Robb now enshrined in how not to respond

It was a textbook police response to an active schoolshooter. Nashville’s metro police on Monday raced to Covenant School and 14 minutes later the lone gunman lay dead. Three 9-year-olds and three adults died before officers arrived, but the lawmen clearly saved lives.

Almost immediately the contrast with the police response to Robb Elementary, where officers waited for 77 minutes to breach two classrooms terrorized by an 18-year-old, flared into renewed sadness for families of the 21 victims and further ignominy for Texas lawmen.

Of course the comparison is not entirely fair. Police in Nashville confronted the attacker in an open area on the second floor, where officers had a clear shot without fear of hitting children. At Robb, the shooter remained hidden inside two classrooms full of students. Most damning was police wasting an hour looking for a key to gain entry though a door that refused to lock and yet they never tried to open.

Nashville police – without benefit of ballistic shields and some armed solely with pistols – advanced quickly and methodically through the primary school. Shouted orders of “go, go, go” propelled the men as they cleared classrooms without knowing what waited behind each door. And when gunshots rang out on the second floor, police quickly mounted stairs to confront the shooter. Body cam video released the next day showed in vivid detail the determination of officers to end the attack despite full knowledge that the shooter wielded an AR-15-style rifle. 

It is hard to imagine a police force in America that has not been schooled in the disastrous police response to Robb. The hard-learned lesson is that no matter what kind of weapon is in the hands of an active shooter behind the door, you go through it, you keep moving forward until the threat is eliminated.  That response was taught as the ironclad rule after Columbine, where police formed a perimeter and waited for over three hours. Perhaps Robb will become the footnote to the Columbine rule or supplant Columbine altogether. 

Our tragedy cannot be recalled but, if it helped to motivate officers facing life and death at the Covenant School, we should take solace in the lives saved. That is more bitter than sweet, but Robb has to be an agent for change. 

At the very minimum, May 24, 2022, demonstrated the absolute need for better and more frequent active shooter training. Robb was also a pointed lesson in the foolishness of allowing 18 year olds to purchase assault-style weapons. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott instructs us that the right to own a long gun at age 18 dates to Texas statehood. But in 1845 the most popular rifle in the West was the Springfield 1840, an unwieldily, .69-caliber flintlock that took at least two minutes to reload. The weapons unleashed at Robb and at the Covenant School – using standard 30-round magazines – can be fired 150 times in those same two minutes.

If state lawmakers persist in using history to shore up their defense of assault-style weapons for teenagers, they need to saddle up their horses and ride into the Texas sunset. We are living in a present where firearms – especially those with high capacity magazine – are the number one killer of young people. That is not myth, but a terrifying reality that continues to gnaw at our nation.