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Words from Winterbilt

Tragedies, Politics, and Solutions

Shannon Bohrer

(2/2013) Before Christmas there was a shooting at an Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This was a horrific event and the news media covered it for weeks. First, I would like to offer my condolences and sympathies to the families that lost loved ones, to the other victims, witnesses, first responders and to the entire town. This was one of those events that shock our conscious. It was something we could not have imaged and even if we could and even had prepared for it, the experience exceeded anything we could have envisioned. And we weren’t even there.

In response to this tragedy there has been talk of legislation to eliminate the sale of "assault weapons" and extended magazines, as well as requiring background checks for gun buyers at gun shows. The argument is that if specific guns were banned and if magazines had limited capacity, the tragedy in Newtown would somehow not happen again, or it would be less likely to occur, or there would be fewer deaths. In response to these proposals, the other side of the argument suggests that we allow teachers to carry guns and we should have an armed security guard at every school. The idea behind this is that an individual would not attack and/or the attack would be repelled.

The following is a brief history of school killings:

  • Bath Township Michigan, Bath School Disaster of 1927— 38 children killed, ages 7 to 14, 2 teachers and 4 other adults were killed and 58 people were wounded. The incident occurred when a school board member set off a series of bombs.
  • Austin Texas, August 1966— a sniper (former marine) took to a tower on the campus of the University of Texas and killed 16 people.
  • Colorado, Columbine High School, April 1999— two students killed 12 other students and a teacher, and they wounded 33 others. The school police officer, a local Sheriff’s deputy, exchanged fire with the killers.
  • Red Lake Minnesota, 2005— a student killed his grandfather and grandfather’s girlfriend then drove to the high school and killed 7 more people, including a teacher and a security guard. The security guard was unarmed.
  • West Nickel Mines School, Pennsylvania, October 2006— a gunman entered a one-room, Amish schoolhouse and killed 5 girls, ages 7 to 13, and then killed himself.
  • Virginia Tech University, April 2007— a lone gunman killed 33 people, including himself.
  • Northern Illinois University, 2008— an armed student kills 6 and wounds 21.
  • Oikos University/Chardon High School, Oakland California, 2012—a gunman killed 10 people.

Keep in mind these are school shootings where multiple individuals died— they do not include incidents with single deaths or no deaths, and they also do not include killings in malls, churches or other locations where shootings have occurred. Other than the Bath Township disaster, where the school board member used bombs, all of the killers used long guns and/or hand guns and at Columbine the offenders also used bombs.

"It was something we could not have imaged and even if we could and even had prepared for it, the experience exceeds anything we could have envisioned."

With the press coverage of the Newtown shooting, the horrific crime, and the aftermath that continues, it was expected that political responses would be offered. Given our history of this problem you see how the issue has been successfully resolved in the past, so my optimism for the future is cautious at best.

While the politics are expected, this tragedy in Newtown has given new life to old discussions, specifically the second amendment. When the Second Amendment was written, it gave people the right to keep and bear arms. However, the "arms" of the day were smooth bore muskets. I don’t believe the Second Amendment was ever intended to give the right of the people to keep anti- tank weapons or surface to air missiles (SAMs). And when it does come to gun control, where is the line drawn? A reasonable person might believe that a citizen can own a single shot .22 caliber handgun but not a rocket propelled grenade (RPG). So where do we draw the line?

Eliminating the assault type weapons and large capacity magazines sounds good, and maybe it is, but if you examine the incidents listed above, the weapons most commonly used were handguns. Conversely, the proposal that we have armed guards/teachers at every school will not eliminate the problem. It has been reported that about one third of the schools in the country already have armed security, and some of those have been attacked, the most notables being Columbine and Virginia Tech. If arming individuals in schools is an answer, do we arm individuals in malls, churches and work places? What about kindergartens?

What we need is a non- political perspective of this problem. Something like; an individual person, with the intent to kill/injury numerous persons in a school, (or other public places) that has access to firearms is the problem. The question then becomes how do we create new laws that will address this? How many unstable individuals have had plans for attacking a school, but they could not access a firearm? How many individuals had plans and access to weapons, but the plans were discovered and the assault prevented?

I am not supporting and/or opposed to limiting guns that a citizen can purchase, nor am I for and/or against having armed officers in public schools. While both suggestion may help, both can also have unintended consequences. In some cases the consequences can make the problem worse – and in other cases they could create new problems. What we need are clear heads, without political agendas.

"Given our history of this problem you see how the issue has been successfully resolved in the past, so my optimism for the future is cautious at best".

I was in law enforcement for 42 years and was and continue to be an instructor in criminal justice topics, including firearms/weapons. Because of the strong emotions associated with this event I intentionally waited to comment on the suggested solutions. No law can eliminate a similar event, but that does not mean that we cannot do something. Hopefully, something that works.

Read other articles by Shannon Bohrer