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Shooting for Safety

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Lock the doors. Shut the blinds. Turn off the lights. Hide. Huddled together in the dark classroom, no one dares to move, speak, or even breathe. Minutes pass, then hours. Forty pairs of anxious eyes pick the room apart, searching for an everyday object that could be used for self defense–a fire extinguisher? Stapler? Textbook? In tense silence, students and teachers wait for a bell, a phone call, a text–any kind of signal to let them know when it’s safe to come out of hiding. For some, unfortunately, this signal never comes. This is a lockdown: a safety drill that’s become a little too real.

The term “lockdown” is most commonly known as a security measure taken during an emergency to prevent people from leaving or entering a building. These procedures serve to educate students on what to do in a dangerous situation, especially due to the recent rise of mass shootings in America–since 2013, there has been an average of one school shooting per week. What can be done to reduce the amount of victims traumatized, injured, and killed from these attacks?

CURRENT SAFETY REQUIREMENTS

First and foremost, teachers emphasize the routine school safety drills. According to Principal Brian Marcus, there are a fixed number of six practice lockdowns per year.

“As soon as the class rosters have been set, I go through my safety procedures,” history teacher Doug Heflin said. “I explain to [the students] why we do everything that we do and try to get it into them with a little bit of repetition.”

Lockdown drills, which include actions like taking cover and staying away from the windows, require oversight by a teacher to be carried out properly.

“What we do now depends on how seriously the teachers take [lockdowns],” senior Gabi Yamout said. “Most of the kids just do what they’re told. Maybe we don’t keep quiet enough, but everyone does [the procedure] pretty much the same way.”

Marcus assured that administration constantly looks for new ways to make the school a safer place. Between several Carlsbad Police officers, student resource officer Eric Prior, campus supervisor LoriLynn Branson, and others, there is always a multitude of protective forces present on campus.

In addition to the Public Address (PA) intercom system used for announcements like the Pledge of Allegiance, more methods of communication have been implemented this year to ensure a safer school environment.

“We upgraded and spent close to $8,000 on our walkie talkies,” Marcus said. “We now have over 25 walkie talkies all over campus that our staff has access to. I think that made a big impact because if we can’t communicate clearly as a staff or reach people, then that’s an issue.”

In emergency circumstances, communication can certainly go a long way. However, some means of communication have notable disadvantages.

“We’re supposed to check our emails or look for a Remind 101 message, but I don’t usually have my phone out,” Heflin said. “If my phone buzzes every two seconds with messages while I’m lecturing, how should I know one from the other?”

Despite all the precautions taken, any lockdown situation has a certain factor of unpredictability, which can limit the amount of drills.

“We can practice only for the best case scenario,” Heflin said. “Other than that, we have to think on our toes. There’s no planning for everything, as we’ve seen in all these shootings.”


Administrators acknowledge their liability to defend students in a state of emergency.

“I’m semi-obsessed with safety because I really am responsible for these kids’ lives,”  Heflin said. “I’m the adult in charge; I’m the parent on duty.”

IMPROVING CAMPUS SAFETY

In a survey MavLife conducted on how safe students feel at school, the results varied. Out of the 227 students who responded, 52 percent felt “safe,” 24 percent felt “very safe,” 18 percent felt “moderately safe,” and a low five percent felt “not safe at all.”

71 percent said that they felt “safe enough” during lockdown drills, while only two percent said they felt “extremely unsafe”–they didn’t think they’re prepared for a real emergency. What does La Costa Canyon lack for those two percent to feel that way?

Administration may have made efforts to improve communication on school grounds, but some areas of the school aren’t as up-to-date as others.

“The band room doesn’t get announcements,” senior musician Michelle Gould said. “If Mr. Marcus were to get on the loudspeaker and say there’s a shooter on campus, we wouldn’t know.”

Similarly, some believe the layout of the school as a whole contributes to feelings of unsafety.


“We have a very difficult setting,” Heflin said. “There are so many ways to get in and out [of the school]. If someone really wanted to, they could probably climb over these fences and gates.”

