Quick response defuses gun threat before it starts

A student brought a gun to Kamiakin High last week.

OK, it wasn't a real gun -- but it looked real enough to intimidate other students when the boy flashed it around campus.

A student reported the incident to school officials, and within a matter of minutes, the police, with their weapons drawn, stormed a classroom and removed the threat.

The event will never be a made-for-TV movie but it might make a good script for a training film. The response from school administrators and Kennewick police happened exactly the way it is supposed to -- quickly and without any injuries.

It took just 12 minutes from the moment a student reported that a classmate had a gun and the youth's arrest.

The police responded in a trained, professional manner, and the young man was removed from school.

It may seem a little over the top for six officers to confiscate one air pistol.

We are sure the experience of being in the room when police burst through the door with weapons drawn was traumatic for everyone involved.

After all, even though the student's gun was a toy, the officers' guns were real -- very real.

Of course police didn't know the gun was an airsoft pistol, a realistic replica that uses compressed air to shoot nonlethal plastic pellets.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stretch the imagination to consider what could happen when a student brings a real gun to school -- especially when the student is intent on using the weapon.

We've seen it happen close to home. In 1996, 14-year-old Barry Loukaitis killed his algebra teacher and two students at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake.

In 1998, 15-year-old student Kip Kinkel killed two of his classmates and wounded 25 others in the crowded cafeteria at Thurston High School in Springfield, Ore.

Those are the kind of events that are made into television movies. They traumatize the kids in the classroom, the larger community and the entire nation.

Anytime a weapon is involved, school administrators have to treat it as a serious threat to students and faculty, even if subsequent information makes the reaction seem overblown.

Contrast last week's response to what happened almost four years ago, when a Richland High student brought a real gun to school.

It took 90 minutes from when the gun was reported to he administration to when it was confiscated by police.

Way too long.

We weren't alone in criticizing the lack of urgency.

Richland responded with comprehensive improvements. The bungle no doubt helped schools throughout the Mid-Columbia re-examine their policies too. Richland's pain may have contributed to Kennewick's gain in this situation.

Just two months ago, the Herald presented an in-depth article on the difficulty in keeping our schools weapons-free.

It's a huge task.

We suspect there is more to the Kamiakin story. Questions we wonder about: Why did the boy feel a need to bring a weapon to school? Was he being bullied? Does he need help? Is he the bully?

Researchers have found school shooters don't have much in common, but a 2002 study of 37 attacks conducted by the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education reported that "many attackers felt bullied, persecuted or injured by others prior to the attack."

The immediate response was commendable. But taking a hard look at cause and effect may find ways to prevent the next incident before it happens.