Columbine Shows Why NRA's "School Shield" Likely Wouldn't Work

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Dec. 21 2012 1:54 PM

Columbine Shows Why NRA's "School Shield" Likely Wouldn't Work

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A sign wishes the band good luck in front of Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, 22 April, 1999, the site where fourteen students and one teacher were killed 20 April, 1999

Photo by Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty Images.

In today’s NRA press conference, the group’s executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called for “armed security in every school”:

Josh Levin Josh Levin

Josh Levin is Slate's executive editor.

What if, when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he had been confronted by qualified, armed security? Will you at least admit it's possible that 26 innocent lives might have been spared? Is that so abhorrent to you that you would rather continue to risk the alternative?

LaPierre is right—it’s possible that an armed guard could have stopped Adam Lanza. But is it likely? Consider the case of Columbine High School.

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On April 20, 1999, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine. On the scene that day was Neil Gardner, an armed sheriff’s deputy who had been policing the school for almost two years.

As a CNN report describes, Gardner was eating lunch when he got a call from a custodian that he was needed in the school’s back parking lot. A few minutes later, he encountered Harris and the two exchanged gunfire. Harris was not hit and ran back inside the school. At that point, “Gardner called for additional units to respond to the south parking lot of Columbine High School. … While he was on the radio calling for assistance, five other Jefferson County deputies already were on their way, arriving only minutes after the first report of a ‘female down’ at Columbine High School.” Later, Gardner saw Harris again, through a broken window. Once again, he fired. Once again, he didn’t hit him.

Though it’s possible Gardner distracted Harris enough to prevent additional carnage, that’s ultimately unknowable. What does seem certain is that a single armed security guard had little chance that day of preventing a pair of heavily armed killers from doing what they set out to do.

Are there any cases of potential school shooters getting stopped before they could kill? In a recent Explainer, Forrest Wickman cited a case in which two men “confronted a Columbine-obsessed attacker in North Carolina who was firing at cars outside the school and had killed his father that day. Armed with his pistol, Ivey ordered the student to drop his weapons, and LeBlanc (who was unarmed) put him in handcuffs.”

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