TO SAVE SCHOOL CHILDREN, COLORADO GETS F.A.S.T.E.R.-
by Michael Sabbeth
Writing this article evoked pain and optimism. Maybe you’ve seen the bodies. I interviewed people who have. Likely you’ve seen photos of the bodies. You’ve certainly read about them; seen media coverage of the schools, the police, the emergency treatment personnel. Doubtless you’ve seen the volcanic eruption of infinite pain that pervades every fiber of the human soul. No doubt you’ve seen the piles of teddy bears, flowers, candles and cards placed on the school grounds, gestures of anguish caused by another school shooting, and then the question raised so predictably it’s become a cliché: How can we prevent these killings?
Millions have seen these sights. Millions have struggled with the mind-crushing perplexity of pure evil, sometimes incompetence, and the vile whimsicality of fate—of probability and improbability. In his Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot wrote: “human kind cannot bear very much reality.” Maybe so, but a few can bear reality; indeed, they embrace it and accept its duties and risks as the cost of pursuing a virtuous cause. They are willing to tip-toe into evil’s fire center to confront reality. The story of Colorado’s FASTER program is the story of those few.
Background and Mission
Data from mass shootings suggest a gunman will kill or injure a victim every seventeen seconds. Yet, under the best circumstances, police are eight minutes away. In rural areas, the time lag can be greater than half an hour. Not to belabor the obvious, having an armed defender seconds away will save lives. This is not an ideological or political position; it is a fact. Evidence also indicates that those planning mass shootings have school resource officers (SROs) as initial targets or wait until the SRO is away from the attack’s location. The shooter often thinks strategically.
FASTER stands for Faculty/Administrator Safety Training and Emergency Response. FASTER training enables teachers, administrators and other school employees to stop school violence quickly and administer advanced first aid techniques—to correctly apply tourniquets for arterial bleeds, how to pack a wound for trauma to the torso, how to apply a chest seal—to treat victims until paramedics arrive.
FASTER is not intended as a replacement for police and EMTs. Instead, it trains on-site personnel to save lives through prompt action. Training is a prerequisite to arming teachers. FASTER is one training opportunity. In many instances, FASTER graduates qualify at a higher level in handgun proficiency than police officers and sheriffs’ deputies. A concealed carry permit is required to qualify for enrollment. Participation is voluntary.
The Colorado Program
School boards and charter school boards in Colorado may legally authorize staff—teachers, janitors, bus drivers, etc.—to carry a concealed handgun as a school security officer. This reality inspired Laura Carno to travel to Ohio to study its FASTER program and assess its viability in Colorado. Ms. Carno, author of the provocatively titled book, Government Ruins Nearly Everything: Reclaiming Social Issues from Uncivil Servants, brought the FASTER program to Colorado in 2018 and serves as Executive Director. FASTER is a project of Colorado’s Independence Institute, the preeminent public policy ‘think tank’ which prefers the appellation ‘action tank.’ (https://i2i.org/faster-training) In addition to the Institute’s groundbreaking litigation, work on ballot initiatives and investigative reporting, it is engaged intensely in 2nd Amendment issues. For example, its research director, David Kopel, is an unsurpassed expert and one of the writers of the legal briefs in the landmark United States Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller.
While FASTER training is focused on securing our schools, the training is also open to other participants such as church staff or other concealed carry holders. Class tuition is $1,000 and includes a complete trauma kit for the participants to take back to their school, church or home. Upon request, scholarships are available for school staff members. Colorado FASTER is a non-profit organization.
The Soul of FASTER
Passion, competence and commitment to a virtuous purpose are requisites for an effective program intended to engage in lethal actions. Following the links in this article will quickly apprise interested readers of FASTER’s details. Not so easily discovered are the flesh and souls behind Colorado’s program. Several years ago, after her trip to Ohio, Ms. Carno made the acquaintance of Graham Dunne, a Colorado police officer and private firearms instructor. He became involved and introduced her to Quinn Cunningham. Cunningham is illustrative of instructor’s skills and dedication.
Cunningham is an active duty Colorado law enforcement officer, director at the law enforcement academy, a SWAT Team leader and ranked Grandmaster in Production Division in the United States Practical Shooting Association. He has seen death in the schoolroom. Without body armor, without clothing identifying him as a police officer, Cunningham raced into an active killer situation at a high school shooting in December 2013. He saw the murdered student. He was jarred by the sight of what he called a perfect strand of her hair, a sight that pulverized his soul, analogous, perhaps, to my seeing recently in a Czech synagogue the diminutive shoes of a toddler transported to his or her death at Theresienstadt. Cunningham’s wife, Danielle, also a police officer and one month pregnant, had seen the slaughter of innocents when she responded to an Aurora Theater, Colorado, in July 2012.
