets buried themselves in walls, ceilings, doors and ricocheted down hallways.
This was a response from a highly trained SWAT team. Do you really think that a teacher armed with a pistol and thirty hours of training is going to do better than this?
A teacher, or a SWAT team member, can fire his weapon and the bullet will go through a wall, into the next room.
This is dangerous. This adds to the chaos.
Note that there are frangible bullets that will break up when they hit a solid object. They are sold in California, but they are not used in this training or by SWAT teams in Colorado. Their use could eliminate a small percentage of collateral damage.
When a teacher fires his weapon, he is adding bullets at high speed to an already chaotic situation. He is adding the sound of gunfire, which echoes off of the walls and will confuse anyone in the school. Where do you run when the gunfire is all around you?
It seems very obvious to me that a school shooter will identify the armed teachers and plan for their movements: as the shooters did with the school resource officer at Columbine. When they identify the concealed-carry teachers, they will become the first targets. Killing a teacher who is armed will be relatively easy for a school shooter with a rifle, and that can supply one more weapon to the shooter’s arsenal.
We have not even discussed the many problems that will arise.
Bob the Biology Teacher decides that he doesn’t like the weapon he is allowed to use. He decides to select his own weapon and load his own rounds, to allow for more penetrating power and greater stopping power. Bob will be carrying a very hot .357 Magnum, or a .45 caliber semi-automatic. Bob thinks he needs the added firepower.
Let’s discuss this.
A six-shooter, or a common revolver, has no safety. There is no safety, I repeat, on a revolver. Anyone who picks it up will be able to fire it. That feature makes the weapon an active weapon until it is recaptured or runs out of bullets. Remember that. There is no safety on the revolver.
Now, going to the semi-automatic .45 that he carries, it is complicated, but there is normally a safety. Unfortunately, there are three ways to carry that pistol and still let it be used as a weapon.
Method 1: Carried with bullets in the magazine and no bullet in the chamber. This requires racking the weapon to load a round.
Method 2: Carrying the weapon with a full clip and a round in the chamber, but not cocked. This requires pulling back on the hammer to fire in single-action mode, or using the trigger to fire in double-action mode, after you disengage the safety.
Method 3: Carrying the weapon with a bullet in the chamber, a full clip and the hammer cocked. This allows immediate defensive firing after you disengage the safety. It is also a very risky way to carry a weapon, as it allows inadvertent discharges.
Does that sound a bit complicated? Well, it is, and here is the real problem.
With a semi-automatic, you may train and keep your weapon in one of the above methods. But when the shooting starts and you are facing an instant life-or-death situation, will you remember precisely the way your pistol is set? You have had this pistol in your concealed-carry holster for four months. When the first bullet sound echoes down the hall, will you remember to release the safety? Will you remember that you have a round in the chamber and a full magazine? Do you have a round in the chamber? Will you freeze and forget? This training has to be exact and precise, or you will become the first victim.
SWAT teams train on these details for hundreds of hours, and they have failed us miserably in every school shooting so far. All of the bravado, all of the body armor, hasn’t saved one child yet. Not one.
And that brings up the best point of all: Once the school shooter enters the school, the damage is done. At Arapahoe High School, the shooter walked in and shot a young girl within ten seconds. No teacher was there. The guards were across the school. In fact, nothing could have been done at the Arapahoe shooting after the first ten seconds. It was over. While the young girl lay on the floor, the shooter walked into a room and took his own life. The very brave guards, some of them unarmed, ran toward the sound of the gunfire, showing great courage. But it was to no avail.
We have two windows of opportunity to stop school shootings. The first is a two-to-three-year window where we can stop the bullying, defend the bullied children, identify the mentally ill children, and be proactive in finding these angry and bullied children. If you take away their anger before they walk into the school with a gun, there will be no school shooting.
The second window is the 10-to-25 seconds when an angry young man or woman walks into a school with a weapon. The 10-to-25 seconds before he kills an innocent child. After that, it is too late.
