Editorial cartoon

The Enoch Brown School Massacre occurred on July 26, 1764, near present-day Greencastle, Pennsylvania, during the Pontiac War. It was likely the first school massacre in what would become the United States. Four Delaware American Indians entered a schoolhouse and shot and killed schoolmaster Enoch Brown and killed nine children at close range with melee weapons.

In Littleton, Colorado, on April 20, 1999, 18-year-old Eric Harris and 17-year-old Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher. Both committed suicide at the end of their massacre. It was the first of many during our modern era. The violence hasn’t abated. This past Valentine’s Day, Nikolas Cruz, 19, killed 17 students and teachers with an AR-15 assault rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Our nation grieves for their families and the community of Parkland, Florida.

Early in the 1980-81 school year during my conference period at the junior high where I taught, I noticed two strange men walking down the school hallway. They stopped at one classroom and opened the door to enter but hesitated, walked to the next classroom instead, opened that door and then went inside. I followed to enter the room in time to hear them asking the young female teacher if they could talk to her students for a moment about a fund-raising project. I interrupted to mention that they first needed permission from our school office to visit the classrooms while school was in session.

I then watched as they headed toward the front of the school and the principal’s office. But instead of turning left to go inside the office, they suddenly exited the school building at a rapid pace. They started their car’s engine and began to back out of the parking space as I approached. They had rolled down their windows since it was still summer. I told them to turn off the car and come inside with me so we could get them checked out.

“Go to hell,” the driver told me, and began to drive off. I reached inside and grasped for the ignition switch on the steering column to attempt to jerk out the key. The car lurched forward with me holding on to the driver’s door as the driver attempted to wrest my hand off the steering wheel while driving forward at maybe 30 miles per hour. Luckily he had to slow down to turn right onto Belt Line Road from the school’s visitor parking lot, but the force of his turning threw me off the car. I landed on pavement, rolled and skinned up my hands, arms and elbows. Fortunately, I sustained no head injury.

If police were able to track down the trespassers, I never heard about it. I suspect I reported an incorrect license plate number. And so I became the object of jokes from some members of our closely knit faculty. But if we could have peered into a crystal ball to see the present-day dangers that confront our school children, that trespassing event might not have seemed so humorous to us but rather a grim harbinger of the future.

In our attempt to prevent more school massacres, we should consider various strategies: Arm and train teacher volunteers willing to protect students from a shooter; hire and give refresher training to retired law enforcement officers (not cowards) or military veterans with combat experience to guard schools; limit the number of school entrances to one or two during the school day and install metal detectors at those entrances; use security cameras to scan the school grounds and perimeter; and add bulletproof windows and automatic locks to classroom doors. Architects could begin to design school buildings with rooftop trapdoors for inserting SWAT teams and terrorist-fighting drones — something school boards ought to consider in future bond issues to build new campuses. These expensive measures are admittedly daunting, evoking images of a third-world country with armed militia standing on street corners.

Other solutions? First, let’s get better at enforcing gun laws already on the books. We should pass the Fix NICS Act legislation to keep more criminals away from guns (though Cruz still would have been able to purchase his AR-15 since he wasn’t on any of the prohibitive lists). This legislation, co-sponsored by Republican Sen. John Cornyn, would pressure states, federal agencies and military branches to cooperate by submitting all their criminal records and keeping them current. And let’s require those background checks at gun shows, too.

However, imposing harsh gun restrictions on law-abiding citizens makes those citizens more vulnerable to criminals who, after all, ignore laws and purchase modified guns on the black market. And our police need weapons more lethal than those used by the criminals and gangs. We can outlaw bump stocks and raise the minimum age for possessing assault weapons with an exemption for the military, of course. And certainly we need to educate citizens on how to observe and report to law enforcement suspicious neighbors or persons we observe in public and on social media who exhibit criminal behavior or psychological problems before they commit violent acts. We must intensively interview those shooters who survive and study them thoroughly to attempt to illuminate a common thread among them or reveal root causes as to why they go on homicidal-suicidal rampages.

If guns are unavailable but the evil intent remains, these sociopaths will use bombs or poison gas canisters or any number of substitute potential weapons of mass destruction for their massacres.

Some of us fear too many of our young people are being raised without adequate moral guidance, a sense of self-worth or purpose in life. Their souls, possibly bereft of any sense that God dispenses eternal punishment for evil but offers eternal reward for goodness, can be workshops for the devil. Our country’s culture of death and glorification of violence has and will continue to contribute to this horrific problem. If we can’t figure this out, the future looks grim.

Mike Miller is a retired teacher and Army veteran who served in Vietnam. He lives in Hewitt.