Commentary: Let's act now to secure local schoolsI am a proponent of gun control. I think there are too many guns on our streets, particularly assault rifles that seem to have limited utility for the average citizen.
By: Perry Sekus, The Republican Eagle
I am a proponent of gun control. I think there are too many guns on our streets, particularly assault rifles that seem to have limited utility for the average citizen.
I do not believe, however, that gun control will prevent school shootings like the one that occurred in Newtown, Conn., last week. Even with the most stringent gun control laws, someone will always be able to buy, borrow, or steal a weapon to shoot up a school.
We can take immediate and meaningful steps beyond gun control to secure our schools.
In 2002, the U.S. Secret Service completed the Safe School Initiative, a study of school shootings conducted in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Education. The study examined school shootings in the United States since 1974, analyzing a total of 37 incidents involving 41 student attackers. The study involved extensive review of police records, school records, court documents, and other materials, and included interviews with 10 school shooters.
The focus of the study was on developing information about the school shooter’s pre-attack behaviors and communications. The goal was to identify information about a school shooting that may be identifiable or noticeable before the shooting occurs to help inform efforts to prevent school shootings.
The study found that school shootings are rarely impulsive acts. Rather, they are most often thought out and planned in advance.
In addition, prior to most shootings other children knew the shooting would occur - but did not alert an adult. Very few of the attackers ever directed threats to their targets before the attack.
The findings also revealed that there is no "profile" of a school shooter; instead, the students who carried out the attacks differed from one another in many ways. However, almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult — and for many had concerned three or more adults.
Most attackers had difficulty coping with significant losses or personal failures. Many had considered or attempted suicide. Many felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others before the attack.
At the completion of the Safe School Initiative, the Secret Service and Department of Education published two reports with detailed findings that lay out a process for threat assessment in schools - Implications for Prevention of School Attacks in the United States and A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates.
Taken together, the findings suggest that some school attacks may be preventable, and that administrators, teachers, parents, students and others can play an important role in preventing such attacks.
Using the reports’ findings, the Secret Service and Department of Education have developed a threat assessment approach for use in schools — to give school and law enforcement professionals tools for investigating threats in school, managing situations of concern, and creating safe school environments.
Educators, law enforcement officials and others with public safety responsibilities may be able to prevent some incidents of targeted school violence if they know what information to look for and what to do with such information when it is found. These officials may benefit from focusing their efforts on formulating strategies for preventing these attacks in two principal areas:
• developing the capacity to find and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack; and,
• employing the results of these risk evaluations or "threat assessments" in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.
Minnesota has experienced two tragic school shootings in recent history – Rocori and Red Lake. As a member of the Red Lake school shooting federal prosecution team, I witnessed the horrific aftermath of that shooting. The Red Lake shooting exhibited many of the patterns outlined in the Secret Service’s reports.
We cannot just hope that such a shooting will not occur in our district: We need to take purposeful and informed steps to protect our schools. We owe our students, teachers, and administrators at least that much.
Let’s leave the issue of gun control to our elected officials. Our community can take action now — today -— to secure our schools by implementing the recommendations of the Secret Service’s Safe School Initiative.
Our community should assemble a threat assessment team comprising school administrators, teachers, law enforcement, social services representatives, clergy, parents, students and others. While issues of privacy and law enforcement privilege need to be addressed, we can overcome such hurdles in order to potentially prevent the tragic events in Newtown, Conn., from happening in our schools.
Perry Sekus, a lawyer, worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office and a former Red Wing School Board member.