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Playground Tactics

In light of recent events, I offer my own version of a parable…

A problem has developed and persists across America: On school playgrounds, certain children are bullying the others by throwing stones at them.

Response Option 1:

We must equip the other children to protect themselves from the stone-throwing bully. Parents are required to issue helmets, goggles, and other protective gear to the children so they won’t be as prone to injury from the flying stones. This becomes a regular part of the back-to-school shopping process. Some parents even arm their children with their own stones, so that they can fight back and throw stones at the bully.

Schools equip teachers with rapid-response equipment — some teachers receive stones to throw; stronger teachers are given boulders that they can toss; skilled teachers receive slingshots and pebbles in an effort to deter the bullying. This is referred to as the “Good Guy with a Rock” (GGR) approach, and is widely accepted as a legitimate and satisfactory response.

Teachers receive training on “active stone-throwing” scenarios so they can learn how to shelter and protect children, getting them back inside the building as quickly as possible when a stone-throwing bully appears. Teachers are taught how to act as human shields to protect the children, and are given tools with which to barricade doors so the bully can’t enter.

Schools hire security guards to help monitor and secure the playground, arming them with even more advanced weaponry to fight off a bully. Schools hire a nurse to help with bandages and stitches for any student or teacher who is injured by a flying stone. Schools also hire a staff counselor to help students and teachers deal with personal issues and trauma from being bullied with rocks.

In addition to fire drills and tornado drills, schools ramp up the frequency of lockdown drills to take place on a monthly basis. New alarm systems are installed to help students and teachers understand the type of drill and how to respond — whether it’s a life-or-death matter of a lockdown drill, or “merely” a fire drill.

To help offset the costs of hiring additional personnel and purchasing additional safety equipment and weapons, other school programs like music, art, computers, the library, and foreign languages are cut from the school budget. Sports, of course, are not impacted. The school football team continues to get new uniforms every year.

Recess is no longer a relaxing atmosphere, as children try to play while wearing protective gear and constantly being on guard for rocks flying in their direction. Simpler games like Tag, Duck-Duck-Goose, and Red Rover take on new formats and names that are more oriented to war and survival. Teachers cannot relax during recess, as they must constantly focus and supervise the playground, like prison guards, looking for any offender who needs to be disarmed, zip-tied, and taken to the school’s “rock-free” zone for punishment and counseling.

Sure, bullying via stone-throwing continues unabated, but at least kids have a helmet now, and teachers can try to fight back with weapons of their own. Americans consider the problem to be solved.

Response Option 2:

We take the stone away from the bully. We sweep the playground to make sure that no stones are available in the future for throwing at the playground. We impose strict rules against bringing stones from other places to the playground, and even stricter rules and punishment for those who try to bring a stone to the playground and throw it.

With the absence of stones, the bully no longer has anything to throw. He tries to use a stick, but having learned our lesson from the stones, we take the same actions with sticks — we eliminate sticks from the playground, implementing new rules and punishments for using sticks.

Recess becomes much more relaxing, as kids can now run and play without protective gear and without the worry of a stone being thrown at them. Teachers can relax in their supervision, knowing the children are safer. In fact, the teachers can now spend time interacting with the kids, especially those who are on the fringes, those who are not playing with other kids, figuring out ways to get them involved and integrated, so they’re not out on the fringe any longer.

Educational programs continue because schools don’t have to budget for stone-response and stick-response scenarios. Art and music programs flourish as students learn to express their issues in new and productive ways.

Let me ask you: Which scenario sounds better?

Personally, I think it’s the second. As the Marvel character Jessica Jones says, “Knowing it’s real means you’ve gotta make a decision. One, keep denying it, or two, do something about it.”

Obviously I’m referring to the problem of gun violence in our country, especially at schools. When it comes to such a difficult subject with so many vested interests, I find it easier in my own mind to simplify it to something I can understand a little easier. Instead of guns, sticks and stones.

In other words, what would we do if we weren’t talking about guns, one of the great idols of American culture, and we didn’t have the millions of interpretations of the Second Amendment.

We would do something. We would find a way.

Is any response going to be perfect, or even ideal? Probably not. But should that be a barrier that keeps us from even trying to make a difference? As H. Jackson Brown said, “Never give up on a dream just because of the length of time it will take to accomplish it. The time will pass anyway.”

We’re never going to be able to completely legislate morality, or make sure that the “bad guy” is unable to obtain an illegal gun.

But I’ll make these observations:

  • We have to do something. We can’t continue to let our children die in schools. As someone has said, “The best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.”
  • Someone will have to give up something. I don’t believe there are many people asking for a complete ban of the private ownership of guns. I’m certainly not asking for that. However, I can’t think of anyone outside the military or the police who needs an AR-15 with a bump stock. It’s time to give up weapons like that from private ownership; our children are more important.
  • The “bad guy” isn’t who you think it is. These shootings that we see on an all-too-regular basis are not being perpetrated by cartel members, gang members, or gun runners who are buying guns on the black market. The shooters are generally white males who are buying multiple guns in perfectly legal transactions. Some will argue that banning certain weapons, like an AR-15, won’t make them impossible to get. I understand that — someone who is dedicated will find a way around the law. But we haven’t even tried to make these guns more difficult or impossible to get. These purchases are still completely legal.
  • The “good guy” isn’t as good a shot as you think he is. In 2006, the New York City Police Department performed a study of shots fired by New York City police officers in that year. These are highly trained police officers (despite how they’re often portrayed in movies and TV shows). Here are the results of the study:
    • Of the 252 shots fired within 6 feet of the suspect, only 43 percent, or 107 shots total, hit the intended target.
    • Of the 95 shots fired 6-21 feet from the suspect, only 23 percent, or 22 shots total, hit the intended target.
    • Of the 40 shots fired 21-45 feet from the suspect, only 40 percent, or 16 shots total, hit the intended target.
    • Of the 7 shots fired 45-75 feet from the suspect, only 14 percent, or 1 shot total, hit the intended target.
    • Of the 30 shots fired more than 75 feet from the suspect, only 7 percent, or 2 shots total, hit the intended target.
    • Of the 116 shots fired with no reported distance, only 29 percent, or 34 shots total, hit the intended target.
    • So even among highly trained police officers, and even within a range of 6 feet, a shooter hit the intended target less than half of the time. Which begs the question: What else, or who else, might the other shots hit? Is “friendly fire” a risk we’re willing to start taking in schools? How does a teacher ever recover from that? My guess is that they don’t.

I’ll say it again, because I think it bears repeating: “The best thing you can do is the right thing; the next best thing is the wrong thing; the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

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