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Making sense of a seemingly senseless act

There’s a saying that goes like this: &#8220Guns don’t kill people … people kill people”. Unfortunately, all too often a segment of the public uses a gun in the commission of their crimes. This gives weapon ownership by individuals a bad rap. The truth of the matter is automobiles, heart disease, and alcohol and drugs kill a lot more people each year than guns do.

An incident at Farmington High School early last week prompted a lot of discussions about protecting our schools from gun-weilding intruders or disgruntled students. Some parents were outraged that a student would be able to sneak a firearm into the high school undetected. A couple parents I’ve heard from in the past week are calling for metal detectors at the doorways of the school buildings. And, of course, there’s always that segment of the population who believe we should outlaw private gun ownership altogether. Most people I deal with know I like to hunt, so I rarely get the &#8220no gun” opinions thrown in my direction.

As sensible adults we must reason this thing out. Could the school have had measures in place to keep the shotgun out of the building? Should we install metal detectors and pat down students who set off the alarm? Is banning private gun ownership the answer? I say no, no, and a bigger no.

As for school officials catching the student brining the shotgun into the building, all indications are that he gave no sign of his intentions or what he was carrying in his duffle bag that day. From what I gathered he had tried to put the dismantled single-shot 12-gauge H&R shotgun in his backpack. When it wouldn’t fit in the pack he changed to a duffle bag. The gun, a simple weapon to assemble and operate, comes apart in three sizable pieces – the stock, forearm and barrel. The shooter made his way into the building and into a restroom off the main hallway of the school and quickly put the gun together. Having covered the high school for the newspaper in years past, driving by occasionally while enroute to and from work, and being a parent of a teenager I know that students carry all types of backpacks, duffles and sports equipment bags to school. Stopping and searching each student carrying a bag larger than some pre-determined size would be extremely involved and time consuming. Am I saying that it isn’t worth the inconvenience to protect students? Not at all. It would merely be a change from the model under which the school operates now to a more &#8220urbanized” way of operation. In trying to keep the more comfortable, rural feeling in the school district – the beautiful, peaceful hamlet of Farmington – we perhaps give up some more protective measures.

And how about metal detectors? There again, yes the district could purchase and install detectors at all major entrances. But simply installing the detectors is not enough. It would require that each detector be manned by a district employee, security guard or police officer. When a student is discovered to possess metal of some kind he or she would have to be taken aside and questioned or searched until the alarming item could be identified. That means no watches, belt buckles, sports shoes with metal cleats, metal-ringed binders, or even perhaps ink pens or pencils (depending on how sensitive the detectors were adjusted). As most of us know the general practice when going through such a detector search is for anyone who sets off the stationary detector to empty their pockets or purse, bookbag, etc., and try passing through the detector again. If the detector still goes off then a manual search using a hand-held detecting wand is done by passing the wand over the body within a couple inches of clothing. These type searches often turn up small metal items including zippers or undergarment fasteners – which can create some uneasy situations between the one doing the search, the person being searched, and those standing around waiting to get into the building. Duffel bags, backpacks or purses would have to be searched from time to time – raising privacy and legal search issues. Again, are metal detectors the best answer to this situation? Aside from the initial purchase cost factor, the use of the detectors would involve more staff on hand early in the mornings, and delayed movement of getting students inside the building. What problems would that pose during inclement weather. And students come and go from the school all day long. Someone would have to monitor all unlocked doors at all times. Not to mention keeping up the defenses during all school concerts, open houses, and sporting events. After all, someone could smuggle a weapon past the doors during an event and store it inside the building for later use. Are metal detectors used in schools elsewhere with success? Probably to some degree, but we would be trading off the way we’re used to living and operating for a new way of life here.

How about banning private gun ownership? As I understand it the shotgun taken to school last week was an old gun belonging to a family member. In this instance the gun was obviously not secured (or at least not secure enough). But then again the student was 17 years old, no small child by any means. My 15-year-old son has been squirrel hunting with a gun nearly identical to the one taken to school – same make and model – for the past several years. While he hasn’t kept the gun in his room, it won’t be too many years until he will likely have his hunting guns in his own room. I would trust him now to not misuse a gun in his possession, but I couldn’t always say the same for his friends that might be visiting in our home. Still, it’s not unreasonable to think that the gun taken to school last week might not have been totally secured under lock and key. I would hope most parents feel they can trust their children once they reach the age of 17.

In this particular case I think it was a teenager calling out for some affirmation. Perhaps he felt he wasn’t getting enough attention at school or at home. Maybe the bulk of attention he was getting from his peers was negative. Living through the teen years anywhere can be a brutal experience. While it’s true kids say &#8220the darndest things”, they also often say very hurtful things to each other. The &#8220shooter” in this case could have inflicted a lot of damage and grief in a short amount of time if he wanted to – he had the disguise and the firepower, but fortunately decided not to use it to hurt anyone. It’s clear he wanted some attention, but he went about it the wrong way … now he’ll have to deal with the harsh consequences of his actions. To his credit he reportedly told detectives he had no intention of hurting anyone, but instead just intended to shoot out some lights or windows. But even at that he made the wrong decision to take a potentially dangerous item into a crowded school building – and that was wrong regardless of how he planned to use it.

I’m sure district officials will think this situation (and the potential for others just like it) through long and hard in coming weeks. I would hope parents would weigh all sides of suggested improvements before being too demanding that something new be done. A series of public meetings are already under way to discuss safety concerns at the district’s different campuses.

Yes, we all want our children to be perfectly safe when they go out the door to school. Installing metal detectors or requiring mandatory bag searches could mean students would have to arrive at school much earlier, and perhaps wait in a line to be &#8220cleared” before going inside. Having them and their personal belongings subjected to invasive searches from time to time would be something they, and their parents, have to learn to accept. I’m the first to say I don’t have the answer for keeping violence completely out of public places, and admittedly neither do the school officials.

Is it safe to keep guns under lock and key at home but let a teenager drive a potentially deadly car or truck. Or let a child eat sugary snacks and unhealthy meals at home when we know it’s potentially dangerous for his or her health. Perhaps driving and eating habits are absurd comparisons, but both can be just as deadly and a lot more likely than school violence for causing harm to a child. Incidents of random violence have happened throughout the ages and will no doubt continue. The old saying is &#8220where there’s a will, there’s a way”. If we totally locked down the school buildings there would still be occasional violence on the parking lot or the school bus. Eliminate the school setting and the violence takes place on the streets or in the home.

And instilling fear of people and public places is no way to raise a child, either. The bottom line is we, as parents, need to work together with the schools to see that each and every child receives what he or she needs to make their public education as good and safe an experience as possible. District officials will be looking to us to help find reasonable answers to these questions as we all move forward beyond the unexpected turn of events we experienced early last week.

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