Many of you are unaware of the new attitude by the police, as demonstrated and publicly stated in the Parkland shooting: Mitigate the damage. Yes, it is true.
Mitigating a shooting to lessen the body count is not an acceptable goal. You may not have heard that comment, but it was there. Mitigate the number of dead! That is an ongoing tactic. I believe that one death is too many.
Which window of opportunity do you think we should be concentrating on?
Two to three years, or twenty seconds?
Other serious problems with arming teachers:
Police officers have qualified immunity if and when they shoot an innocent student or teacher. Will your armed teachers have that same immunity? Who will pay the millions in costs from the lawsuit when Bob the Biology Teacher shoots and kills a child or two? Who will pay the costs when Bob shoots another teacher or a policeman? Who will pay for the lifetime of therapy he will need to deal with that error?
Are frangible bullets going to be made a requirement? At whose expense?
What weapons will be allowed for the teachers to used for concealed carry?
Will qualifying at a range be required? Combat classes?
Who will review the accidental-discharge situation? This will happen. It has, in fact, already happened. Last year, a teacher giving a class on gun safety fired a round into the ceiling. An FBI agent dancing at a club in downtown Denver did a backflip, dropped his weapon and picked it up, grabbing the trigger and shooting a man in the leg. And that was a real, highly trained FBI agent, carrying a concealed weapon. He violated so many rules of carrying a weapon, it is laughable. This “trained” FBI officer let the weapon, a semi-automatic pistol, fall from his holster, and then picked it up by the trigger, firing the round into the leg of a bystander. If you do not know that, it is because it has been left out of every article about the shooting. Weapons do not fire themselves. Someone had to pull the trigger. Someone had to disengage the safety, or never had it on to begin with, and in this case it was the FBI agent. Foolish, amateurish and dangerous.
Who will be responsible when the teacher goes out drinking, does a backflip, drops his weapon and shoots an innocent bystander by picking it up the wrong way?
Who will pay for the liability cost when a teacher leaves a concealed-carry weapon in his desk or classroom closet and the weapon is used without his knowledge?
Who will be responsible when the school shooter kills the teacher first and takes his concealed-carry pistol? A pistol allowed on school property by a school board.
How does a SWAT member know if the teacher is a school shooter or a school defender?
Will that question make him delay his fire and either cost him an opportunity to take down a shooter or cost him his own life? We have already seen the scenario in Aurora, where a policeman shot and killed an innocent homeowner in his own house. Remember the Vietnam vet who was killed in Aurora, by an Aurora policeman? Killed in his own home. Repeating that scenario in a school will be easy to do.
In summary: Adding weapons into a school that is chaotic, filled with smoke and sprinkler systems and screaming children, is a bad idea. Pay for extra deputies. Pay for deputy training. Pay for better weapons for deputies. Have a rule where a deputy has to be within four minutes of a school, and add deputies until you can do that. Buy door blockers for the doors that can be installed to secure a door by teachers and students. Install more exit doors and secure them. Teach children to run.
But first: Stop the bullying. Stop creating the hate that makes the bullied children hate the school. Stop the reason for hyper-vigilance and hyper-vigilant revenge. Defend every child in a school from bullying and abuse and humiliation, every day, every hour, every minute. Take away the main reason that these angry children take a weapon to school.
Support SAFE Colorado, the program that is already in place. Increase the funding and expand the program. It is effective. Assign extra deputies when needed. Spend the money for trained policemen.
Let’s hold a brainstorming session and think of options. I will contribute every bit of knowledge that I have.
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But don’t arm teachers. Don’t arm amateurs. Don’t add to the chaos and the death.
Don’t add more dangerous weapons into an environment filled with chaos, weapons and innocent children.
The results will eventually be tragic and full of pain. Don’t add to the tragedy. Don’t add to the pain.
Randy Brown is a Columbine parent. Westword occasionally publishes essays and op-eds on issues of interest to the Denver community. If you'd like to submit one, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.