Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2018

Currently: 55° — Complete forecast

Sun editorial:

As gun violence warps daily life, short- and long-term fixes needed

For an example of the madness of gun violence in America, put yourself in the shoes of a teacher when a fire alarm goes off at school.

In days past, the protocol was pretty cut-and-dried: walk the students out of the building down a prescribed exit route to a designated safe spot outside.

Now things aren’t nearly as simple.

Faced with the possibility that an active shooter could pull a fire alarm in order to draw out people from classrooms and make them easier targets, teachers now are told not to immediately evacuate, but to look around, assess the situation and use their judgment about whether it’s safe to go into the hall.

Fire? Or active shooter? Which is it? It’s now up to teachers to decide — quickly, on the fly and with the consequence that the wrong choice could leave untold numbers of people dead.

This is how far we’ve fallen: To a point where we’re forcing educators to make difficult life-or-death decisions every time a fire alarm goes off.

It’s one of several examples of how day-to-day lives have been changed by the threat of gun violence, which is among the reasons that decision-makers at every level need to be working toward gun safety.

One critical step is to continue efforts like the task force that Gov. Brian Sandoval assembled this past spring.

For school shootings, the short-term solution needs to come from a number of angles, such as designing more secure buildings, establishing effective protocols for staff, providing training and optimizing law enforcement response.

There’s no easy answer to this; no one-size-fits-all approach to defending schools and protecting students.

Experts have competing strategies about dealing with active shooters, with some supporting the standard practices of hiding in place, barricading doors and such, but some saying teachers should be encouraged to think on their feet because school shootings don’t play out in identical ways and therefore no two responses can be alike.

There’s not even agreement about whether schools should conduct active shooter drills. Critics say they’re traumatizing for children and are unnecessary, arguing that nobody drills for things like plane crashes or fatal bus accidents, after all.

So, what to do?

What can’t happen is to adopt the NRA mindset that the answer revolves around putting more guns in schools, either by allowing teachers to carry them or by adding armed security officers. Both of those approaches come loaded with potential problems — guns getting into students’ hands, teachers using them inappropriately, innocents being shot.

While there may be some merit for schools in far-flung areas where law enforcement response can take a while, guns in schools are worrisome.

So it’s critical that we keep talking, refining and exploring new ideas. That discussion must happen at a big table, too, that includes school administrators, elected leaders, school principals and faculty, medical and mental health professionals, law enforcement authorities, first responders, parents and — this is important — students.

Meanwhile, lawmakers need to keep working on long-term measures to address gun violence. Those includes banning military-style assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, and adopting universal background checks on weapon purchases.

This isn’t just a matter protecting children at school. All of society needs protections from weapons of mass slaughter that have no sporting rationale and are based on weapons designed with the sole purpose of maiming or killing on the battlefield.

Our weak reaction to the issues behind school shootings underscores a disturbing trend in our society — we’ve been talked into the idea that powerful anti-personnel weapons that can kill dozens of people in seconds are somehow protected and we simply have to endure the slaughter. Neither is true. We should never accept the idea that it’s OK that people are occasionally slaughtered, and the Second Amendment will survive measures like bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

One more disturbing sign of the times: Some teachers have called for schools to stock every classroom with gauze, tourniquets and other medical equipment, specifically for treating shooting victims.

While it’s painful to say it, in the short term that’s a good idea.

But turning classrooms into MASH units, expecting teachers to provide trauma care and forcing them into roles as public safety officers is simply insane.

So let’s keep talking. And lawmakers, get busy.