Thursday, June 1st | 12 Sivan 5783

February 19, 2018 8:56 am

Preventing and Reducing Deaths From Mass Shootings — In and Out of Jewish Institutions

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avatar by Zalman Myer-Smith


People holding placards take part in a protest in support of the gun control in Coral Springs, Florida on February 17, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins.

Here we find ourselves again — a tragic mass shooting with both sides of the gun lobby trading barbs with each other. We see a rerun of understandably emotional diatribes and tearful reporting along with a clarion call for change.

I live 40 minutes from Parkland. This was in my backyard. I know and work with the Chabad rabbis who rushed to the scene to provide comfort. We all want our kids to be safe, no matter what our perspectives are on gun control, mental health, government involvement and other issues.

Before I address practical solutions for school and site (synagogue, community center) safety, I must address some of the fundamentals repeated each time there is an active shooter situation.

I actually have worked with Mike Morrison — the Coral Springs gun store owner who sold the AR15 rifle to shooter Nikolas Cruz. The transaction was legal, the shooter passed the FBI background check, and Morrison followed the law to the letter. While many might not feel pity for the gun store owner, it could be argued that he is another victim of the tragedy.

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I do believe, as an NRA instructor, that we need common sense gun laws in place — but I reject unrealistic ideas of mass confiscation. To purchase a firearm (a rifle can be legally acquired at 18, a handgun at 21), one should have to receive a mental health screening, mandatory training, and ongoing proficiency tests. Still, there is no clarity as to whether gun ownership is a right or a privilege, and the fight will wage on.

As a parent, I am appalled at what is spewed out on reality shows and in music. How does a young man or woman get to the point of suicidal or homicidal behavior? We only need to look at Israel or Switzerland for common sense guns laws. The long term fix requires some accepted restrictions on firearms ownership.

But in the short term, how can we keep our schools, synagogues, and community centers safe? Furthermore, Jewish schools and synagogues have an added dimension of threat — thanks to Islamist and far-Right attacks on our people.

Here are five practical, no/low budget actions that every Jewish and non-Jewish site can put into effect.

Number 1 — Trained and Armed School Security. We have 453,000 veterans who have proudly protected and served our country. Those who would be screened and certified could be put into our school system as safety officers. Furthermore, our teachers and staff should know how to handle a firearm — not necessarily to have or carry, but to understand and be comfortable with. Armed guards are necessary.

Number 2 — Trained Volunteers From the Community. Based on successful models used in the UK, South Africa, Australia, France, and other nations, community members, teachers, and even rabbis should be trained to act as guards and observers.

Number 3 — Have a Plan and Drill It. We need to put plans in place for schools and other sites to respond to shootings, and then practice and drill them, so that these plans are ready in case of an emergency.

Number 4 — Communicate. Our best friends are law enforcement officials and our neighbors. We can’t just build relationships during a tragic or difficult time. We need to make and nurture these connections beforehand. Securing a site (school, synagogue, or center) is a community effort and everyone has a role to play.

Number 5 — Education. The pride of Jewish communities is education. We need clear and experienced education efforts on security matters, as well as protocols and realistic firearms training.

My children attend the largest Jewish school in the southeastern United States. I want them to learn, play, and grow in a safe and secure environment. The threat remains far too real and we must implement steps such as those above.

While the debate continues on gun control, mental health, education, and government failings, we can make these common-sense reforms now. The resources are there; let’s utilize them.

Zalman Myer-Smith is the current Director of a Florida based volunteer Community Security Organization liaising, training, and working with law enforcement agencies and serving Jewish community synagogues, schools, and centers. Zalman is also the head of security of Chabad of Florida, an NRA Instructor, and a former Federal Firearms Licensed Dealer.

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