Tuesday, January 8, 2013

A letter to my son's school: Please remove the gun.

January 8, 2013

I have never been more proud of my husband than I am this morning.  The name of our son's school has been removed from this piece.  Otherwise, this is the letter that Larry sent to the CEO and Board Chair last night, after we were greeted back to school from winter break by an armed guard at the carpool line.

Dear ____,

As any parent, we all want our children to be safe at home and in our communities.  The recent events in Newtown, CT, have tragically reminded us again that this is not always the case.  I appreciate all that our school does to help keep my child safe while he is at school.  Unfortunately however, the decision to place an armed guard at the school does not contribute to student safety, and, in fact, may increase his risk for physical or developmental injury.  I became very alarmed and concerned upon learning a firearm is now present on the school's campus.  Prior to today, the chance of my son being in proximity to a deadly weapon while at school was very remote.  Now he is exposed to a gun, daily.  I would like to share the reasons for my concern.

It is often argued that the presence of an armed guard will deter a would-be attacker from entering a school.  However, when quantifying deterrence, one must account for the motivation of the assailant.  In the case of protecting a bank or a truck full of money, an armed guard provides more deterrent because a thief has no interest in causing or receiving bodily harm.  He just wants the money, and wants it with the least amount of risk.

However, a mentally ill shooter, a politically motivated terrorist, or a hate-filled racist is only interested in killing.  There is no regard for the victims' lives, or even his own life.  He is not deterred by an armed guard because he knows he is either going to commit suicide, be shot himself, or at the very least be incarcerated for life.

Protection & Defense
1.  There is no evidence that an armed guard in a school offers students any protection from would be attackers.  History shows this to be true:
*April 1999, a 15 year veteran of the Sheriff's Department was the guard at Columbine High School.  He returned fire and called for police back-up.  Thirteen people were killed over 49 minutes before the 2 teens took their own lives. 
*March 2005, a 16 year old boy killed his grandfather, stole his guns, and murdered 5 people and wounded 12 others before committing suicide.  The first person he shot and killed was the armed security guard at the front desk.
*April 2007, 32 people are killed on the campus of Virginia Tech.  An entire security team was helpless

In fact, “There is no data supporting [the] argument that the further arming...will lessen the death toll in massacres like the one this week in Connecticut. There are in fact rigorous scientific data showing that having a gun in...INCREASES the risk of violent death....”  Fred Rivara, MD.  Professor of Pediatrics and Epidemiology, Seattle Children's Hospital

2.  There is also evidence to demonstrate that the presence of an armed, private security guard increases the rate of violence in schools, (Jennings, WG, et al. Journal of Police Crisis Negotiations. Sept 2011. ) http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/15332586.2011.581511

3.  The qualifications of the armed individual must also be taken into account.  The person who has be charged to protect our children with a firearm...What is his background?  What is his training?  Does he have a relevant medical or mental health history?  I do not find the fact that he was hired from Securitas to be reassuring.  Just this past week, Daniel Grenon from Webster, Mass., unintentionally shot his friend in the abdomen during a game of "quick draw."  This man obviously lacks the responsibility or the respect needed to use a firearm.  Mr. Grenonis a security guard for Securitas.  http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2013/01/worcester_county_security_guar.html
And this is not the first mishap involving Securitas or other armed guards; just the most recent.

Guns and Children
We listen to the pediatric community when requiring immunizations for our children in order to keep them safe and healthy.  But why does our school want to ignore their recommendations regarding child safety and guns.  Gunshot wounds are a leading cause of injury related death in children.  26% of children ages 5-9 years who die from gun injury were shot unintentionally.  These accidents happen, and the happen often.  For every 1 self defense/justifiable shooting in the home, there are 4 unintentionally shootings and 7 criminal assaults or homicides. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9715182 For over two decades, the American Academy of Pediatric has clearly, unequivocally, and repeatedly stated its position of child safety as it relates to guns.  Most recently in November 2012 Pediatrics:  "The AAP affirms that the most effective measure to prevent fire-arm-related injuries to children is the absence of guns from homes and communities." 

In a well-intentioned effort to protect my child, the school has decided to ignore the experts in this field.  Where there is a gun, there can be a gun-related injury.  The mere presence of a gun at the school has now increased the likelihood that my son could be injured or killed by a bullet.

Evelyn and I send our son (and soon our daughter) to the school to receive a Jewish education in a safe, nurturing environment.  The first and last thing they will see upon arriving and leaving their school is a man with a gun.  What effect does that have on the elementary school student's development and psyche?  What education has been provided to my child to prepare him for such a presence?

My last concern has to do with how the decision to place an armed guard on campus has been made.  My understanding that the decision to have an armed security guard at the school was made 4 or 5 years ago because of fears of an anti-semitic attack.  What basis was there at the time to be concerned for such an attack?  And again, what evidence exists to suggest that an armed guard would prevent such an attack? (I again demonstrate that there is no such evidence) I also understand that for financial reasons an armed guard was not affordable.  Suddenly, following the harrowing events of last month, donors have come forward to pay for an armed guard.  If it was believed that an armed guard was vitally necessary 5 years ago where were the donors at that time.  Where was the priority to "protect" the students with a gun in hand.  It seems obvious to me , that the Newtown tragedy is directly responsible for the sudden placement of this guard.

If the rationale to have an armed security guard on the school campus is still the fears that existed 5 years ago, then I would suggest that it is reasonable to revisit that discussion as 5 years have past, and a new parent community is now in place, and we should be given the opportunity to participate in this decision.

If the Newtown shooting is the impetus for placing an armed guard in the school, (as I believe it is) then an open dialogue should take place before such a decision is made.  This was not done.  A last minute email was sent out to parents, and my son had to walk past a gun to get to school today.

I thank you for taking the time to read, what is a lengthy letter.  But as a Pediatric Intensive Care Physician and Pediatric Anesthesiologist who has cared for too many children who have been the victims of gun trauma, I am both sensitive and experienced on this issue. I take very seriously what I believe to be the erred decision to place a gun on school property.

I am asking that the school reconsider its decision to hire an armed guard.  I ask that the school open a conversation with the parent community and experts in child safety in order to continue to provide the most constructive and safe environment in which our children can learn.  I ask that decision on our children's safety be made with the best evidence and data available, and not with the understandable emotion that accompanies a tragedy like the Newtown killings.

I look forward to your response and to participating in future conversations on this issue.

Larry Schwartz, MD
Diplomate, American Board of Pediatrics
American Board of Pediatrics - Pediatric Critical Care Medicine
American Board of Anesthesiology