This may not be a popular opinion to put out there, but as a mom and a reasonably serious gun owner — I’ve made it my entire career, after all — it needs to be said. If you have kids, you are responsible for giving them the tools to make it in life, and that includes teaching kids of all ages what to do if they’re ever faced with an active killer.
Does that seem harsh? Too bad, because what gun owners and parents need is a far greater grasp of the enormous importance that training and preparation play at all stages of life.
I am in no way victim shaming here. As someone who has lost a child and with a friend who just now lost one, as someone familiar with attending visitation and graveside services where the smallest caskets have been lowered into the earth, I feel the pain of losing our kids.
Make no mistake, those who take the lives of innocent children are the lowest kind of scum and deserve the harshest possible punishment. It’s in no way the fault of the children, and it isn’t the fault of the parents: the fault lies entirely with the murderers.
That said, if you could better equip your kids to handle an active killer situation, wouldn’t you do it? If you could impart tiny slices of wisdom, adding details as they get older and can handle it, wouldn’t you?
If you ask my oldest, who is now 19, what she was taught about active killers and schools, she’d probably tell you I taught her to get out and not to wait around for her friends. I have a feeling that particular detail has stuck with her, probably because it sounds like incredibly harsh advice.
Get out. Wait for no one.
I want my kids alive at the end of the day.
What Do Schools Teach Our Kids?
Speaking from personal experience with a number of schools, teachers instruct their students to shelter in place during an active killer event. It’s really not unlike the way we used to prepare for tornadoes, earthquakes or random natural disasters: Get under your desk/a piece of furniture, put your arms over your head, and be quiet.
When it comes to fighting back, our kids are told by school systems to either do nothing or to throw books at them. Is this terrible advice? Not exactly, because if the only choice left is to throw books, you throw the heck out of War and Peace (hopefully here are hefty books like that around). But how many classrooms even have many books in them anymore? Not a lot, and when they do, it tends to be limited to one per student…or less.
So far we have sheltering in place and throwing books. What’s left? Some schools teach the kids to huddle together in the corner of the classroom farthest from the door, which basically makes them one compact target. Does that seem terribly helpful?
What Do School Teach Teachers to Do With Active Killers?
Although this varies widely by district, the general consensus seems to be that teachers enforce the aforementioned steps for the kids and try to barricade classroom doors. That might mean simply locking the handle, or there might be a built-in door stop that locks into the ground (those are actually somewhat useful). They might be told to turn the lights off and to keep the kids quiet.
Did teachers sign up to defend their students from armed psychopaths? No, they did not. So how did this become a hazard of an underpaid job?
Schools are Soft Targets
The primary reason schools are targeted is because schools are largely soft targets. At most, they might have a security vestibule — something that was apparently disengaged at Robb Elementary in Uvalde — or maybe they have an on-campus guard or resource officer. We know how guards can operate (think Broward County).
Schools have been crafted into gun-free zones full of easy, inexperienced young targets whose parents would rather cherish their innocence than give them the tools to protect their lives.
If you’re going to commit mass murder, would you rather attack a police station full of armed cops or a school full of kids who can’t fight back? Mass murderers are cowards at heart, so the answer to that is easy. Active killers hit soft targets. Schools. Churches. Movie theaters. Whatever will get them the greatest notoriety with the least of being injured or killed before they’re finished.
What Do Professionals Say?
This is where I bring Derek LeBlanc into the discussion. Derek runs the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation, an organization dedicated to teaching firearms safety to kids nationwide. Kids S.A.F.E started small, but they’ve grown quickly in the time I’ve known Derek. He’s doing amazing work. I posed a series of questions to him regarding how to teach kids what to do when faced with an active killer, so let’s do this in a Q and A format.
Kat Stevens: Is sheltering in place ever a good idea for kids facing an active killer?
Derek LeBlanc: I would say that it’s only a good idea if the classroom is secure. I am ALICE certified and some of the training talks about locking the doors, turning off the lights, and hiding under their desks. This is a viable option only if the doors are secure, if not the results will be tragic. We are breeding the fight out of our children. The last two years has been really traumatic on our kids. During the most important time in their development, they were muzzled with masks. This has affected the way that they interact with others and also has softened them up. While I understand not many fourth graders will be fighting back, teens and high school students most definitely can. Harden our schools, teach our kids to be strong, independent thinkers. This will help curb potential violence.
KS: Does teaching kids to shoot help clear the magic and mystery of guns and also make them more capable of acting during an active killer incident because guns won’t be brand new and shocking? Violence is always shocking, but there’s something to be said for understanding guns.
DL: Absolutely. I wholeheartedly believe that education will take us further as a country than any type of new restriction. When we teach firearm safety from a young age, we take the novelty away from the firearm. When we treat it as a taboo, it is counterproductive to their safety. Books are NOT firearm safety. This is not how a kid learns effectively. Books can be used as a supplement, but not in the forefront. Our children need repetition, they need continuous training.
KS: How do we, and should we, teach kids to ignore what the teacher is saying and, instead, do as their parent instructs in case of an active killer situation?
DL: We want them to respect their teachers as long as their teachers have the students’ best interest in mind. So often the teachers are politicizing topics in front of the kids. I know that this is a generalization, but I know teachers who I would not trust to defend my kids. In some cases if the kids can have an escape route planned, this can be helpful. Ultimately this would be age-specific. Our best bet is upgraded security and an armed response will always be the best bet. The fact that we have politicians fortifying Washington, D.C. and our kids are left to be slaughtered is simply unacceptable.
KS: What signs of readiness should parents watch for when talking to kids about what to do in case of an active killer?
DL: It is very common for us to follow Jeff Coopers signs of readiness, which I believe can be effective depending on the age group. Obviously the age group that was targeted in the past few days, most likely without repetitive training would have had trouble remembering this concept. I am currently developing a teen class where we will be utilizing this concept because of the age group of the students. The tragedy that just happened in Uvalde was compounded because the killer gained access to the school and then was able to barricade himself in a classroom. This should have been prevented if the classroom was fortified. There are many different quality products that could have been used to secure the door. A teacher could have secured the door with something as easy as an extension cord in a pinch.
KS: What should we teach kids the age of the Uvalde about what to do? Furthermore, how about kids who are both younger and older?
DL: This is a tricky question. While I believe that it’s never too early to be talking about firearm safety and accident prevention, I also believe that we can start preparing our kids at a young age on threats that they may face. I am really careful about how I talk about potential threats in front of kids at this age. I want to be able to somewhat protect their innocence. There are some teachers, especially where I am from in Oregon, who project their fears onto kids. This isn’t right. If we look at the data, our kids are more likely to be struck by lightning than to die in a school shooting. We need to teach our kids empathy and kindness, but also to look out for warning signs from their peers. We need to normalize the behavior that if something doesn’t seem right, they need to talk to someone. We shouldn’t look at it as tattling, but in reality they are little first responders. They really could be the difference in discovering a potential killer or not.
What Does the Gun Writer Say?
There is no one-size-fits all answer to any of this, but here are my two cents. Your kids are more capable of comprehending things than you believe, and your desire to somehow protect their innocence could get them killed.
Here are a few ideas:
1) Teach kids when to hide, when to fight, and when to flee. Understanding the nuances in these situations is going to be hard for kids of all ages, but you can give them age-appropriate instruction on when to do what. Very rarely will simply hiding be a solution, but all scenarios are different. Work at helping your kids understand when to hole up and when to make a run for it. And if they’re stuck and forced to fight, give them the skills to fight like badgers. Not those prissy-looking European badgers, the angry, four-inch clawed American badgers.
2) Show kids how to fight. I taught my daughter how to properly throw a punch when she was in grade school. This was done with the instruction to never a start a fight, but to darn well finish it. What good does fighting do? To put a very emotional face on this, would you prefer your kids cower in fear, terrified, or get up and fight for their lives? Whether your kids are in kindergarten or high school, they can learn age-appropriate fighting techniques. Keep it realistic, but prepare them.
3) Teach kids about gun safety, shooting, and how guns work. Take the mystery out of firearms and make them less terrifying from the moment a gun appears. It will still be scary, but at least guns won’t be brand new, mystical objects to them. If they’re old enough, start teaching them when the right moments can be to fight back. Is the killer in the middle of a reload? Did his rifle jam and he’s standing there trying to clear a round? These might seem like crazy things to talk to your kids about, but guess what…I’ve had these conversations with mine, and it’s gone well.
4) Instruct your kids to know where exits are and how to leave an area. Making sure they know how to find exits isn’t teaching your kids to be fearful. Neither is showing them how to smash a window with a chair to get out of a building. You’re teaching them to be self-sufficient and courageous.
5) Question authority. That might sound bad, but if kids are totally unwilling to question authority, they’re going to blindly do what a teacher says, even if it means certain death. As Derek mentioned above, this is tricky, but you need to find a way to have this conversation and teach your kids what to do. Teachers and adults in general don’t always know best, especially if the adult in question has a built-in fear or dislike of firearms. Adults can freeze in place and panic while kids near them become brave and tough enough to act in their stead. It happens all the time. Give your kids the tools they need to be brave and to know when it’s right to defy authority.
6) Remind kids they don’t have to be heroes. This is going to rub some of you the wrong way, but I have flat-out told my kids to just get out. I remember the first time I told my daughter I wanted her to flee, not to shelter in place, and not to wait around for friends, let alone go looking for them. On one hand, we want our kids to be selfless and bold. On the other hand, we want them alive. Of course, I ended up with a teenager who is selfless and loves to help others, which is wonderful, but I hope she makes good choices for survival if the time ever comes. When she got old enough, I bluntly told her I did not want her to make herself a sacrificial lamb. Use the skills and knowledge she has? Yes. Sentence herself to death? No.
What Can You Say to the School?
We’ve moved a few times before finally finding what I feel is the most awesome place ever (spoiler alert, it’s in Texas). Here’s what I did when we moved here and what I’ve always done when faced with a new school.
1) Walk the hallways. Familiarize yourself with the layout. Use that knowledge to help your kids memorize an escape route. This gets tougher in high school when they’re in multiple classrooms, but it’s not impossible.
2) Ask the school if teachers and other employees are allowed to carry. This varies by school, but in many places it’s up to the school to decide if qualified individuals will be allowed to carry firearms. Let’s just say our school up here in North Texas is not a soft target.
3) Find out what security measures the school takes. Maybe that security vestibule is obnoxious because you’re always standing there waiting to be buzzed in, but it serves a purpose. It might not totally stop an active killer, but it could slow their progress enough to give students time to get away.
4) Find out how the school handles mental health issues among students. There have been multiple instances in recent years where a serious mental health issue was set aside in favor of letting the kid attend class.
5) Come right out and ask what their active killer action plan is. Don’t be afraid to question parts of it.
The Bottom Line – Teach Your Kids
When my daughter was little — about the age of the Uvalde kids or younger — teaching her meant helping her memorize an escape route. She knew the path to follow to get away from the school and that it would take her to a spot where I would meet her. We had safe words that she’d know meant another adult had been sent or otherwise endorsed by me. We had plans of action for everything. Despite what you might think, this did not turn her into a kid who was terrified of violence. It just left her prepared.
A lot of parents, especially new ones, are making comments about how they’re considering homeschooling. We won’t get into the many, many problems in school systems, but I will say homeschooling doesn’t save your kids from violence. What it does do is deprive them of the opportunity to socialize and learn from a diverse group.
Stop teaching your kids to curl up in a corner and wait to die. Teach them how to fight back. Teach them when to flee, and how to do it in their specific classroom and school. Guns aren’t the enemy. Evil is the enemy and evil will always be around.
I am fully on the side of arming qualified, trained teachers and upping security so schools are no longer soft targets, but I’m also a passionate endorser of teaching your kids how to survive.
I’ll say it again. You are not robbing kids of their innocence by teaching them to fight, you’re giving them the ability to come home. You are the parent. It’s your responsibility to properly equip your kids, and that means having a game plan when it comes to active killers. Stop side-stepping the issue and face it head-on.