News breaks that armed guard present at Parkland shooting never entered the building
In the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., calls to arm teachers have emerged from lawmakers including President Trump. But yesterday’s news that the armed sheriff’s deputy assigned to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Scot Peterson, never entered the school during the shooting, is a stark reminder that even trained law enforcement officers are no match for a shooter brandishing an AR-15.
Peterson was suspended without pay after Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel watched surveillance video from the school. Two other deputies were placed on restrictive duty for potentially mishandling a number of tips about shooter Nikolas Cruz, according to the New York Times. The tips indicated that Cruz was determined to become a school shooter, Sheriff Israel said. Peterson has since resigned.
“He never went in,” Sheriff Israel told reporters in a press conference. He said the video showed Peterson doing “nothing.” “There are no words,” Sheriff Israel said emphatically, and described himself as “devastated, sick to my stomach.”
It’s easy to blame Peterson and to make outlandish claims about what we would do in an active shooter situation. Everybody’s a hero on the internet. And certainly, there are plenty of stories of heroism that came from the victims of the Parkland shooting, many of whom lost their lives protecting other students. But no one knows what they’ll do in this type of terrifying situation unless they find themselves in it.
Instead of blaming Peterson for failing to go up against a shooter with an AR-15, we need to have a serious conversation about how ineffective and downright dangerous the idea of arming teachers actually is.
Peterson isn’t the only officer to retreat from a suspect with a gun. Even expert law enforcement officers struggle to battle their natural instinct to retreat when confronted with a shooter. A 2015 study published in the International Journal of Police Science and Management noted that while officers are trained to shoot within a close proximity, the majority retreat as they draw their weapon. This can lead to deadly results for the officers, since the study also noted that suspects are generally the first to fire.
And when officers do engage in gun fights with suspects, their accuracy rates are surprisingly low. According to a private study commissioned by the New York Police Department in 2008, between 1996 and 2008, officers’ average hit rate during a gunfight was only 18 percent. No matter how accurate you are at a shooting range, the biological effects of fear during a gunfight take over.
If trained law enforcement officers struggle to overcome the effects of fear during an active shooter situation, how can we expect teachers to do so? A teacher with a handgun won’t stop a shooter with an AR-15 and expecting them to try is sending them on a suicide mission.
Even worse, the risk of accidentally shooting bystanders is significant, even for trained officers. In 2013, NYPD officers opened fire on a man in Times Square who was walking erratically and, when approached, reached into his pocket as if reaching for a weapon. The officers fired three shots, none of which hit the suspect; two of them hit bystanders instead. The previous year, the NYPD injured nine bystanders while exchanging gunfire with a suspect. If trained officers are incapable of shooting accurately during a gunfight, the risk of untrained teachers accidentally shooting their students can’t be overlooked.
We ask a lot of our teachers. We don’t adequately fund schools, so they buy school supplies on their own dime. They are expected to arrive early, stay late and sometimes even hand over their own lunches to feed a child who would otherwise go hungry. But none of them signed up to be law enforcement officers, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. And here we see even with trained officers there is no guarantee that anyone will be any safer.
Peterson isn’t Robocop. It’s unrealistic to expect him or any other officer to run into a school with a handgun to try to take down a shooter with an AR-15. His fear isn’t something to shame him for; it’s a normal, rational response to knowing he was only steps away from a murderer. Instead of blaming him for the tragedy in Parkland, we need to focus on the real enemy: a system that lets teens with known mental health issues and a history of aggression legally purchase killing machines.
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