The "National School Safety Shield" program proposed by the National Rifle Association has been criticized by some who claim that an armed guard in a school is ineffective. They cite, as proof, the Columbine High School shooting of 1999, during which an armed guard was on campus. Their argument is that the armed guard failed to make a difference, as 12 students and one teacher were killed.
However, a timeline of the events assembled by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department and published by CNN proves just the opposite. The armed guard, Jefferson County Sheriff's Deputy Neil Gardner, was able to engage the killers, keeping them from shooting more victims, and he personally saved dozens of students.
Before looking at the facts of the case, first consider the line of reasoning used in the argument. Critics use a specific example (the Columbine tragedy) to make a general conclusion (armed school guards don't help). It's called inductive reasoning, and it is not a valid line of reasoning, because generalizations based on specific examples are easily disproved. For example, inductive reasoning would argue that because life-long smoker George Burns died of a heart attack at the age of 100 (the specific example), smoking is not hazardous to your health (the general conclusion).
In the case of the Columbine tragedy, the facts of the case disprove the conclusion that an armed guard did not help. At the time of the shooting, 11:19 a.m., Gardner was eating lunch in his car in the parking lot on the far side of the campus, away from where the shooting occurred. His parking space was near an area known as the "Smoker's Pit," and he used his lunch time to make sure students weren't in the area smoking during their lunch period.
The Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, chose that time for the attack because they knew a number of students would be in and near the school cafeteria. They placed two bombs inside the cafeteria timed to explode, which they thought would force students to evacuate outside, where they were waiting. However, the bombs did not go off.
After the bombs failed to detonate, Harris and Klebold began shooting students eating lunch outside. Deputy Gardner was notified of the shooting by a custodian within three minutes of the first shot, and had to drive around the campus to enter the parking lot where the shooting took place. It took him two minutes to arrive. He confronted the shooters in the parking lot, about five minutes after the first shot was fired. Deputy Gardner exchanged fire with Harris and Klebold, which stopped the pair from firing at students. Gardner's actions allow teacher Patti Nielson and student Brian Anderson (who were both shot at and injured) to escape and survive.
Even though Deputy Gardner exchanged shots with the pair, he was over 60 yards away, and the two ducked into the school without being hit. Gardner called for backup on his radio before taking a position outside as more officers arrived. Gardner did not follow the pair, as he helped dozens of fleeing students coming from the building..
Later, Gardner again exchanged gunfire with the pair as they shot from windows into the parking lot. He then saved the lives of 15 students in the line of fire as they hid behind a car. One at a time, he escorted them from cover to safety. About 45 minutes after the shooting began, both Harris and Klebold killed themselves in the school library. All of their victims were killed within the first 15 minutes of the shooting.
The contention that Gardner's presence did not make a difference is not supported by the facts. He not only briefly stopped their assault on students, he made it possible for an untold number of students to escape the cafeteria and get to safety.
Gardner also never got a good chance to shoot either gunman, as they were never closer than 60 yards from him at any time. Officers who arrived on the scene also did not immediately enter the school, which allowed the gunmen to kill several more students. The Columbine incident changed how officers respond to school shootings; instead of waiting to assess the situation, officers now immediately enter the school.
Harris and Klebold also managed to delay the arrival of police by setting off a bomb a block from the school before the shooting began, which was meant to keep officers occupied. With Gardner also in another part of the large Columbine campus, it is wrong to assume he could not have made a difference had he been closer.
Victor Medina writes for Yahoo News and his political blog WhenLiberalsAttack.com. His other writing credits include The Dallas Morning News and SportsIllustrated.com. He has served as a Dallas County election judge and on the Board of Directors of The Sixth Floor Museum. You can follow him on his blog, VictorMedina.com or on Twitter at @mrvictormedina. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be notified of future stories by Victor Medina, click the SIGN UP or SUBSCRIBE button at the top of this page.