Two high school shootings, two quite different police responses

Last Tuesday when a student armed with a handgun entered Great Hills High School in St. Mary’s County, Maryland and shot two other students, a school resource officer’s quick actions stopped the shooter in a matter of seconds.

A 16-year-old female student who was shot in the head by that gunman, died Thursday night after she was taken off life support.

When a gunman entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Broward County, Florida last month and killed three teachers and 14 students and wounded others, that school’s armed resource officer decided to remain outside while the mass killings were taken place.

Two separate tragedies in two different states with one thing in common; Both of those schools had an armed law enforcement officer on their property, however, the on-site police response was quite different at both locations.

In Maryland, Officer Blaine Gaskill was at the scene in less than a minute, he engaged the gunman, fired one shot and simultaneously the gunman fired one round. The shooter was later pronounced dead. Officer Gaskill was hailed as a hero for his quick action.

Not so for Broward County Deputy Scot Peterson, no accolades of heroism for him, he was called a coward for remaining outside the building while people were being killed inside.

Forty years ago, when I graduated from the police academy I was given the Law Enforcement Code of Ethics.

In part it reads: As a law enforcement officer, my fundamental duty is to serve mankind; to safeguard lives and property, to protect the innocent against deception, the weak against oppression or intimidation, and the peaceful against violence or disorder, and to respect the Constitutional rights of all men to liberty, equality and justice.

It still hangs on my wall even though I am no longer in law enforcement, because it reminds me of the time in my life when I raised my hand, swore to an oath, pinned the badge on my chest and knew that one day I might have to give up my life to protect another person. I didn’t have to be mandated by a law to do that. It was a matter of professional honor should that need ever arise.

I knew that part of my sworn duty included maintaining the highest level of ethical behavior and my personal commitment to put myself in harm’s way if ever called upon by the circumstances to do so.

I wasn’t alone in that endeavor.

Hundreds of thousands of American law enforcement officers also have that commitment every day when they walk out of their homes to go to work.

As a matter of fact, there is no law that mandates that a law enforcement officer give up their life for another and or place his or her life in jeopardy to protect another person.

The very nature of police work puts you in dangerous situations. No one forces you to become a cop, you are not bound by any contract. But you have an obligation both morally and legally to protect the community.

When an officer fails to place himself in harm’s way because of the concern for his own safety then he has failed in that obligation.

Those law enforcement officers that did go above and beyond the call of duty and gave up their own life to protect someone else are honored albeit posthumously.

Those that do survive receive medals and rightfully so.

So, the question is why one police officer would react without haste, rush to the scene and confront an active shooter and another officer would decide not to enter a school building knowing shots are being fired and lives are in danger.

I can’t answer that question for certain, however, I can say that one officer did his job, the other did not and children and teachers died.

The only thing I can say is that for the officer who decided not to go into Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School while teachers and children were being slaughtered, he will have to live with his decision for the rest of his life.

The one common denominator in both school tragedies and others is the fact that a weapon was even allowed to pass through the doors of an educational institution.

All schools should have an armed officer on property always, nowadays that is just common sense.

But as we have seen even that would not have stopped teachers and students from being killed and wounded.

Hundreds of school shootings over the years, 18 since January of this year, and yet anyone can get a firearm onto school property.

Children go to school carrying books and sadly many over the years have ended up leaving their schools in body bags.

No parent should ever have to bury their own children but to plan a funeral because your child just went to school in this country, that is a national disgrace.

We have taken measures to stop aircraft hijackings and bombings by having our bodies scanned and our luggage screened before we get onto any air carrier leaving an American airport.

Those measures made traveling by air far safer than it ever has been, whether we like to admit that or not, a credit to the TSA.

We have left our children unprotected in schools and have failed as a nation all those children and teachers that have been the victims of school shootings, many of whom are no longer with us.

We should not have to accept this loss of life.

Children are our future and the future of our country. Thank God for that, because we adults have made a terrible mess of things for way too many years.