(This article first appeared in the American Spectator: https://spectator.org/uvalde-i-lessons-learned-yet-again/)
By: John C. Wohlstetter, Senior Fellow
After the 2018 Parkland massacre, I published the article “Mass Shootings: Lessons Since Columbine.” For those keeping score, we recently passed the 23rd anniversary of that April 20, 1999 horror show, which catapulted school safety into a top-echelon issue.
Disturbing questions remain as to what happened in Uvalde. Several involve the conduct, or failure to act, of law enforcement personnel. Some Texas cops feared getting shot; cops preparing to possibly storm the classroom in which the shooter had taken over initially lacked top-grade ballistic vests; other cops reportedly handcuffed a mom who wanted to go into the school and save her two kids; later, she was released from the cuffs, and she bravely accomplished precisely that. On June 3, the Uvalde school board declined to punish the police chief for his catastrophic failure to order timely action to end the carnage at Robb Elementary School. They made the sudden announcement that the school will be permanently shut down. On June 9, the police chief finally answered questions about the long delay before going into the classroom to take out the shooter. He stated that they could not find the correct key to open the door. Incredibly, there was no master key on the premises. Precious lives were lost as a result of this astonishing oversight.
One off-duty border patrol official was in a barbershop, and upon hearing of the siege, grabbed his barber’s shotgun and rushed to the scene, where he proceeded to rescue his wife and daughter. At the opposite end of the spectrum of reaction, one teacher actually propped open the back door one minute before she heard the shooter’s vehicle crash. Two minutes later, she saw a male carrying a gun. Early reports said that she did not try to close the door, which the shooter then entered. That story changed on June 2, a full eight days after the massacre. The new version is that the teacher, upon hearing gunshots, did in fact close the door. The bad news: She thought that the door locked automatically, when in fact it did not. There was no school resource officer on the premises — who may well have known otherwise and acted in her stead — at the time she committed this fatal error.
A May 29 timeline starts on May 17, the day after the shooter turned 18, when he purchased two AR-15s, plus 375 rounds of 5.56 millimeter (.22 caliber) ammunition. Key revelations: between 15 and 30 minutes before the shooter entered the Robb Elementary school, he made three Facebook posts: (a) he planned to shoot his grandmother; (b) he had shot his grandmother; and (c) he was going to shoot up an unidentified elementary school. He entered the school at 11:30 a.m., the same time a 911 call was made about an armed entrant. Three cops entered at 11:35 a.m., yet for want of a protective vest did not enter. They waited for vests and backup. It was not until the 90-minute mark that the shooter was shot and killed. In all, the shooter fired over 100 rounds.
Another nugget emerged recently: the shop that sold the rifles to the shooter was investigated by the immigration authorities in 2009 for its role in smuggling ammunition to a Mexican drug cartel. National Review’s Jim Geraghty notes that the shooter had numerous violent incidents that could have led to criminal charges and mental health intervention; yet, as often the case, these clear warning signs were ignored.
Columbine to Uvalde: Enduring Lessons
We’ve spent the last 23 years either enacting blunderbuss measures that accomplished nothing in reducing school shootings — or mass shootings in other venues. Our public debates have generated more heat than light. Such failings have been supercharged by mass and, in the past decade, pervasive social media that far from enlightening voters, has too often poured gasoline on the fires.
What lessons should we already have learned and implemented, that would have ended what has for some time been an epidemic of slaughter?
Begin with a pair of post-Uvalde American Spectator articles: Jed Babbin’s “Uvalde and the Lessons We Refuse to Learn” and George Parry’s “Biden Waves the Bloody Shirt.” Babbin has a SEAL friend who recommends having an armed police officer; the officer should have a police dog, trained to attack would-be active shooters.
Parry focuses on the futility of “gun-free” zones (GFZs). His most important point is that GFZs have never stopped anyone; to the contrary, they make preferred targets for killers who know they will not face armed resistance.
