December 14, 2019, marked the seventh anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting – tragically, we still have a lot of work to do to protect our children from evil.
December 14, 2019, marks the seventh anniversary of the murder of 20 school children and six school staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Connecticut. In the wake of that horrific crime, I was prompted to write the following editorial about the attack and its implications for the public and law enforcement. My writing was raw and emotional, reflective of the anger and frustration we all felt in the wake of this senseless and depraved attack.
As I reflect on this piece today, I’m saddened and frustrated to note that we haven’t come very far in the years since. Far too many members of the public and the law enforcement community are still willing participants in the fiction that “the police will save you.” At the time, I hoped we could salvage something useful from this tragedy, by using it to encourage real security reforms, but seven years later we’re still trapped in the same cycle. Mental health reforms are still being ignored, true improvements in security protocols, training and infrastructure have been meager, and law-abiding gun owners are still being attacked and blamed for the criminal acts of madmen – who are frequently already “on the radar” but not receiving the proper attention and intervention from law enforcement and medical professionals.
This has to stop. Shying away from the difficult decisions and hard work is getting us nowhere. Ignoring the lessons of Sandy Hook has only brought us more grief in communities like Roseburg, Oregon; Flagstaff, Arizona; Townville, South Carolina; Parkland, Florida; Santa Fe, Texas; Highlands Ranch, Colorado; and Santa Clarita, California. How many of the students in these communities could have been saved if we had made the bold and courageous decision to pursue real safety reforms instead of simplistic solutions that only provided the illusion of safety?
We still have lots of work to do. Let’s get busy, so that next year’s report card tells a better story.
Friday, the 14th of December 2012 was an emotional day, and even now, more than a month later, my mind and heart still haven’t completely settled down. That morning, I had flipped on the news in my hotel room so I could catch the headlines while I stretched for a run. I was greeted by the news of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
EVIL WALKS THE EARTH
A 20-year-old whack job killed his mother, then went on to kill 26 people at an Elementary School, including 20 children. Twenty first graders, to be specific. A whole classroom of them. Twenty children around the age of six or seven years old. We’ve seen the likes of this before, but this one hit me in a very unexpected way. I felt a deeply emotional response to this shooting that I hadn’t felt in the wake of the others. I have always been outraged at incidents like this, but on this one, I was deeply, personally, saddened and disturbed. It brought me to tears and filled me with sorrow and rage like that I felt in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I don’t know why this one hurt so much, why it was so personal. Maybe it was seeing the faces of the parents who were pleading to know if their child was OK, and thinking about what it would be like if I was in their place. Maybe it was the thought that this could have been my wife’s classroom. Maybe it was the thought of the terror and confusion that a six-year-old child must feel when everyone around him is being executed. I don’t know, but it hurts. I’m getting teary again as I write this. I had to turn it off. I went for my run, but my mind stayed locked on a kindergarten classroom on the other side of the nation, and the horrors yet to be discovered and experienced there. When I got back, I turned the TV back on to get an update, like a moth drawn too close to the light. Things were still confused at this early stage and the information was unreliable, but there was no doubt that this was an atrocity that would affect many. I felt a peculiar sense of rage when I saw the images of armed police officers in ballistic vests and helmets scurrying around the scene searching for unknown hostiles. Please understand, I wasn’t mad at them. They were doing what they always do: bravely and professionally responding to a fast-breaking, violent situation to secure the scene. Instead, I was enraged with the futility of it all. The shooter – and his victims – were dead before they ever got there. Fierce-looking men with rifles and armor often seem to show up after it’s over. They bark orders and run around in circles because that’s all there is left to do when the killing has already stopped. It’s not their fault. I know they rushed to the scene as fast as they could, arriving within minutes of the call. I know they did everything they could to save and protect lives when they got there. I know they would have given anything to have been there when it all started, so they could have stopped it. But it doesn’t matter. They were too late.
