Note: This is my weekly syndicated column.
It’s happened again, this time more horrible than the last.
In Newtown, Connecticut, 20-year-old Adam Lanza killed his mother then went on a killing spree in Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 children and six adults. The details are horrifying.
The president called upon the country not to politicize this, and of course everyone did. There are calls for gun bans, or arming teachers, mental health programs, early intervention. Many have merit, none will ever be 100 percent effective.
In the outpouring of grief we need to keep mind of a few things. One is that spree killings are not increasing, and in fact have remained relatively constant for the last two generations.
What’s changed is our awareness of them as a nation, and I think that speaks well of us as a people. That strangers across this huge country are touched by the tragedy of people they will never meet, and want to reach out to them.
All of us with children can empathize with the searing pain of loss experienced by the parents and families of those innocent children. The president looked close to breaking down as he addressed the nation. I know I was when I saw the news on television.
We’ve shared grief and pride when we heard about the heroism of the principal who rushed the gunman without hesitation, teachers who hid students, one who died shielding them with her own body, a quick-thinking custodian who rushed through the halls giving warning.
What we have to cling to for the sake of our sanity is, keeping in mind the chance that our own children will become victims of a spree killer is statistically insignificant. Logically speaking, we should worry about them more during a lightning storm.
None of this matters to those who lost loved ones at all. For each of those who died, the world was damaged forever for many more.
The horrifying thing for us who are not there is not how likely, but how terrifyingly random it is. We cannot know when, or where someone will decide they want to die, and that they don’t want to die alone.
That’s all we can really know for sure about the motive of the suicidal spree killer. And one thing more. When someone does make that leap into darkness they will chose soft targets, large concentrations of vulnerable people.
I don’t propose to discuss the merits of the suggestions involving firearms or early intervention here. That we will have to work out over a long time, and consensus will be hard to reach.
But one thing I think we should think about now is how to harden the targets.
As a journalist I’ve accompanied police on school lockdown drills. I remember walking down a hallway with the officers, passing by one classroom where they looked through the window glass on the door to see students laughing, not taking it very seriously.
And I remember the grim matter-of-fact way the cop said, “Well they’re all dead in there.”
Every school has mandated a number of fire drills per school year. I’m old enough to remember the “duck and cover” bomb drills of the early nuclear age. One thing we could do now is to institute lockdown drills in all schools, do them regularly, and take them seriously.
Then we can discuss whether we should offer salary bonuses to teachers for putting in the time to get their firearms training and carry permit. That’s going to be a hot button issue for some time, but surely we can agree on the first step.