Stop School Shootings Like We Stopped School Fires – From The Inside

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

Saturday, Dec. 1, 2020, marked the 62th anniversary of the 2nd worst school fire in US history – the Our Lady of the Angels Catholic School fire in Chicago killing 92 children and three nuns.    The worst school fire was in Collinwood, Ohio on March 4, 1908, killing 172 students, two teachers, and one rescuer.  Decades later, deadly school fires are truly a thing of the past, they are a distant memory and no longer a concern.

Today, however, we have a daily and very real fear of school shootings. How have deadly school fires been cut to zero nationwide, while school shootings are still a horrific reality? The answer lies within the walls of the schools.


As exhibited above, it took 50 years after the Collinwood fire for the US to wake up to school fire danger. After the 1908 disaster in Ohio, a new, brick “fireproof” school was built near the old one. Some fire codes were updated and improved locally, but only after the 1958 Chicago fire was their motivation to mandate nationwide change. Within one year of the Queen of Angels school tragedy, 16,500 schools were upgraded to what is now the current code.

Today, our schools are safe from fire disaster due to five basic concepts:

  1. Fireproof construction – inside, outside, and all conceivable materials and furnishings are non-combustible.
  2. Smart fire detection and alarm systems that communicate directly to fire departments.
  3. Accessible fire extinguishers in all areas (the burned area of the Chicago school only had four, each mounted out of reach, 7 feet off the floor) and advanced fire suppression systems
  4. Preparedness and training (fire drills, etc.)
  5. Automatic fire sprinkler systems

Despite virtually all children in the US being educated in fireproof schools and there being no recent deaths from school fires, we continue to have mandated fire drills, inspections, upgrades, precautions, and updated fire codes – and all with better and fully equipped fire departments mere blocks and minutes away.  Why, when our schools simply cannot burn?


In an editorial entitled “11 Minutes” columnist Patrick Bobko states that it took 11 minutes – 11 minutes during which most of the killing was done – from the initial call for help for true first responders to arrive at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Florida and to enter the building.  Arriving too late to stop the worst of the carnage, he alludes to a solution:

People believe in the Second Amendment because they don’t want the safety and security of their friends and families to depend upon the bravery of others. They are not willing to put the lives of those dear to them, or their own, at risk because the armed person the government assigned to protect them is cowering behind his patrol car.

Returning to our “solved” problem of school fires, let’s imagine that chemistry teacher Mr. Jones performs an experiment he’s done hundreds of times, today before a full classroom of 7th graders. Only this time, something goes wrong:  Poof, and in an instant, the countertop in front of the class is ablaze. In Ohio in 1908, or in Chicago in 1958, Mr. Jones would have had a huge and perhaps fatal problem. Surrounded with flammable materials (including the countertop) the flames would have quickly consumed the oxygen in the room and formed a deadly atmosphere for everyone therein. But in the modern chemistry lab of today, the countertop is fireproof and a fire extinguisher is immediately at hand, charged with the specific chemicals to fight the type of fire most likely in a chemistry lab. Were the fire to escalate, a schoolwide alarm would automatically sound and simultaneously notify the fire department, students would use their cell phones to alert their parents, and sprinklers would automatically activate. Either way, the fire would be quickly extinguished, the room aired out, the class would resume. It should be noted that all actions and/or precautions to fight the fire have taken place within the walls of the school. The successful outcome was the result of civilian actions and reactions, again within the walls of the school.


Contrast the above with the recent rash of school shootings. Like combatting fire,  the solution lies within the school walls – and that these shooters can be stopped – and stopped much sooner. The solution is to arm teachers.  Not just any teacher – but certain teachers. Which ones? I propose those elected by their peers as trusted and wise individuals. Once elected, those teachers would be asked to volunteer to be trained and licensed to carry concealed. If any would decline, once again the teachers would vote, and continue to do so until there are enough to provide sufficient coverage.

Recent school shooters always gravitate to schools that post “Gun-Free Zone” signs – signs that may as well state “School Shooters Welcome! You will face no opposition from this gallery of students and teachers.” Absurd as it sounds, that is exactly what has already happened more than a dozen times.  Until help arrives (think “11 Minutes”) nearly every shot fired has resulted in another fatality.

Yes, I know – I have been challenged by a retired Ph.D. educator and former school board member with this question: “What if an armed teacher goes berserk?” My response was, “You mean that teacher who has been alone with our children for hours on end, week after week, month after month, year after year – you mean THAT teacher? That teacher who, between today and the last time you checked, could have stockpiled more ammo and weaponry in their classroom closet than the Las Vegas shooter used to kill 59? THAT teacher?”

He has yet to get back to me.

Shooters are getting smarter – and deadlier. I listened to a news interview with horror as one surviving girl in Florida described how, hearing gunfire and following the rules for lockdown, the classroom door was locked and the students assembled against the wall where the door was located, out of sight of the shooter. The shooter came to their door, broke the window, and unable to reach the lock then extended his arm inside and (without seeing what he was shooting) turned the gun in the direction of the students and fired. The shots hit her girlfriend next to her, killing her. A fellow student, the gunman was familiar with the rules and knew exactly where his targets would be hiding.

That old saying, “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” holds true. Yet some label all guns and/or the people that own them as evil. In the column mentioned above, Patrick Bobko states:

See, the thing that’s hardest to communicate to “gun control” advocates is that all the people who own firearms aren’t caricatured “gun nuts” who drink Wild Turkey out of the bottle. They aren’t “survivalists” stockpiling ammunition and canned tuna living in cabins in the woods. Their convictions don’t spring from some sort of strange gun fetish or allegiance to an anachronistic ideology birthed in a less civilized time. They are not morally flawed because they have an “assault rifle” in their gun safe. They are instead people who, in moments of heart-pounding necessity, believe they would stand their ground during those eleven minutes. A considerable portion of the American public is armed for no other reason than it aspires to be brave in the darkest of moments when them [sic] and theirs are threatened. They want to be able to defend their loved ones and themselves for those eleven minutes when nobody else will – or can.

Ask yourself this question: Would your preschool, kindergarten, middle school, high school, or college student be better protected by a somewhat-timid but trained and licensed armed teacher – or face alone the likes of Dylan Klebold, Adam Lanza, Eric Harris, Nikolas Cruz or others? Would or could the death toll at Virginia Tech have been 2 instead of 32? At Sandy Hook – 7 instead of 27? At Parkland – 1 instead of 17? We will never know until we move the solution inside like we did with school fires – and respond at 1 minute instead of 11.


Karl William Jenkins resides in Scottsdale, Arizona.


As we move through 2023 and into the next election cycle, The Prickly Pear will resume Take Action recommendations and information.

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