WHEN EVIL COMES TO CALL
What infuriates me is that this “idyllic little community in Connecticut” – as the idiotic news anchor called it – was a guilty participant in the fraud about their children’s safety. They told themselves that the police could protect them, that they could get there fast enough when evil came to call. They told themselves that an electric door lock could keep evil out. They told themselves that the school was safe, that their children were safe because there was a “No Guns” sign posted on the entrance, which would certainly be obeyed by all. And it was all bullshit. And their children died a horrible, terrifying death as a result. These adults couldn’t bring themselves to face the inconvenient and frightening truth that the police, despite all their skills, commitment and good intentions, cannot be there when it matters. They couldn’t bring themselves to face the fact that when Evil shows up, you’re going to be on your own, and if you can’t defend yourself, you’re going to get hurt, or you’re going to die. Those realities were too frightening, too difficult to manage, so they eagerly bought into an elaborate lie that others would take care of it for them, that others would lift the burden of providing security from their shoulders. Oh! The relief they felt when they learned that they didn’t have to worry about defending themselves or their children because the police would do it for them. They would always get there in time. The locks on the doors would keep evil at bay. The “lockdown drill” would make everybody safe and inaccessible. Fantasy. Dangerous fantasy.
THE TRUE FIRST RESPONDERS
The police officers, firefighters and EMTs call themselves first responders, but the awful truth that they all know deep down inside is that they are not. The citizens involved in these events are the true first responders to just about any tragedy. They are the ones who are first on scene, and bear the initial responsibility to defend and protect the innocent, and tend to the wounded while they’re waiting for the professionals to arrive. Instead of feeding the lie that it’s someone else’s responsibility, here’s what these citizens need to hear from us: The real “first responder” is YOU. YOU are the one who will always be first on scene when the danger comes. YOU are the one who must be the first to respond to danger. YOU are the one who will keep you alive for the three or four minutes that it takes for the police to get there. YOU are the one who needs to be suitably trained and armed to save yourself and the ones you love. That’s a damned scary truth, and many people aren’t ready to face it, but it’s the truth, and no amount of hand-wringing or self-deception will make it go away. All across America, ordinary adults don’t want to face that truth, so they buy into the lie. And they feel better. And secure. Right up to the point where some evil bastard breaks into their children’s school and kills them and their classmates in a matter of seconds. The part that really enrages me is that after it’s all over, they’ll double down on the deceit. Instead of owning responsibility for their own security, they’ll go to even greater lengths to contract it out. They’ll clamor for more police, more guards, more pat-downs at airports, more screenings, more X-ray machines, more laws, more gun control, more government overreach, more locks, more lockdown drills, and more of everything that didn’t work the first time, the second time, or the last million times that innocents were killed by evil men before they could be rescued by the “first responders.” They will recoil in horror at the suggestion that the teachers and administrators that they entrust with their children’s safety should be equipped with the tools they need to ensure that safety. They will balk at the idea that these teachers should be allowed to volunteer for training that would enable them to carry firearms to protect the children in their classrooms from evil. They will reject the idea that responsible parent volunteers should be allowed to do the same, that they could somehow make a difference during those precious minutes while everybody is cowering under their desks, waiting for the police to respond. How many six-year-old children can a madman kill in four minutes while innocents are waiting for the police to come and save them? Put yourself into the shoes of those innocents for a moment. Better yet, imagine that it’s your kid hiding under that desk, your wife waiting to confront the shooter when he comes through the door – wouldn’t you like to give a responsible adult on that campus the ability to stop the attack in the first minute? How many lives could be saved if the killer didn’t have those extra three minutes to rampage?