See Quinn Cunningham, SWAT responder to a school shooting for those that have the ability and the mindset to take such responsibilities.. not for everyone
Cunningham became a FASTER instructor. Ms. Carno introduced him to me which led to hours of interviews and some handgun shooting instruction. Cunningham’s narrative exemplifies the vision and motivation infused into Colorado’s FASTER program. He gave permission to share this intimate transformative event. His brows narrowed and his jaw muscles tensed as he spoke words that would bring tears to a statue. He and his wife were standing by his son’s crib, he holding their infant son. “I’m sick of seeing victims,” he said. It was a moment, he confided, “that changed me forever. I committed myself to serving students that cannot defend themselves.”
The volunteer students attend an intensive 3-day program—two eight-hour days followed by a 12-hour day—learning skills and tactics used by highly-trained law enforcement personnel: knowledge of active shooter situations, shooting skills, mental discipline and casualty medical treatment. Cunningham defined the five training components: Mindset, Shooting Technique, Qualifying, Basic Lifesaving Skills in Combat Casualty Care and concluding the classes with Reality Based Training where the skills are applied under stress. The training will get the volunteer through the fight, save lives by stopping the killer and with medical care. During the training each participant will shoot about seven-hundred and fifty rounds, exceeding the annual requirements for most police departments.
Luminous insights into a volunteer’s motivation for joining the program are seen through the words of Colorado Springs science teacher John MacFarlane, who is also a certified pistol instructor. “I’ve asked myself many times, ‘Why should it be that I have to die to protect my students? Why can’t I live protecting my students?’” he asked. “If I have that training, and I’m willing to take any training and go through any tests that they want me to go through, why can’t I be part of the solution to this problem?”
The volunteers want to train. They see the students as their own children. They take the responsibility seriously. They become what Cunningham characterizes as the warrior culture. See this video: The Daily Signal: Saving Lives FASTER featuring instructor Paul Gregory, Liberty Tree Academy founder Ronnie Mark Wilson and Laura Carno:
The Immoral Rhetoric of FASTER’s Opposition
Opposition to the FASTER program exists. However, even a casual deconstruction of opponents’ arguments reveals their moral bankruptcy. One common objection is: “Arming teachers is not the solution.” The insidiousness of this strawman argument leaps at the thoughtful reader like a puma. Note the immoral facile dismissal of the possibility that arming staff presents at least a partial solution for saving children’s lives. Another disingenuous and immoral objection is that “They would be turning schools into armed camps.” Where’s the evidence to justify such a hyperbolic rant? The students and faculty would not know who is armed. Moreover, a credible argument can be made that an armed camp, whatever that means, would present an effective deterrent to a potential murderer. Another argument in opposition is even more obtuse: “The students will feel they are in greater danger.” Such an argument raises vacuity to an art form. Only a uniquely perverse mind could think that greater security for students will cause them to feel and believe they are in greater danger.
Just in: As I was sending off my final draft, I read that Manatee School for the Arts in Palmetto, Florida, hired two combat veterans armed with semi-automatic rifles to patrol and guard the campus against potential threats, according to The New York Times. "We're not looking for a fair fight," the principal said of potential active shooter situations. "We're looking at an overwhelming advantage."
I’ve spoken to Ms. Carno, Cunningham, other SWAT officers and school volunteers. They look so much like ordinary people. They smile and giggle and talk about their workdays and mortgages. Some are petit, some look like NFL linebackers. But they are not ordinary. They are different. They are hero warriors. They differentiate between good and evil. They understand human nature. As Cunningham told me, “When you stand up against evil, they will stop attacking our children.”
Ms. Carno and the instructors are willing to try, to the extent of their human capacity, to stop a killer—a killer of innocent children. If necessary, they are willing to risk placing themselves between a supersonic chunk of metal and a child; perhaps your child. Support and lobby for FASTER programs. We need more of these not-so-ordinary ordinary people. Our children certainly do.
For more information
Firearms Training for Colorado Teachers
Quinn and Danielle Cunningham
Fortitude Training Concepts, LLC
Michael Sabbeth is the author of The Good, The Bad & The Difference: How to Talk with Children About Values. See Amazon.com http://tinyurl.com/c5flmmu. He is completing his soon-to-be-published book The Path of the Honorable Hunter: A Call to Action to Defend and Advance Hunting