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Gresik: Armed school resource officers present immediate relief to gun violence

Dylan Gresik, Columnist

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Dixon, Illinois and Santa Fe, Texas. Two towns and two high schools. Two ordinary school days and two different end results.

These towns — roughly 1,000 miles apart — took divergent turns vis-à-vis the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our schools. The former saw tragedy prevented and lives saved, while the latter suffered an attack so heinous that we are still struggling to process it.

The now all-too-familiar sound of gunshots rang out last week at Santa Fe High School in Texas, as an armed student opened fire, leaving 10 people dead and the American public collectively uttering an anguished, “Again?!”

Santa Fe High School is the latest community to join a network of heartbreak no one wants to join: sites of school shootings. Fortunately, Dixon High School avoided this fate after an armed school resource officer stopped a potential shooter.

After the horrific scenes from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, it seemed as if the nation finally proclaimed, “Enough is enough,” and “Never again,” with certainty. The March for Our Lives on Washington drew hundreds of thousands of supporters, and close to a million more walked out of classrooms across the country to protest this unacceptable new norm.

But, that “never again” happened again. So once more, we must ask ourselves: Have we really done all we can to protect our students?

Schools continue to be so-called “soft targets,” vulnerable and unprotected locations susceptible to mass casualty attacks. According to the National Center for Education Statistics’ 2015-16 “School Survey on Crime and Safety,” an annual study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education, only 42.9 percent of all public schools had armed school resource officers, defined as “career sworn law enforcement officers with arrest authority, who have specialized training and are assigned to work in collaboration with school organizations.” This comes out to be only 35,900 schools out of the 83,600 public primary, middle and high schools across the country. In addition, only 4.2 percent of all public schools utilize metal detectors at their entrances, an actual decrease since 1999 according to the 2013-14 report.

Andrew Pollack, founder of Americans for Children’s Lives and School Safety, who lost his daughter Meadow in the MSD shooting in February said this weekend, “There’s layers of security. …You’ve got to have limited entry points. You need metal detectors, and you need armed guards. It’s really three layers of security to protect our kids.”

The recent incident in Dixon, Illinois, should set a precedent for immediate steps to mitigate risks of shootings and “harden” these soft targets. An armed SRO assigned to schools is an actionable step to reducing or preventing further violence. I am not saying the presence of an SRO is the “golden ticket” solution to school shootings. Nor am I advocating for teachers in classrooms to be armed. Simply put, requiring schools to staff an armed SRO is a responsible and potentially life-saving measure that can be swiftly adopted and implemented to provide an effective deterrent to would-be shooters.

Inevitably, calls are again being made for a complete and total ban on — even forceful confiscation of — “assault rifles” and other “military-grade” weapons. These weapons, however, are neither assault rifles nor military grade, as fully automatic weapons have been legally restricted in the United States since 1934. Some will argue that banning access to semi-automatic weapons will decrease the potential for shootings across the board.

With an estimated 8.5 million to 15 million AR-15 style rifles in circulation, it would be nearly impossible to quickly seize and destroy every one. Most importantly, these demands ignore the underlying causes beleaguering our youth, shift the blame from the perpetrator to the weapon and fail to accurately and swiftly address safety concerns.

Banning semi-automatic rifles will not miraculously cure the malady of evil that continues to plague our society.

The most recent perpetrator at Santa Fe High School did not even have such a weapon, instead carrying an illegal shotgun, a handgun and a homemade pipe bomb. Blaming the National Rifle Association or responsible gun owners will not lead to a comprehensive plan of action that brings together all sides. Underlying cultural and social problems must be examined to understand the trend of violence in our youth. The possession of firearms is no new phenomenon in America. Nonetheless, our communities and our children deserve better, and our students deserve to feel safe in their schools.

The heroic actions of Officer Mark Dallas from Dixon demonstrate the effectiveness of armed SROs in thwarting potential tragedies. Placing these officers in schools throughout the country is an immediate, effective step to increase security for schools and students.

The following are the names of the victims from Santa Fe High School. While the debate about how to best protect our schools is intertwined with the gun debate, we should not lose sight of the great human cost that has brought this discussion into the national spotlight.

Glenda Anne Perkins, teacher
Cynthia Tisdale, teacher
Jared Black, student
Shana Fisher, student
Christian Riley Garcia, student
Aaron Kyle McLeod, student
Angelique Ramirez, student
Sabika Sheikh, student
Christopher Stone, student
Kimberly Jessica Vaughan, student

Dylan Gresik is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at dylangresik2020@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.com. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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