COAST TO COAST
I mentioned that I was in a hotel when Newtown happened. The hotel was across the street from the Clackamas Town Center shopping mall near Portland (Ore.), where another example of evil incarnate killed two and wounded one in a public shooting just three days prior to the Sandy Hook incident. For whatever reason, I was drawn to it, so I took a walk over there. The emergency vehicles were gone. The TV cameras were gone. The crime scene tape had been removed. On the surface, everything appeared to be back to normal. I walked through the door of the Macy’s department store – the same one used by the killer – and traced the path he took. At the door to the store, I saw a young woman in her early 20s chatting with an elderly man. The young woman wore the uniform of a contract security guard, complete with shoulder patches. She had no weapon of any sort, but had a charming smile as she explained to the elderly patron that “yes, this is where he came into the store.” I briskly walked past them, through the store and towards the exit into the mall, which led directly into the food court area where the murders occurred earlier in the week. The mall exit was staffed by another petite, young and unarmed woman in a security uniform. She looked uncomfortable and vulnerable in it. Her body language was not confident. She would have looked more at home in a “Hot Dog on a Stix” uniform. In the food court, it was business as usual. The blood had been mopped up, and all the tables and chairs righted. I walked into the center, imagining the deafening echoes of a .223 caliber rifle round going off in this space, bouncing off the tile floors, walls and ceiling. I looked around, hoping to see some sign that increased security measures were in effect, but I didn’t see anything of the sort. Another security guard, also a small woman, strolled by in the center of the mall in a more officious looking uniform, complete with Smokey Bear hat and shiny badge. But that was all. No weapon. I saw a kiosk in the center of the food court and approached it. I don’t know if it was a new introduction, or if it had been there on Tuesday, but it was a display with the logo of the Clackamas Sheriff’s Department. It offered various messages and videos about what you could do to stop bullying in schools and secure your valuables from theft. Strangely, there was nothing on it that instructed you on the steps you should take if an armed killer walked into the food court and started shooting. So, is this what passes for a response to an active shooter rampage in America today? Just three days prior, two people lay dead and one lay wounded in this very spot because some whack job went over the edge with a stolen weapon in his hand. Just three days before I stood in that spot! And how did we respond? The mall’s General Manager Dennis Curtis said that “extra unspecified security procedures [would] be in place” according to an NBC (KGW.com) report, but all I saw was a talisman with a Sheriff’s logo on it, and a trio of young women masquerading as defenders. I don’t mean that as a personal attack on these women. I’m sure they were all good people and were dedicated to doing a good job, but none of them were armed with a weapon. This is not an issue of sex – without a weapon and the training to use it, even the largest and strongest of men would be equally ineffective against another crazed killer armed with a rifle.
UNARMED “SECURITY” GUARDS
The best that any of these unarmed people could do would be to serve as a speed bump for the killer to roll over on his way to the target. Although they wore distinctive uniforms that mimicked the look of armed defenders like the military or police, they were neither. Their uniformed appearance might soothe the sheep, but an unarmed citizen with a cell phone would be no less effective, and could summon help as quickly as one of these unarmed security guards with a radio… monitored on the other end by more unarmed personnel. I was reminded of Colonel Grossman’s observation that “an unarmed security guard is not ‘security.’ It is murder.” As for the Sheriff’s display, it didn’t even look like it was sturdy enough to provide cover, and it was too small to be effective concealment. So, this is it? Window dressing in the wake of a multiple homicide? A doubling down on the fantasy that if we look safer, if we feel safer, that we actually are safer? Sadly, there’s an even greater outrage at work here. In the wake of the Clackamas shooting, word leaked out that a citizen with a legally concealed firearm drew a bead on the shooter and caused him to flee from the scene before he could kill more. The heroic and responsible actions of this citizen short-circuited the attack and kept the death toll at two, instead of dozens, but this information has been actively suppressed by the media and those ideologues whose anti-liberty, anti-self-defense agenda could be derailed by a positive example of the value of a responsible, armed citizen.
GRIEF GIVES WAY TO ANGER
I grieve for the families in Clackamas and Newton. I cannot imagine their sorrow, grief, confusion and hopelessness. I pray that God will provide them strength and will ease their pain and will take care of them in the same way that I know he is caring for their fallen children. I also pray for the officers and emergency responders who raced to the scene and encountered the stuff of nightmares. I pray that God will provide them strength and peace as well because we need them in the fight against Evil more desperately now than at any time in our history. But I fume with anger at the opportunist politicians – and clueless citizens – who would argue that the only way to prevent these tragedies from occurring is to add more locks to the doors, ban guns, disarm law-abiding citizens and fuel the delusional fantasy that the responsibility for your personal security can be farmed out to other people, that they will be there when you need them, and that they will be able to defend you against an armed attacker with their portable radio to nowhere. It’s dangerous nonsense. I pray that another parent will never have to wonder if their child is laying in a pool of blood in the middle of their classroom, but I can guarantee that it will happen again if we buy into the lie once more, if as a nation we embrace the deceit because it’s more comfortable to do so than to face the truth and make the hard decisions. This article, originally published 02/07/2013, has been updated.
About the author
Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, serves as a member of the PoliceOne Editorial Advisory Board, and has written the “Tactical Analysis” column at PoliceOne.com since 2014. Mike is the senior editor at RevolverGuy.com, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared at PoliceOne.com. Republished with permission of the author.