OAKLAND, Calif. - When he heard police arrive at Sandy Hook Elementary School, a "gun free zone," Adam Lanza ended his murder spree by killing himself.
Days earlier, in Portland, Ore., Jacob Roberts had slain two at the Clackamas Town Center mall. When a licensed gun owner pointed a pistol at him, Roberts likewise killed himself.
James Holmes murdered 12 at the Aurora Century movie theater in Colorado, another "gun free zone" that prohibited armed security personnel. Holmes surrendered when police showed up.
Rampaging gunmen seek victims at places where they expect no immediate resistance. They continue their evil deeds until they are no longer in control due to the intervention of armed defenders. Then, they typically seek to remain in control by taking their own lives.
The tragic Newtown, Conn., school massacre was instantly politicized by calls to ban "assault weapons" and magazines holding more than 10 cartridges. Violent video games were deplored, but there were no pre-written bills to ban them. Mental illness was a hot topic, but no firm solutions were offered. Increasing police presence at schools was not in the cards during the media-driven frenzy.
Virginia's Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell suggested that not only police, but armed school officials who so chose could be trained to stop aggressors. A loud chorus responded against "shootouts" in schools. Perhaps unopposed executions are better.
For now, consider just increasing the law enforcement presence.
When the NRA's Wayne LaPierre proposed armed security at every school, the media reacted with a tidal wave of derision and contempt. How could anyone dare say that we live in a society where our children need armed police protection, and need it now? Shall we live in a fantasy world and kid ourselves into thinking that we can simply pass new laws and such tragedies won't happen again? In the days after Newtown, school authorities nationwide notified parents that police were patrolling schools more often and that security was being tightly monitored.
The Washington Post, openly advocating a gun ban, derided the NRA proposal - a verboten topic, apparently, for the nationwide "conversation." Curiously, the Post then published an article noting that police had stepped up patrols at schools in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia and that some schools, particularly in D.C., had permanent security guards. Law enforcement presence is focused mostly at urban middle schools and high schools, not at elementary schools - doubtlessly to control drugs and gang violence.
So the issue is not whether armed security personnel should be present at schools - nationwide, some 17,000 sworn officers already serve in schools, according to the Center for Problem-Oriented Policing - but whether their presence should be increased to protect against the inevitable copy-cat killer.
No guarantee exists that the presence of an armed officer would stop the next disaster. But it would give the potential victims a chance.
Remember, the massacre at Columbine High School, a "gun free zone," took place after passage of the federal "assault weapon" ban. The killers didn't use the banned guns; they didn't need them.
Somebody intent on mass murder has many weapons from which to choose: fertilizer-based explosives were used to kill 168 in Oklahoma City; box cutters were the initial weapon used by the 9/11 hijackers who left 2,977 dead.
Murder and mayhem are not abolished by banning possession of selected physical objects by law-abiding individuals. No "conversation" is needed to know that armed security can protect schools, just as they protect courts and other public buildings, airline travelers, banks, and even convenience stores.
Stephen P. Halbrook is a research fellow with The Independent Institute.