At Oxford High School in Oakland County, Michigan yesterday, November 30, 2021, a 15-year-old sophomore brought his dad’s 9mm Sig Sauer handgun to school and a little before 1:00, emerged from a bathroom and started shooting. The first 911 call was received at 12:51, and responding deputies arrived at the school five minutes later. Within about three minutes of their arrival the shooter was in custody, having surrendered without resistance.
Responding sheriff’s deputies were on scene in five minutes and had the shooter in custody in three more minutes. That is fast response, anywhere in America. But a lot can happen in the first eight minutes after a shooter opens fire and someone dials 911. A lot did happen.
Four dead, seven wounded: Quick police response could not save them.
A sheriff’s deputy was present at the school as a full-time School Resource Officer. He assisted in the arrest, alongside the responding deputies. He was unable to stop the shooter in the five minutes before his fellow deputies arrived, but we cannot fault him for that, based on what we know. Oxford High School is a large campus, the shooter was already inside the building, and there was only one officer. The shooter was a student, and thus surely knew the officer and his routines, and all he needed was a few minutes. The presence of an armed officer is often seen as the final line of defense against violence in a school, but this is an example of how inadequate it can be.
Four dead, seven wounded: An armed officer in the school was not able save them.
One student, Tate Myre, tried to disarm the shooter, was shot, and died in a deputy’s patrol car on the way to the hospital. He is the one hero of the day, not to denigrate the first responders who all did their duty, but he was the one who voluntarily stepped empty-handed between a killer and his innocent victims, and gave his life fighting to save them. He did not run. He did not hide.
Four dead, seven wounded: The absence of an armed, trained, courageous adult led to this young man’s brave sacrifice. It should never have happened.
Classrooms were locked and barricaded. Windows were covered. Some students and staff evacuated, on their own initiative, and reached safety off school grounds. That’s all good: we don’t know of a single active shooter in a public building who has broken through a sturdy locked door to shoot anyone on the other side. Campus-wide compliance with good emergency plans and procedures is good, but individual initiative should not be discouraged. Unfortunately, there were evidently plenty of potential victims who were unable to “lockdown” in secure areas, as any school administrator will admit is usually the case in a large school on an average day.
Four dead, seven wounded: There was an emergency response plan in place, and staff applied it intelligently, but it was not sufficient.
There was only a single point of entry to the school. But we do not know if that is routinely the case at the beginning of the day, when 1,800 students are arriving; we don’t know what would have prevented someone – the shooter or a possible accomplice? – from propping open a fire door somewhere else on the school’s perimeter.
Some have criticized the absence of a metal detector or a bag check at the entry; but consider how much of the school day would be lost funneling 1,800 students through a metal detector and/or a TSA-style bag check. Let’s assume you could process one student every 30 seconds, which is probably less than half the time it would take to do it right. 1,800 x 30 seconds apiece = 15 hours. Buy more metal detectors! If you had five metal detectors (at several hundred thousand dollars apiece, and an armed officer to oversee each one), it would still take three hours a day. And despite that delay each and every day, those measures do not actually stop anyone; all they offer is deterrence and delay. Nothing would actually stop an offender trying to bring a gun through such a checkpoint, except an armed, prepared officer overseeing the process. Armed, prepared, and ready. Readiness is everything: no bathroom breaks for that officer, and preternatural alertness throughout the process would be required to detect and respond to a student approaching the checkpoint who drew a handgun and opened fire.
Michigan issued its Final Recommendations of the School Safety Task Force in November, 2018. Oxford High School was in substantial compliance with those recommendations, which mostly address physical security upgrades.
Four dead, seven wounded: Physical security upgrades did not save them. “It’s a sober realization that the steps we take to mitigate damage don’t stop all the damage.”
The school had communicated to parents about rumors of possible violence, earlier in the month; and many students were aware of threats and warnings that had circulated in social media; several students stayed home from school yesterday. And yet, according to the sheriff, no tips regarding imminent violence had been received by the authorities. Can anti-bullying programs, anonymous tip lines, and other attempts to detect and intervene before the killing commences work? Yes. But do they, reliably? Here as in Parkland, Florida and elsewhere, the answer clearly is: no.
Four dead, seven wounded: Awareness and prevention programs did not save them.
School staff had all attended ALICE training (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), one of the most common styles of so-called “active shooter training” offered to schools and other public buildings and organizations. Did all those things occur? Yes, to some degree:
- Notification went out over the school’s intercom system – after the shooting had already started.
- Lockdown: classrooms were locked and barricaded – which failed to protect those who could not reach those secure locations.
- Inform: The sheriff says over one hundred 911 calls were received – although he only needed one to initiate what was a commendably quick response by his deputies. The other 99+ did not speed their response.
- Counter: ALICE says “Counter is NOT fighting” but one brave young man did fight. No other active, defensive efforts are reported by any school staff or students. Fighting for innocent lives is honorable, and to discourage it is shameful. Give the right people the means to fight successfully, and they will.
- Evacuate: Some staff exercised initiative to do so; they did not wait for instructions but evacuated when they determined that they and the people in their care were vulnerable.
Did ALICE save some lives? Maybe. The shooter had seven rounds left in his gun when he dropped it and surrendered to deputies, indicating that as with most active shooters, he was prepared to kill, but not to die at the hands of someone able to shoot back. It’s our job to confront them with that choice at the earliest possible moment.
Four dead, seven wounded: ALICE training failed them.
Michigan, like every other state in the union, is subject to the federal “Gun Safe School Zone” law, which prohibits possession of a firearm within 1000 feet of a school except by law enforcement officers.
Four dead, seven wounded: The “Gun Free Zone” failed them. Killers don’t obey laws and signs.
There are exemptions to that law for states that choose to use them. Michigan allows adults transporting students to or from school to be armed under certain circumstances; and allows residents 21 or older with a concealed carry license to carry on school grounds. The latter provision is the favorite of staunch Second Amendment advocates in many states – or the second favorite, because many of those folks even see licensing for concealed carry as an infringement on their rights.
Four dead, seven wounded: Legal concealed carry by citizens did not save them. No one was there.
DSI has been training vetted, approved, volunteer school staff in the carry and use of concealed handguns since 2019. Many states have statutes on the books that authorize concealed carry by approved staff members at the discretion of local school boards. In most cases, the identity of these armed staff members is not revealed, so no one, including potential offenders, knows how many there are, or who or where they are in the school. There has not yet been an active shooter incident in any of the thousands of schools across the country that are protected in this way. That’s correlation, not necessarily causation, because it’s hard to prove a negative. But logic suggests there might be a connection.
All the other measures mentioned above – the things Oxford High School “did right” – can help. But on the day when a shooter opens fire, having circumvented all the rules, barriers, and programs, the only thing that will save lives is having well-trained, armed personnel on scene and able to respond within seconds, not minutes. That’s called the critical response gap, and by definition it can’t be filled by responding police who are minutes away, or even in many cases by a single on-scene officer. The shooter will do as he pleases until he is stopped forcefully, or decides to stop.
The predictable cries for more gun control, in the aftermath of this tragic incident, and every other, are entirely misdirected. When something like this happens, it’s intervention by people with guns – trained, courageous people with guns – that saves lives. If that can happen within seconds instead of minutes, we might not be mourning the next day’s casualty count.
Four dead, seven wounded: “Everything worked. And it’s still a tragedy.”