In the days and weeks following a mass shooting, whenever I open my news app, a dark frission runs through me. This troubling, liminal awareness that the top story might be another community’s utter nightmare leaves me longing for fake news and celebrity schlock.
Most of us have lived through automobile- or cancer-related tragedies that rock a community by taking a child, leaving raw sores in hundreds of hearts. Those miseries are bad enough. Now, “crazed sicko” ranks with “lightning strike” as a risk of daily life that we just have to accept for ourselves and our children.
The small, private school my children attend is not exempt from life under the new terrorists. Building intruder drills and police training for the faculty are among the precautions taken to manage everyone’s worst fear.
People tired of the cower in terror defense plan are increasingly seeking out programs like ALICE, which train adults and students in strategic chair-tossing and other ways of disabling shooters. This revival of the American spirit is encouraging, but it also calls to mind an expertise in projectiles already in place throughout our nation. My kids’ school sets an additional impediment to the closets and grief counselors: an armed staff member.
There was a time this would have seemed like willful ignorance to me. The idea presented as conventional reasoning is that if you want to keep kids safe, you keep them as far from guns as possible; a gun has no place at a school. But this view is facile, and many people with an interest in the safety of children reject it.
Let’s Keep Guns From Everyone But Antisocial Criminals?
We all know that God created men, but Samuel Colt made them equal. Only in resentment, arrogance, and deceit could it make sense to disarm the law-abiding in the fight against crime.
How much more evidence do we need that a maniac’s desire for a gun will not be impeded by words on a page? Our current plan is to put a two-inch door between a bullet and our children. If we’re lucky, we might also succeed in extorting acts of supererogatory heroism from unarmed heroes who happen to be both present and willing to attack an armed lunatic with fists or pepper spray.
The armed staff member at my children’s school is not waiting for a moment of crisis in which he will discover whether he is a hero. He has thought this through, inside and out. He is an active hunter and marksman, as comfortable with guns as you are with your shoes. If the Big Bad Wolf strolled into his living room, he would shoot that creep long before he felt his heart pounding. He is more than technically qualified.
The armed staff member is also a mental rock. I believe I am expected to insert some disclaimer here about the frailty of the human spirit, and the unknowable mystery of any human’s mind. Given this expectation, I think it is fair to point out that social dysfunction is a typical characteristic of shooters, even the normal-looking ones like Eric Harris (Columbine) and Steven Kazmierczak (Northern Illinois University, 2008).
Mental Stability Is an Important Factor Here
Downplaying mental illness as a factor in shootings is in vogue among the lords of public opinion, as this eliminates a non-gun-control avenue of responses. The New York Times linked this study to its claim that only 22 percent of analyzed mass killers were mentally ill. However, that same study states, “The majority of mass murderers are persons with paranoid personality configurations (including, at the more severe end, paranoid schizophrenia)—typically associated with a deep sense of disgruntlement and unfairness.”
The author of the study is concerned with precision of technical language in diagnosing psychological conditions, which is how the 22 percent statistic is arrived at. Paranoia is not, strictly speaking, mental illness. But the study can in no way be understood to show that folks who go around shooting other folks are A-OK head-wise.
The author also writes, “Michael Kelleher . . . commented in his 1997 book Flashpoint that mass killers are rarely insane and don’t typically have delusions or the psychotic fantasies of the paranoid schizophrenic; instead, they usually have personality disorders—with narcissistic and paranoid traits such as entitlement, self-righteousness, and resentment. I am in agreement with Kelleher’s position.”
That is an important and useful distinction, as is the author’s caution that identifying high-risk persons is tricky. Most of us are unqualified to formally assess the internal stability of our neighbors. Nevertheless, we can probably all eliminate a large number of our personal acquaintances as likely mass murderers by using common sense.
The common sense of all the parents at my children’s school tells us that our armed staff member is not a risk. It seems unlikely that this “wisdom of the commons” system of judgment would work in a larger community. That’s no reason it should be eliminated from consideration in smaller communities.
Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell How We’re Growing Good Citizens
Common sense also tells us that large numbers of parents are not socializing their children in the way the lords of opinion want. Behind closed doors, parents are telling little boys not to cry and big girls not to dress that way. They are swatting bottoms and warning about getting fat. They are teaching young men and women to show deference to each other in all the ways we’re not allowed to publicly acknowledge are necessary.
They are telling their kids the truth, and in doing so they are raising Scott Beigels and Jon Meises. American moms are pretty far from Sparta, and few of us will tell her son to come back carrying his shield or lying on it. But no Spartan mother sent her son to face the Persians equipped with a closet and pepper spray. It’s perverse to praise Leonidas, then take away his sword.
Worse, we’re not dealing with Persians (who were probably very nice people who simply saw the Peloponnesus differently). In the C.S. Lewis fantasy “Prince Caspian,” one character asks, ‘”Wouldn’t it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started going wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you’d never know which were which?’”
Dreadful to say, this is no longer fantasy. But we do know which men have gone wild inside: the ones who go to schools to shoot people. That’s not the same as a lightning strike. If I knew a rabid lion might show up in my child’s classroom, I’d want a big game hunter there. I’m thankful to have that as a reality. It’s too bad that “Don’t ask, don’t tell” at a school run by someone other than the state is the only situation that allows it.
The author is an occasional Federalist writer who requested anonymity to protect her kids’ and their school’s safety.