Philip Holloway: Could school leaders have done more by providing more security for students?
We can learn from this tragedy what we can do to improve security in schools and other public places
Editor’s Note: Philip Holloway, a CNN legal analyst, is a criminal defense lawyer who heads his own firm in Cobb County, Georgia. A former prosecutor and adjunct professor of criminal justice, he is former president of the Cobb County Bar Association’s criminal law section. Follow him on Twitter: @PhilHollowayEsq The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.
On Thursday, America collectively wept as we witnessed another horrendous mass murder, this time at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where 10 people were killed and numerous others were injured.
Almost immediately, the gun control debate flared up again with strong opinions on both sides. I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment and the Constitution. I am also a supporter of background checks for gun sales and mandatory training before granting a concealed carry permit.
That being said, now is not the time to debate the politics of guns.
Now is the time to support those grieving in Oregon as best we can, and to learn from this tragedy what we can do to improve security in schools and other public places.
With or without guns maniacs hell-bent and determined to cause murder and mayhem will always find a way to do harm. Their targets are almost always places where people are most vulnerable, i.e., a church in Charleston, South Carolina; military areas in Chattanooga, Tennessee; an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut; and a high school in Columbine, Colorado.
When mass murderers decide, for whatever twisted reason, to kill people, the tool they choose to do their deed can be practically anything.
Consider the Daegu subway fire in Japan in 2003, where 192 people were burned to death and nearly as many injured. It was the work of an arsonist. Or Sitka, Alaska, where 4 people were stabbed to death by a man with a knife in 2008. And Jonestown, Guyana, where a religious leader poisoned his “congregation” and killed over 900 people in 1978.
The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world by a wide margin. It’s estimated that one third to half of American households contain at least one firearm. Sadly, the U.S. also has a very high – if not the highest – rate of homicides in the world.
Nonetheless, gun murders have been declining in the U.S. Gun aggravated assault is also down despite the fact that gun ownership is on the rise across the nation.
I regularly enter small municipal traffic courts that have much more security than your average school. UCC had one unarmed security guard on duty, and school policy prohibited teachers and students from possessing even water guns let alone an actual firearm for self-defense. Apparently, there were no locked doors nor metal detectors. In other words, there was no meaningful security whatsoever.
To be clear – there’s only one person to be blamed for the UCC shooting – the gunman. But could school leaders have done more by providing more security for students? Without meaningful security, the students are defenseless.
Meaningful security exists in courts, public buildings, and even at major media organizations. To me, it’s a moral obligation to provide security. To put it another way, even sheep have sheepdogs. Shepherds for millennia have realized the wisdom of protecting their flock from deadly predators, yet schools and colleges across the nation can’t seem to absorb this ancient wisdom.
Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County in Oregon told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on “New Day” that now is not the time to get into the politics of guns and gun control and I wholeheartedly agree with him. I suspect that even after Thursday’s tragic massacre at Umpqua Community College, Sheriff Hanlin’s views on gun control have not changed since he famously declared that he would never comply with any new gun control laws following the Newtown school shooting.
I also suspect that his opinions about lunatic mass murderers likewise remain unchanged. I’ll go out on a limb here: I strongly suspect that Sheriff Hanlin wishes he had been in charge of security at UCC. Perhaps, if he had been, we wouldn’t be talking about this.