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Family members who lost a sibling place flowers outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday, May 25, 2022.

Family members who lost a sibling place flowers outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Wednesday, May 25, 2022. (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Uvalde, Texas, school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo is hard pressed to find much sympathy or support anywhere these days.

His failure to breach the classroom door and take down the shooter while children were still alive is inexplicable. It’s going to be a hard thing to live with. In fact, I suspect the rest of Arredondo’s life will be haunted by his failure of May 24, 2022.

Still, in our condemnation of the chief, it’s worth noting that very, very few of us have ever been in his position. Have you ever been jarred from the routine of an ordinary day and suddenly been called upon to make a complex life-or-death decision that tests the very limits of your courage?

Unless you have, please indulge my skepticism about the confidence with which you assure us that you would have immediately burst through the locked door of the fatal classroom, guns blazing.

As often happens, former President Donald Trump provides an outlandish caricature of the untested certainty about the brave actions that so many are willing, in retrospect, to assert that they would have taken.

After the 2018 Parkland school shooting in Florida that killed 17, Trump criticized several deputies who failed to immediately enter the school. Trump would not have hesitated: “I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon.”

Of course, this is pure bluster of a particularly rich type, coming from a man who deftly managed to avoid military service during his generation’s war.

The fact is, none of us knows for sure how we would behave in Arredondo’s position.

I make no excuses for Arredondo. His failure, whether of judgment or of courage, is appalling.

But it’s worth thinking about what he knew and what he didn’t know during the crisis. He may not have known that there was only one shooter. He did not know whether the shooter was an unbalanced teenager — as it turned out — or a disgruntled, suicidal employee. He did not know the tactical situation inside the classroom. He did not know whether the shooter was wearing body armor. Because of communications failures, he may not have known that children were still alive in the classroom, whispering pleas for rescue.

But the one thing that Arredondo knew for sure was that the shooter was very, very well armed.

No American shooter enters a school, movie theater, nightclub or medical facility without availing himself of his almost unlimited ability to acquire high-powered, semi-automatic weaponry with enormous magazine capacity.

Not only is this sort of firepower available to 18-year-old kids, they’re encouraged to buy it. Daniel Defense, the firearms manufacturer that made the weapon that the Uvalde shooter used to kill 21 people, is running a “Product Spotlight” special this week, a 12-pack of 32-round magazines, “enhanced” above the industry-standard 30-round magazine, for only $236. Financing is available.

So, whatever fears and doubts Arredondo might have been struggling with as he first approached the classroom door, the one thing that he could be sure of was that he was seriously outgunned by a shooter in a favorable defensive position.

Some portion of the membership of the National Rifle Association fantasizes about the opportunity to use their beloved weapons of war in a righteous assault. Fine. If you’re among them, enjoy your fantasy.

Maybe Arredondo shared that fantasy, but I suspect that when it came right down to it, his courage failed him.

But where’s our courage? We’re asking our police officers to confront increasingly well-armed adversaries. Our police forces have responded with a militarized arms race that can’t be good for anyone. And we keep talking about arming teachers and providing our schools with security guards.

But the fact is, once the shooting starts, at first, at least, the good guys are always going to be outgunned.

Arredondo failed. But we’ve failed, too. When are we going to muster the courage to confront the subset of Americans who strive to convince us that we’re unsafe without a gun, and then work hard to create the conditions that make it so?

John M. Crisp, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.


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