Stricter security can curb school attacks
On Tuesday afternoon, a man hit 20 children with a hammer at a primary school in Beijing. Three of the children were severely injured. Several similar tragedies have happened in China in recent years, sometimes resulting in some students' deaths. These incidents should prompt the authorities to tighten security in and around schools, where some of the most vulnerable members of society spend much of their time during a regular weekday. Schools ought to be the safest place in the neighborhood.
One day before the Beijing incident, the city authorities released a survey in which most reviewers said they feel safe in the capital. However, one incident can shatter the illusion of safety. No family should have to go through the loss or injury of a child. The attacks on schoolchildren should justify a systematic response.
When such tragedies take place, one is tempted to draw comparisons between attacks on school children in China and school shootings in the United States. But such comparisons can be justified only if one can learn lessons to make schools and the areas around it safer for children. In China, such perpetrators use knives or hammers, not guns as in the US. Gun enthusiasts in the US sometimes cite Chinese school incidents to argue against stricter gun control. I would consider schools to be safe zones if no weapons were allowed, except for those carried by security personnel.
Admittedly, controlling weapons alone will not prevent tragedies as evil minds can use other means to unleash violence, but it will dramatically reduce the likelihood of mass attacks. A person commits a crime driven by motives, conditions, and his or her ability to inflict injury on others. Controlling weapons in school areas would reduce the capability of a potential perpetrator to cause harm to children.
One may argue that it is not possible to prevent people from owning hammers, scissors or kitchen knives, but schools should be trusted with the authority to determine which items are for instructional use and which utensils can be easily used as a weapon. And schools should be allowed to ban them as a safety precaution.
Also, schools should tighten security measures in and around their buildings, by installing some devices, non-intrusive for students if possible, at the gates for metal detection, as guards alone may not be able to identify all security risks. It may also be appropriate to consider having safety rooms where students can hide, and doors can be bolted to protect children in case of an attack.
Schools in China should also consider mandating safety programs to prevent and handle a real attack. School officials, especially security personnel, should receive training to deal with crisis situations. As far as I know, many a school in China has fire or earthquake prevention rehearsals, but few have dedicated programs to deal with scenarios of a real attack.
Following shooting tragedies, most campus police and security personnel in the US have received training to handle a real shooting situation. It may not be a bad idea to host a security conference or arrange exchanges for schools in China.
When introducing safety-related exchanges and programs, education authorities should not just focus on large cities and urban areas; they should pay attention to rural or suburban schools, too, where children are equally, if not more, vulnerable.
When mass shooting takes place in the US, there is often talk about the perpetrator suffering mental illness. Media outlets scrutinize the criminal’s life for traces leading to the crime, which sometimes give the satisfaction of media exposure some perpetrators had coveted. Such exposure may lead to copycat effects.
In most cases, perpetrators of mass stabbings in China think they are victims of “society”, and tend to take it out on the “society” at large in the most visible fashion. In spite of the transparency that comes from knowing about the individual, media outlets should be careful while covering the crime. Specifically, they should not unwittingly justify a perpetrator’s cowardly and hideous act by depicting him or her as someone who has suffered a great wrong which he/she cannot resolve through peaceful means.
There are always better methods to communicate and address problems and turning victimhood into victories. Sharing inspiring examples of such methods may change the mind for other potential perpetrators.
Besides, the authorities should work harder at creating better channels for individuals to resolve disputes through arbitration, counseling or other legal means. When more people know how to resolve conflicts through legal means, there will be fewer incidents of attacks on children.
The author is a US-based English-Chinese literary translator.