After the shooting in Newtown that left 20 elementary school students dead, the National Rifle Association responded with a proposal for what it called National School Shield program. The idea, said the organization’s leader, Wayne LaPierre, was that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” The shield program aimed to put an armed guard in every elementary school in the country to protect children from the next deranged killer.
The Navy Yard shooting exposes a fallacy in that argument. A military facility, the Navy Yard had plenty of good guys with weapons who were nonetheless were unable to stop Aaron Alexis, the alleged shooter, from killing a dozen innocent persons. In the coming weeks, we’ll learn more about Navy Yard security and how Alexis was able to thwart it. (We’ll also learn more about how he obtained his arms, but let’s leave that aside for now.)
True, the Navy Yard is not a heavily armed facility. It’s not like, say, walking into a military base in the U.S. let alone onto a war zone. But neither was it the kind of gun-free school zone that the NRA has described as an inviting target for crazed shooters. It was at least as heavily armed as we can expect any elementary school could ever be under the National School Shield program. And yet, carnage.
The NRA is in some sense right that guns stop mass shooters — although in Atlanta this year, a deranged man with weapons was talked into surrender by a savvy, quick-thinking administrator. Still, guns stopped Alexis, not pleas. In that sense, La Pierre is right.
But it’s also true that shooters seem eminently capable of wreaking carnage before they can be stopped by on-site, armed personnel. This was true in the shooting at the U.S. Army’s Fort Hood base and at Columbine High School, which had an armed guard. By the NRA’s own logic, unless virtually every teacher in a school, or person in an office, is packing heat and is trained to use their weapon, a determined shooter can sow havoc before their weapons are silenced
After Newtown, La Pierre looked to retired police officers, among others, to be enlisted so that there would be a guard in every elementary school.
There may be a good argument for having armed guards in schools and many have chosen to provide such protection, but the idea that guards alone will prevent mass shootings isn’t one of them. If the United States Navy couldn’t take out a mass shooter before he—and it’s always a he—does his deranged work, can a guard?