One way to discourage break-ins is to modify the entire geography of the campus.


“A suggestion has been having the main entrance being the office to get into campus,” Heflin said. “It might keep bad guys out if they know they need to walk through the office to get on campus.”

Years ago, during one of the more serious lockdowns in the school’s history, a burglar drove on campus and then fled out the fire road. Aside from this occurrence, facing intruders isn’t a typical scenario for La Costa Canyon. Some consider the school’s surroundings more secure than other areas in the region.

“I feel like we live in such a safe neighborhood,” senior Gabi Yamout said. “The crime rate is really low, so campus feels like a safe place to be.”

All schools are different–different sizes, different designs–but most classrooms are similar. What’s the best way to protect students inside a generic classroom? Some ideas offer a quick fix, but are simply unrealistic.

“The big new suggestion the experts are giving us is to barricade the door, but it wouldn’t be practical to practice on a school day,” Heflin said. “I can’t imagine doing a lockdown drill and having to throw all of the desks against the door.”

WHAT ROLE DO GUNS PLAY?

Because shootings have become so common, a widely discussed topic has been whether or not to arm school staff for protective purposes. Taking this course of action, however, would require a certain amount of preparation.

“If every teacher has a minimum of ten hours of training every year to have a gun in the classroom, I’m all for it,” senior Max Eibel said. “But no one should have a gun unless they’re somewhat trained.”

On the other hand, how much protection would guns realistically offer in an emergency? Certain downsides to keeping firearms handy on campus call this into question.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” Heflin said. “If [a gun] is under lock and key somewhere with a combination, by the time you get it, it’ll probably be too late to use it anyway.”

Some worry that America’s lack of gun control in general plays a crucial role in the amount of mass shootings countrywide.

“I think that the better solution would to have more gun control so that criminals don’t have guns to begin with,” Yamout said.

Between thousands of stores and weekly gunshows that take place nationwide, guns are readily available for purchase. Some believe guns are too easy to obtain in the US, which causes them to, often times, fall into the wrong hands.

“The most frightening thing is the fact that interest groups like the NRA (National Rifle Association) have stopped every single bill since 1993 with the Brady Bill,” senior Alex Scott said. “If you’re on the FBI’s No Fly List, you can go and buy a gun today.”

When buying a gun, background checks only occur in store purchases, allowing other kinds of sellers to avoid the process entirely. Those who do conduct in store purchases, however, may not always use proper judgement when selling people guns.

“The people who work at gun stores are clearly for the Second Amendment–they want people to have guns,” Eibel said. “It’s not like they’re pushing guns into peoples’ hands, but I think they’re less likely to turn someone away.”

Various cultures, depending on the location in the country, differ on how acceptable it is to own a gun. Freshman GG Buhaenko, who lived in Dripping Springs, Texas for eight years before moving to California, experienced a lifestyle change regarding guns.

“I come from a town where everyone has guns,” Buhaenko said. “We even had a shooting team at school. Coming here was a complete culture shock.”

In California, on the other hand, an individual can’t legally carry a gun without a Carry Concealed Weapon (CCW) license, which can only be issued by a California county sheriff or chief of police.

“There are states where you can have a loaded gun on your hip at all times and that’s perfectly fine,” Eibel said. “Personally, I think that’s a good thing, but it has to be for the right people, for the right reasons. In California, you can get a concealed carry, but you have to prove to someone that you’re in danger 24/7.”

But what if the Second Amendment, which declares the right of the people to keep and bear arms, hadn’t been written? Without guns entirely, America would certainly be a different nation.

“European countries function pretty normally without guns, so it can clearly be done,” Eibel said. “But I don’t think you can have a country like ours, take everyone’s guns away, and have it go peacefully.”


With or without guns, violence in the US is inevitable. Perhaps one day, a solution for mass shootings will be discovered. Until then, authorities will continue the search for the best protective measures to take during school lockdowns.

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Shooting for Safety