My Response to Commentary on the Shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland FL
By Ken K. Gourdin
I responded to City Weekly writer Aspen Perry’s feature, “Safety First,” in which she decried opposition to young activists agitating for gun control in light of the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Ms. Perry’s piece can be found here (this and all other links last accessed October 18, 2018): https://www.cityweekly.net/utah/safety-first/Content?oid=8383261. My response, as it appeared on line at City Weekly’s Web site here: https://www.cityweekly.net/utah/feedback-from-april-12-and-beyond/Content?oid=8570363.
I responded to Ms. Perry thus:
Yes, it’s important to listen to those who are traumatized by school violence. While it’s true that I was never the victim of an active shooter at school, as someone with a disability who was “mainstreamed” in school from day one, I was regularly the target of teasing, taunting and, in some cases, physical intimidation during my early school years. No school official responded effectively to the problem until junior high.
While the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School is tragic—and while it indicates we still have a long way to go—we’ve come a long way since my elementary school experience many years ago. No matter where one stands on the issues of gun control or of how to prevent and to respond to school violence, one should neither vilify those who favor solutions which are different than the ones s/he favors, nor should one dismiss the legitimate fears and concerns of victims. Such actions are not conducive to effective public dialogue, nor do they contribute to the search for solutions.
Any school which—or any official who—instills unnecessary fear in students while attempting to prepare them for an active-shooter situation is doing it wrong. It’s important to discuss probability when preparing for such events: While preparation is important, the likelihood of a huge number of (still unlikely) untoward random events occurring in students’ lives still is greater than the chance that any of them will face an active-shooter situation at school.
Broward County, Fla., Sheriff’s Cpt. Jan Jordan, who instructed deputies to not enter the school, did exactly the wrong thing in responding to [the shooter’s] rampage. Apparently, she forgot that—while it’s true that, as the title of an old Adam-12 episode pointed out, “A dead cop can’t help anyone”—her first priority, rather than keeping her deputies safe, is to keep the public safe. That’s why the old advice of responding to active-shooter situations: “Set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT,” was abandoned nearly 20 years ago after the Columbine High School shooting.
The contrast between law enforcement’s response to [the shooter’s] rampage and its response to Sulejman Talovic, who began indiscriminately shooting patrons at Salt Lake City’s Trolley Square on Feb. 12, 2007, is instructive. While it is tragic that lives were lost on both occasions, in the latter case, officers didn’t simply “set up a perimeter and wait for SWAT.” Rather, the first officers to arrive on the scene immediately sought out and confronted the shooter, saving numerous lives in the process.
The post-9/11 advice of, “If you see something, say something” was followed by a tipster who reported to the FBI that [the Parkland shooter] said on social media that he wanted to be “a professional school shooter.” One of the challenges of “the wild, wild web” is that such information can come from anyone and from any place, which makes it difficult to follow up on. However, the FBI admitted that the tip was mishandled, while, by contrast, stories of law enforcement and school officials taking similar information seriously and of responding effectively make the news regularly. Perhaps officials in Florida and elsewhere can learn from them.
Ken K. Gourdin,