Parry also cites a study showing that 97.8 percent of shootings occurred in GFZs. This comports with common sense. Consider the 2012 Aurora massacre of unarmed theatergoers, when 70 people were shot, with 12 dead and 58 wounded by a shooter armed with several firearms. The Aurora shooter’s online postings included that he had decided against attacking an airport because it had “substantial security.” He targeted the one theater out of seven within a 20-minute drive that had posted a sign prohibiting the use of firearms in the theater.
Another huge GFZ event was the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, the largest casualty count for a mass shooting attack at a U.S. military base. The attack, by an Islamist militant, killed 13 and wounded over 30, and was stopped when an armed soldier shot and subdued him. The FBI classified the case as “workplace violence,” despite the killer’s militant Islamic beliefs. The killer had handed out Qurans that morning, and when shooting, shouted “Allah Akbar!” The shooter had self-identified as Palestinian.
A Justice Department 2019 special report focused on the “source and use of firearms involved in crimes” committed by inmates of prisons in 2016. It found that 43 percent of federal and state inmates obtained their firearms off the street or in an underground market; 25 percent obtained them from individuals — sale, rental, or gift; 17 percent from straw buyers, a victim, or another unidentified source; and 10 percent purchased or traded at a retail source (gun shop, pawn shop, flea market, or gun show). Though these numbers differ from others cited, the main message is identical: Only a small minority of criminals get the firearm from gun shops. Parry cited that survey, noting that only 1.3 percent used a gun they had purchased in a retail store, and a mere 0.8 percent had obtained their gun from a gun show.
A few items from "https://spectator.org/mass-shootings-lessons-since-columbine-2/" >my 2018 American Spectator article merit restatement: In Countering the Mass Shooter Threat (2017), Michael Martin, chief instructor at the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, analyzed which mass shootings might have been prevented by five measures proposed by gun-control advocates: (1) magazine capacity limits; (2) an AR-15 or other long rifle sale ban; (3) gun-free zones; (4) universal background checks; and (5) banning gun purchases by anyone on the government’s no-fly and terror watch list. Martin’s overall conclusion was that none of the above gun-control measures would have stopped any of the mass shootings.
Martin cites a model school security program established in 2014 by NetTalon at Indiana’s Southwestern High School. NetTalon’s website includes an NBC Nightly News video and summaries of its threat assessment, which provides actionable intelligence to first responders as well as defensive technology. The latter, NetTalon’s Integrated School Defense System, encompasses passive hardening, real-time network connectivity to law enforcement, and active countermeasures to disorient attackers within 60 seconds of illegal entry.
Such a “best practices” database could be drawn from four online videos by former Army veteran, law enforcement officer, and schoolteacher Ed Monk: Active Shooter Part 1, Active Shooter Part 2, Active Shooter Part 3, and Active Shooter Part 4. For those with limited time, here are his top takeaways regarding school shootings: (1) on average, the shooter shoots one victim every 10 seconds; (2) thus, during the total response time for help to reach the scene, 20 to 50 victims will get shot; (3) mass shooters pick soft targets like GFZs, not police stations; (4) in all but one of the 10 mass shooting cases when an armed person was at the scene and acted immediately, the victim count was under 10; (5) whenever a shooter with a long gun enters a room, there is a good chance of disarming him at the doorway — if properly done; (6) be flexible — don’t apply one-size-fits-all artificial rules; (7) if outside the classroom, run away from the shots; (8) there rarely are second shooters; and (9) armed rescuers should move fast upon hearing shooting, slowly if no shots are being fired.
Two Australian Special Forces active shooter videos show a special forces guy in dialogue with a lay audience, walking them through scenarios and the options that can potentially unfold; each is unique, with most having countless permutations. Perhaps counterintuitively, active shooter instructor Michael Julian said that the two highest mass shooter (not terrorist) body counts — Las Vegas and Virginia Tech — were over in 10 minutes; 98 percent of these incidents are over in 10 minutes, 69 percent in 5 minutes.
