Joe Henderson: Look beyond actions of Scot Peterson for school-shootings solution

Scot Peterson resigned as a Broward County deputy after Sheriff Scott Israel suspended him for inaction during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. [Broward County Schools/TNS]
Scot Peterson resigned as a Broward County deputy after Sheriff Scott Israel suspended him for inaction during the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. [Broward County Schools/TNS]
Published June 6 2018
Updated June 7 2018

Some parents of students murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have made their feelings clear about former deputy Scot Petersonís recent public attempts to explain why he didnít take direct action to stop the slaughter.

Basically, they hate him.

If my child had been among those killed or injured on that horrific day at, I might hate him too.

But if we take a step back and look at the issue of school safety, it gets a lot more complicated than saying this wouldnít have happened if Peterson hadnít been a coward.

Stoneman Douglas is a sprawling, three-story school with about 3,200 students and an estimated 129 teachers. You have seen pictures and video footage of terrified students scrambling from the building after gunman Nicklas Cruz began his killing spree.

Peterson, who was armed, was supposed to be the firewall to stop things like that. But as the world now knows, he didnít. And as the Washington Post reported Peterson said, "the bottom line is I was there to protect, and I lost 17."

Letís suppose, though, he had charged into the building ó a good guy with a gun, the National Rifle Associationís answer to these situations.

Where was he supposed to go?

The Post reported that the first call over Petersonís radio was about a possible firecracker. Peterson took off to check it out, but then a fire alarm went off. Shortly after that, Peterson said the firecracker sound got louder, his first indication there was shooter.

But where?

There were reports that shots were coming from the football field. Peterson said he thought it could have been coming from the roof from a sniper, or maybe someone from the parking lot.

Sure, itís easy to go full-throated Trump and shout that he should have handled this like Rambo to the rescue. He was a highly trained, experienced, and decorated officer.

But if he gone inside Building 12, with all the chaos and screaming, what was the chance he could have found Cruz on the third floor while the slaughter was in progress?

Not much.

Should he have tried?

Absolutely, if he could have assessed the situation correctly in that instantaneous horror. But itís a stretch to say he could have done much, if anything, to stop the killing.

Thatís the problem with the way school security is being addressed.

After Parkland, lawmakers moved quickly to require armed guards for every public school in the state. They also decided to allow selected non-instructional people carry weapons ó after training, of course.

Training is good, but the basic assumption behind arming school personnel is that they will be cool in a crisis. Thatís a leap of logic.

Peterson was trained, a lot more rigorously than most school personnel. If he couldnít save the day at Parkland, why would a good guy with a gun, no matter how well-intentioned, have better odds?

Throw in a large campus with screaming and terrified students, pumping adrenaline, possibly smoky conditions, and the chance for a larger disaster increases exponentially.

There has to be a better way.

We all want secure schools, so start by allowing only one way into the building. Keep that one entrance manned with your security guard.

Fire codes require more ways to exit, so make an ironclad rule that if anyone is going out rear door, have real consequences if they hold it open for someone else to enter unscreened.

And consider installing metal detectors and use wands like they do at the airport. They catch weapons all the time.

Yes, that would cause long lines and frustration.

If it stops a madman, so be it.

After all, the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is to make certain the weapon never makes it into the building. Once the shooting starts, itís already too late.