"We are all saddened by the horrific school shooting that occurred today in Connecticut," wrote Barry Groves, superintendent of the Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, in an email to district parents. "Our hearts go out to the parents and families. I want to assure all parents that we have in place safety and security procedures to protect our students and staff. At this time, our crisis counseling teams are prepared and ready to assist students, parents and staff in dealing with this tragedy. Additionally, our leadership and local law enforcement are working together to ensure the safety of our students and staff."
A similar email went out to parents of the Mountain View Whisman School District. Craig Goldman, the district's superintendent, reaffirmed that student safety is his organization's top priority.
Emergency procedures in place
Groves told the Voice that it has long been a part of district protocol to conduct drills for all kinds of emergencies — not just earthquakes or fires, but also for shooter-on-campus scenarios. These are called "code red drills," he explained. "We lock doors, keep kids out of sight and have a special way to communicate between buildings."
The district has an assigned, uniformed public safety officer. He is not always on campus, but he is there very regularly, Groves said. In addition to the uniformed officer, the district also has two public safety officers — one for each campus.
"I think that what we have in place meets the needs of our school district," Groves said.
An email was also sent out to news agencies from Santa Clara County health officials explaining that services are available to anyone thinking of hurting themselves or others.
"If you suspect a person you know may be considering suicide, or you are thinking about hurting or killing yourself, please call the Suicide and Crisis Hotline at 1-855-278-4204," the email said. The hotline is available 24 hours a day, toll-free, seven days a week. "We are here to help."
Who to blame?
As schools sought to reassure parents and the county health office reached out to residents of Santa Clara County, guns rights advocates and gun control advocates — both appalled at the shootings — had different ideas about preventing such tragedies in the future.
The owner of The Bay Area Gun Vault in Mountain View said that sales of firearms have just about doubled in his store over the past few days, which he attributes to locals wishing to be prepared to defend themselves against a potential attack, which he said he believes to be their right.
"Don't blame the tool," said Gary Kolander, who owns and runs the shop, located at 363 W. El Camino Real. The store was packed on the afternoon of Dec. 18. Kolander said he believes that in order to stop mass shootings like Sandy Hook Elementary School, shooters need to be stopped before they commit to such heinous acts. "We need to address the types of people that commit these crimes."
Kolander pointed out that the killer, Adam Lanza, was only 20 years old, making it illegal for him to possess many of the firearms he brought to the school that fateful day. Society would do better to scorn a system that allowed Lanza's troubles to go unaddressed, he said, and perhaps some blame should be placed on legal adult gun owners that do not properly secure their weapons.
"I teared up when I heard about the shooting," Kolander said.
No matter who you are, he continued, you have to feel terrible for the victim's and their families. But he said he still firmly believes that no amount of additional regulation will stop killings like this — that means no bans on certain kinds of guns, no bans on certain kinds of clips.
Assault weapon bans
Such arguments ring hollow to Shikha Hamilton, president of the Santa Clara County chapter of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
"Honestly, the minute you bring up the shooting, tears start rolling through my eyes, because it's so hard to fathom small children being slaughtered the way they were," she said.
Hamilton said she believes that just about everybody can relate to her feelings — whether pro- or anti-gun.
However, she said, she is frustrated by those who argue that any kind of new gun-control legislation is an unacceptable infringement upon civil liberties — especially when it comes to the style of weapon used in the Sandy Hook shooting.
If people feel they need a handgun to protect their homes from a potential intruder, she said, that's one thing — even though such home-defense weaponry is far more likely to hurt or kill a member of the family it is intended to protect.
Hamilton said there is really no practical reason for anyone to own a semi-automatic rifle with high-capacity magazines, such as the Bushmaster brand weapon used to kill the children at Sandy Hook. Such weapons — and particularly large magazines, which can carry as many as 30 rounds and be switched out in seconds — are unnecessary for hunting, Hamilton said, positing that the only reason she can think someone would like such a gun is for the thrill of spraying bullets at targets at a shooting range.
"Sorry if you guys are having fun, but these weapons have become a health hazard," she said.
She said the Brady Campaign's top goals include reinstating a stricter version of the so-called assault weapons ban, which expired after disallowing some of the most powerful rifles and higher-capacity magazines from 1994 to 2004, and closing the "gun show loophole," which allows people to buy a gun directly from the owner without going through the same types of background checks and waiting periods as someone buying the same gun from a licensed gun shop.
While he admitted that it could sound callous, Kolander said that if person is hell-bent on wreaking devastation, he will find a way to do it. He pointed to an incident in China. A man in that country, which has much stricter gun laws than the United States, entered an elementary school and slashed 22 children and one adult with a knife, according to a report from ABC news. A separate report from CBS noted that all 23 victims were "injured." It did not say any were killed.
However, the attack in China only serves to support Hamilton's beliefs, she said. The fact that some or all of those children might live underscores the difference between guns and knives.
"I'd rather run from a knife than a gun," she said.
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