Statewide, coordinated training could deliver on reducing loss in a school shooting

Second Amendment

The public, in all likelihood, assumes too much.

Take, for example, the people of Uvalde, Texas, and specifically the parents of children who attend Robb Elementary School. We’d bet those parents assumed the educators they entrusted their children to and local and regional law enforcement agencies had developed extensive plans for responding to a violent attack on local schools.

For understandable reasons, public agencies don’t go around blabbing about what their security procedures are. That has a dual effect: It wisely prevents anyone intent on violence from obtaining critical information and it likewise prevents the public from evaluating whether officials have actually done enough to provide security.

It’s not as though schools aren’t known to be potential targets for weak-minded, angry, immature and violent young (mostly) men that our gun culture society practically issues military-style weapons. Yes, that’s hyperbole, but reflective of the ease with which young shooters have been able to acquire their mini-armories as the prepped for battle with unarmed children and teachers.

Here in Arkansas, we know this, or at least we think we know this: Ain’t nobody going to do anything about guns, because even lifting a little pinky finger in that direction is tantamount to repealing the Second Amendment.

And, you know, we agree that guns don’t kill people. They’re just inanimate objects. But guns do make it possible for people who want to kill people to do it quickly and with a maximum level of carnage. Somewhere between “collect all the guns” and “you can have my guns when you pry them from my cold, dead fingers” there is room for a reasonable response, but NRA messaging has convinced a lot of folks those are the only two choices.

But that’s not what today’s meanderings are about. As we suggested, Arkansas leaders pondering ways to keep what happened in Uvalde from happening anywhere in this state would be shut down in a heartbeat if they started talking limitations on gun access. So they won’t.

What Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s School Safety Commission is preparing to recommend, this newspaper reported a few days ago, is use of Texas State University’s Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training as a unified, statewide response plan for school shootings.

The university’s Rapid Response Training Center is the agency that issued a damning review of the law enforcement response at Robb Elementary School. It determined officers who responded to the school had multiple opportunities to slow or stop the gunman before he killed 19 students and two adults.

That center has developed a training regimen that ranges from the law enforcement response to civilian training in emergency triage for wounded people.

David Hopkins, superintendent at the Clarksville School District, told the commission his armed staff have received the TSU training. “From the beginning, they are taught to go to the gunfire and stop the killing,” he said. “Whether that is by tying him up by keeping him occupied until the cavalry get there or you stopping them.”

Go to the gunfire and stop the killing. It’s awful that such a phrase has to be uttered in talking about school safety. But it’s a harsh reality. And the people of Uvalde, Texas, assumed that’s exactly what law enforcement officers would do. But the officers waited … and waited … and waited.

Let’s not make it sound easy to run toward the bullets. It’s not, and most people facing such life-threatening circumstances will be tempted to run in just the opposite direction. But the soldiers of our military and the officers of our law enforcement agencies are, at their best, men and women of valor who put their lives at risk every day for the safety of the communities they serve. Having a school-focused training program implemented statewide will help ensure that when the moment arises — and we pray that day never again comes — the officers who respond will be at their best. And that the educators have knowledge of how to react, too.

Arkansas has so many political subdivisions and fiefdoms it can be extraordinarily difficult to create a unified and consistent level of training statewide. Across 75 counties and more than 500 incorporated cities, there are 261 school districts and more than 1,000 public school buildings. The state has more than 200 law enforcement agencies.

Public officials tout cooperation all the time, but the reality is it only goes so far. There’s also a lot of turf protection that goes on.

Here’s the most important fact, though: Protecting children is everyone’s turf.

If the School Safety Commission proposes this statewide training regimen, we have no doubt some advocates of gun control will grouse that their final report doesn’t adequately deal with guns and who has access to them. We’re certainly not suggesting they don’t have a point. But progress is made by doing what is possible when it’s possible.

Implementation of a statewide protocol for rapid response in the event of a school shooting will increase the chances that all Arkansas law enforcement agencies will know what to do and can do it together. It may not be a perfect response, but what increases the chances of success in saving lives is worthwhile even if it doesn’t go as far as some might want.

Arkansas needs to take important steps to ensure no community within its borders will be the next Uvalde.

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