Words of terror: ‘active shooter’

No deaths or physical injuries resulted from the wicked crimes committed in Port Washington and 14 other Wisconsin communities on Oct. 20, but those fake school shooting alarms surely inflicted emotional wounds.

A telephone call to the Port Police Department reporting an active shooter in Port Washington High School set in motion a nightmare scenario that had the trappings of a tragedy that is terrifyingly familiar in America.

The lockdown, evacuation, panicked phone and text messages, cacophony of sirens, massing of law enforcement personnel, officers wearing body armor and carrying military weapons and images of fleeing students and tearful embraces between teenagers and a parent were traumatic. The terror was palpable.

Most of the other communities that received false school shooting alarms avoided full-scale responses because word was circulating among law enforcement sources that the large number of calls suggested they were hoaxes. Ozaukee County authorities, who received one of the first of the bogus calls and didn’t have information about others, acted correctly in initiating a response that was led by the Sheriff’s Office based on training for confronting school shooting situations.

These fraught decisions are forced on police by the fact that mass school shootings, once unthinkable, are now a grotesque reality. And, certainly, such decisions are influenced by the lessons learned from the infamous failure of police in Uvalde, Tex., to confront a school shooter while he was killing 19 students and two adults.

There is no understanding how the individuals or groups responsible for false school shooting alarms can find some twisted form of satisfaction in terrorizing children and their parents and teachers with their evil pranks, but there is no mystery about why these crimes are so easy to commit: The American public knows school massacres can happen because they happen so often in this country.

A vast amount of political rhetoric is expended on promises of action on “hot-button”  issues such as inflation and abortion, yet there is barely a murmur about doing something to allay the national anxiety symbolized by a term that once was merely police jargon but now is a common everyday expression—the chilling words “active shooter.”

What can be done is all about guns—sensible limits on who can use them, how they acquire them and the type of guns accessible to those who would employ them to slaughter the innocent.

Congress passed a law last summer that is more notable for its unusual bipartisan support than for the strength of its provisions, yet is a modest step in the right direction. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act expands background checks for gun buyers younger than 21, increases funding for mental health services and encourages states to enact so-called red-flag laws permitting the confiscation of firearms possessed by people determined by a court to be a significant danger to the community.

Unfortunately, few states have followed that lead. In Wisconsin, the majority in control of the Legislature stands in the way of any consideration of red-flag and background-check laws.

It is up to Congress, however, to enact the legislation that bears most directly on the horror of mass school shooting by reinstating the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

The most horrific of school shootings have had a common denominator—the shooters did their deadly work with AR-15-style rifles, civilian versions of the weapons issued to U.S. military fighters that are designed expressly to kill and maim human beings. These semi-automatic rifles with high-capacity magazines make it possible for even untrained users to inflict ghastly human damage. Some of the children killed with this weapon in the Uvalde school had to be identified through DNA samples.

AR-15 type rifles encourage and empower mass killers. They should be identified as assault weapons and their sale banned. The large number of these types of rifles now in possession of owners, who are mostly responsible firearms aficionados, would not be affected. But people intent on spreading carnage should not be able to walk into a store and buy one along with hundreds of rounds of ammunition, as has been the case in recent school shootings.

The vocal anti-gun-control base and the lobbies and corporate donors that support it would fight an assault rifle ban tooth and nail, even though it has strong public support.

According to recent polls, more than 60% of Americans want assault weapons banned.

They’re sick of hearing the words “active shooter.”


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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
(262) 284-3494


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