In February 2021, the FBI released its 20-year review of active shooter incidents, covering 2000-2019. In all, there were 333 incidents, of which 135 met the FBI’s mass killing criterion of at least 3 killed. There were 345 shooters, 96 percent male, who inflicted 2,851 casualties (excluding shooter suicides). Attacks took place in 43 states and Washington, D.C. Educational incidents totaled 62 (19 percent), from kindergarten through college, with high schools the most frequently targeted. Handguns comprised 63 percent, long guns (rifles) 26 percent, and shotguns 11 percent of the firearms used. In its 2021 edition, the bureau added numbers for 2021, including a “hockey stick” graph showing a steep upturn since 2017, especially in 2021, which showed a 52 percent increase over 2020.
The FBI has an active shooter video that simulates a gunman opening fire in a dark crowded bar. The Department of Homeland Security has an Active Shooter Resource Guide that offers generic advice on mass shootings. The government’s mantra is “Run, Hide, Fight,” with fighting only as a last resort; this is contrary to some private sector consultants who advise that persons close to the shooter intervene immediately if they can. As security consultant Michael Julian writes in his book, 10 Minutes to Live (2021) — those close to the shooter are “low-hanging” fruit who will be shot first.
A 2021 Gallup poll showed that 88 percent of adult gun owners cited self-defense as the primary reason they possess a firearm; a similar Gallup survey taken in 2005 put that number at 67 percent. The total number of concealed-carry permit holders as of late 2021 stood at 21.5 million, a 48 percent increase since 2016, and a 10.5 percent increase since 2020. One million Americans bought guns this May, the 34th consecutive month of record sales.
John Lott, a longtime expert on gun issues, explains how President Joe Biden gave phony numbers after Uvalde, lumping together distinct categories to get a higher overall number; Lott also shows that the assault-weapons ban from 1995 to 2004 did nothing to change the number of mass public shootings, and that after 2004, the frequency of mass shootings went down. Only 11 percent of mass public shootings involve the sole use of a rifle, versus 55 percent involving a pistol. Lott adds: “Since 2000, there has not been any mass school shooting between 6 a.m. and midnight at schools where teachers are allowed to carry guns.” In another post-Uvalde article, he debunks the assertion that white supremacists are the main group carrying out mass shooting attacks; in fact, 70 percent of mass shooters have no discernible ideology.
It should be noted that while assault rifles look like military rifles, they are markedly inferior in firepower; for the past 50 years, military rifles have had a select-fire switch to automatic mode, enabling far higher rates of fire than any semi-automatic weapon can reach. A Middletown District, New Jersey, school board has voted to station a retired police officer at each school in the area starting this fall; the officer must have retired less than three years ago, and carry duty weapons.
Lessons Unlearned: Our “No Can Do” Crisis
Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan flags another major contributing factor to the increasing American inability to learn from past mistakes, a broad-based overall decline in the “can-do” competence for which America was once the exemplar:
I think I am seeing a broad and general decline in professionalism in America, a deterioration of our pride in concepts like rigor and excellence.…
I’m not saying, “Oh, America was once so wonderful and now it’s not.” I’m saying we are losing old habits of discipline and pride in expertise — of peerlessness. There was a kind of American gleam. If the world called on us — in business, the arts, the military, diplomacy, science — they knew they were going to get help. The grown-ups had arrived, with their deep competence.
America now feels more like people who took the Expedited Three Month Training Course and got the security badge and went to work and formed an affinity group to advocate for change. A people who love to talk, endlessly, about sensitivity, yet aren’t sensitive enough to save the children bleeding out on the other side of the door.
Law professor and blogging pioneer Glenn Reynolds sees school shootings as emblematic of endemic incompetence and the consistent failure of elites to hold themselves accountable for massive failures at places like Uvalde and Parkland:
Consequences, after all, are for ordinary Americans. The folks in charge are free to be failures, incompetents and worse with virtually no risk of accountability.
But then, as columnist Kurt Schlichter writes, “The new normal is failure.” “The clusterfark [sic] in Uvalde is just a symptom of a much bigger pathology. It is a symbol of the failure of every institution in our society,” he says. “And the solution is never to revamp the institutions and eject the parasites heading them. It’s always — always — to take power from us and give it to the people who screwed up in the first place.”
Reynolds concludes that voters bear some of the blame: