For the last 23 years, the U.S. has been trying to identify better ways to protect its kids in schools from the threat of gun violence. From metal detectors to extra security, to doing their best to eliminate bullying, each method introduced has been only marginally successful at stemming the flow of violence.
While many are quick to acknowledge that the mental health of kids these days is far worse than it was 50 years ago, those same voices are often quick to claim that guns are more easily accessible than they were years ago. Never mind the massive increase in gun laws and requirements to legally purchase a firearm.
One of the surviving teachers from Robb Elementary in Uvalde, TX told the tale of the plans she and other teachers had to ensure their doors were properly secure. Have one student man the door and let her out into the hall. She would then ensure the door was properly locked, and the student would let her back in, and together they would quickly force the door shut behind her. This seemingly simple task is ultimately exposing not only the teacher to potential gunfire but also potentially alerting the shooter to a room full of potential targets.
Thoughts of this nature are not exclusive to Uvalde, either. In 36% of schools in Texas, the teachers have no way of locking the door from inside the classroom. While initially intended to prevent a student from being able to lock themselves and a potential victim inside the room, this kind of deterrence has proven to be more of a hindrance in recent years.
This kind of safety risk is easily changed, but many districts claim it just isn’t in the budget. As the school needs copies of all keys, educators are forbidden from making that investment and changing the locks themselves. More to the point, this isn’t an expense that should be passed along to them in the first place. The board of education and other executives within the school system are charged with the duty to protect these children. The teacher is supposed to be solely focused on the learning plan and shaping these young minds.
While gun rights activists and liberals have been unable to agree on much in the wake of these shootings, the decision to make doors easily secured and locked from the inside is one topic they have been on the same page about since 1999. After the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, the nation saw the need to make room secure as a huge need that the country could no longer ignore. As both groups have been pleading with schools to make the investment, it has largely fallen on deaf ears.
Locks that can be secured with a key from either side of the door, but that are unlocked from the inside with just a turn of the knob have been called “Columbine locks” after that fateful attack. Many believe that these locks could have stopped the 12 students and one teacher from dying that day and could have prevented deaths in Uvalde and other schools as well.
Given the cost of $200-$900 per door, these locks do not come cheaply, but many older locks can be modified for these purposes. Making this kind of decision is difficult for nearly every school, with many choosing to instead hire armed security for the school, but as the shooting in Parkland showed, the people chosen to protect these kids may not have what it takes when the moment comes.
Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, the leading labor union for teachers across the U.S. asked the most basic, but the strongest question on the subject. “Instead of giving the money to all these security companies, why not use it to change the locks on the doors?”
It’s a question we all need to ask. And what’s the right answer? We’re not sure yet…stay tuned.