Bringing a purse to a gun fight: Training to attack armed intruders?

Posted by on October 28, 2011

Typically I ignore snark and snipe attacks made against me on the Internet. As a higher-profile figure with over 25 years experience in the school safety field, they come with the territory.  And typically they come from people who are jealous and/or insecure anyway.

But every now and then one occurs that is just too good to pass up.  As a part of my daily research of online writings about school safety, I encountered one of those Thursday evening.

Earlier this week, I provided a keynote and two breakout presentations to over 600 school administrators, police officers and safety professionals at the Indiana School Safety Specialist Academy in Indianapolis.  The keynote session topic focused on administration center and board meeting security.

One of the attendees, assistant principal Stephen Satterly Jr., later attacked me online for a comment I made after showing a video of a Florida school board shooting last December where a well-intended school board member attempted to attack an armed gunman by striking him from behind with her purse.  In reviewing numerous take-away lessons from the video I stated one lesson is, “Don’t bring a purse to a gun fight.”

Mr. Satterly apparently thinks it is a great idea to attack an armed gunman with a purse. The board member, who had been told by the gunman to get out of the room, presumably meant well.  But the questions I raise are whether there were other options and was it the best decision given the facts at hand?

Attacking an armed intruder with a purse is not something I train or advise people to do.  Mr. Satterly, though, says that as an assistant principal it is his job to help teachers become more “warrior-like” and that, “The lady in the board room is to be commended.  Sure, she can learn from it.  We all learn from each experience.  But dammit, she acted, when others ran, or froze!”

Yes, she can learn from it.  But she is also lucky to be alive to learn from it and lucky her actions did not trigger a man who was not shooting to do so.  And apparently unlike Satterly and his employer who presumably endorses his teaching of teachers to be “warriors,” teaching a board member to hit an armed gunman with her purse is not something I would teach people to do.

True warriors train endlessly in their use of self defense tactics and weapons. Teachers, students and school board members typically do not do so in a preK-12 setting.  And most experienced, level-headed school administrators do not advocate for one-shot “training” sessions or setting school policy to direct their staff or students to attack armed individuals.

It is disappointing that an education professional and self-proclaimed “sheepdog for kids” who preaches being “warrior-like” was sheepish by first attacking me in a personal blog instead of speaking up during the conference session itself or coming directly to me one-on-one immediately afterwards.  Perhaps Mr. Satterly lacks the nobility he likes to claim in his blog that others don’t have.  Or perhaps the real reason for his sniping has to do with the fact I once made a challenge to his superintendent on a questionable bidding process for a school safety consulting project Satterly oversaw in his district.

Now in fairness to Satterly, he did open his blog by noting he, “…had an opportunity to see part of…,” my presentation.  Perhaps he was tardy for the beginning of the session or skipped out after the part he decided to critique.  Or maybe he simply is not attentive to detail as evident where he mistakenly refers in his  article to the Bay District Schools (where the board shooting took place) as the Panama City School Board.

Either way, I’ll set the record straight here.  People will make personal decisions in a crisis and heroic acts may result.  But when one assumes the responsibility to train people to act a certain way, they accept a huge responsibility and liability.

I, for one, take a deeper responsibility to not err on the side of puffery and warrior-talk by formally training people in an hour workshop or with a few videos to attack armed intruders with a purse, by throwing textbooks, or taking similar actions. I do believe in training them to think critically, to practice thinking critically and faster through tabletop exercises and drills, and to use their brains in a crisis rather than their emotions and egos.

And it is obvious that on this last point of teaching people to use their brains rather than their emotions and egos, there is still a lot of work to be done.

How are school officials trained at your school?

Ken Trump

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Follow Ken on Twitter @safeschools

One thought on “Bringing a purse to a gun fight: Training to attack armed intruders?

  1. Barbara M says:

    I located more blogs posted by Stephen Satterly, Jr. It appears that Mr. Satterly should know better then promoting “taking matters into your own hands” scenarios. I also located more blogs on internet posted by Mr. Satterly and they are all negative and insulting to anyone that might read them. His blogs are useless and teach nothing.

    Mr. Satterly could have and should have been written in a less defensive way, but written in a way to open a conversation where it would everyone, and open minds to “what if” constructive scenarios safe for everyone.

    Preparedness saves lives not aggressiveness.

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