Executive Director of Crime Stoppers of Houston
Sunday Mornings with Rania: Mass Shootings - Prevention and Survival
I was preparing for a playdate at my home in Houston when my mom called. I planned to pick up and quickly hang up, having so much to do, but I immediately heard panic on the other end: There's been another shooting . . . in a church . . . many have died, including children. Is this near you?
I ran to the TV. Deadliest mass shooting in Texas . . . Estimates that over 20 have been killed including many children [we now know 26 died] . . . Small quaint town of Sutherland Springs, Texas...
My mom continued, Is this near you?
I replied. No, it's not. But, yes, it is.
News unfolded in the days following the attacks. The shooter point and aimed at crying children and their moms who plead for their lives. And, as a nation, we followed the same post mass shooting playbook - (1) argue over gun control (2) point fingers (3) do nothing (4) repeat steps 1-3 after the next mass shooting.
And yes, after the next mass shooting . . . because at the rate we are going, this will happen again. So here is the bigger question: If this is our new normal, what are we really going to do about it? I was able to have a long discussion with Sandy Hook Elementary School moms Alissa Parker (who recently spoke at the Crime Stoppers of Houston Gala) and her program partner Michelle Gay about this very issue. Both Alissa and Michelle lost their daughters in that terrible shooting just days before Christmas in 2012. Since the tragedy, they founded the nonprofit Safe and Sound Schools and, like me, have chosen to focus on life in the post Sandy Hook world and what we can do to thwart mass shootings and survive them once in them. This must now be our collective focus.
One Miami school agrees. According to CNN, Florida Christian School in Miami is selling ballistic bulletproof panels to go inside students' backpacks. The dean of students and head of school security, George Gulla, has even gone as far as to instruct teachers how to show students to use their bulletproof backpacks in the event of a school shooting. Stating that the bulletproof backpacks would add "another level of protection," the $120 panel is being marketed to all students pre-K - 12th grade.
The school has never had an incident but is going above and beyond in preparation. And while it is shocking and a purchase that would require tons of thought and discussion before I "added to cart," it's one that, at the end of the day, I would be thankful for in the event of an attack.
Here's the reality: Five of the deadliest shootings in US history have occurred in the past 10 years. Orlando, ranked #2, took place in 2016. Las Vegas, ranked #1, took place in 2017 and Sutherland Springs, Texas, ranked #5, also in 2017.
This Miami school is not the only school taking precautions. Following the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, a Maryland university invested in 200 bulletproof whiteboards. Upon further research, it seems that there is an entire industry now dedicated to bulletproof school supplies including: notebooks, computer briefcases, barrier blankets, furniture, raincoats, formalwear and even underwear.
So here we are, in a new world. And there are two issues staring right at each other: Prevention and survival. We must be aggressively focused on preventing these types of tragedies. This means working together to identify and treat mental health issues and tightening legislation that allows those with no prior record but signs of mental health complexities to walk into a store and purchase a gun. And then we look to survival. Gone should be the days where people think this could never happen to them or where they live, in their town, in their schools, places of worship, malls, movie theaters or more. We must embrace a new era of being aware, having a plan, being ready to fight for our survival and safety while continuing to do all the things we love to do.
I go back to my mother's s question: Is this near you? Yes, it is and no matter where you live, it's near you too. The same goes for Sandy Hook, Orlando and Las Vegas. And each incident requires a response. How I wish for my kids and yours that this topic would never be one we were faced with, but that's not the case.
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