The other Tuesday night just before midnight my phone woke me. My school district texted, emailed and auto-called to inform me school, which was to start in eight hours, would be canceled due to a “credible” threat.
And credible it seemed. A woman infatuated with the Columbine shooting had come to Colorado and appeared intent on doing harm, although it is now looking like she came here only to harm herself.
What authorities didn’t know was that Sol Pais had already committed suicide. No threat at all. But police and school superintendents made the best call they could with the imperfect information they had. They erred on the side of caution and no one should blame them for it.
None-the-less this woman made a sizable impact. Hundreds of thousands of children were robbed of a day of learning. Parents were forced to miss work without notice. Workplaces went without staff. There was an emotional toll for Colorado and unimaginable grief to her family.
And a precedent has been set. Clever people now know what it takes to shut down almost all schools along the Front Range — create something that seems a credible threat.
And let’s put on the record how the story was reported. Uniformly in all news outlets Sol Pais was labeled a “woman” while the hunt was on. Important to note because when there is noise to raise the age to purchase a long gun in Colorado the media will magically change this woman to a “teen,” “high-schooler” or “young adult” for effect.
The media is rarely inaccurate, but it is almost always manipulative, albeit often unintentionally.
You might not remember but after Columbine there were several copy-cat shootings prompting most mainstream outlets to agree to a policy of not publishing the names of shooters. It was growingly obvious many of these disturbed people were seeking the fame bestowed on the Columbine shooters, who even made the cover of Time magazine.
That policy has been long forgotten or ignored in newsrooms. Who knows how much the lust for Columbine-like fame affected sick people like the Aurora movie theater shooter.
Being close to the 20th anniversary of Columbine the retrospective aspect was all over the media the week Pais came to town. The theme of most pieces seemed to be lament over the lack of gun control since Columbine.
Lacking in most of these “news” pieces was a real dive into the most common aspect of school and mass shootings. They happen almost exclusively in so-called gun-free zones.
Twenty years after Columbine our children still go to school without people armed to protect them. This is unforgivable.
So, when we learn of a credible threat, like Sol Pais, the only reasonable option is to keep our children from going to those dangerous gun-free zones, if it’s not too late.
About 9 percent of Colorado adults have concealed weapons permits. When our kids were banned from the gun-free shooter zones they stayed with us parents. And many of us took them out in the world where 9 percent of the adults may be legally armed, because almost zero of adults in schools were armed.
Since only police — called School Resource Officers — are allowed to protect our children in schools, our kids are left overwhelmingly defenseless. And now we have proof that when a “real” threat comes, the shortage of costly resource officers shuts the system down.
These are our children we’re leaving so vulnerable. Yet we’ll never afford enough resource officers to keep schools open.
After the 9/11 attacks, the Federal Air Marshal Service realized it had the same problem. There would never be enough Air Marshals in planes. So, it accepted help from willing flight crews by training pilots to be armed. About 10 percent of all commercial pilots volunteer to carry concealed guns. They are trained for only one thing — stopping a threat on a plane.
If school staff members were offered similar training — only to stop a shooter in the limited scope of a school, not give traffic tickets, battle drug rings or anything else resource officers do — our schools would no longer be the attractive danger zones they are.
Imagine if 10 percent of school staff was trained and armed like our pilots. Schools would become places of great safety and not be forced to close for threats. Or is your child not worth it?
Jon Caldara is president of the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.
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