Republished with permission from Lucian K. Truscott IV
You won’t find those words in the report released today by the Department of Justice on the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, that cost the lives of 19 school children and two adults. But that is what the report describes. There was one 18-year-old shooter, Salvador Ramos, armed with an AR-15 style semiautomatic rifle, and there were 370 officers from multiple Texas police departments, all of them armed, who responded to the shooting. It took 77 minutes from the arrival of the first officers on the scene for the door to a classroom to be breached. Three hundred and seventy to one. That is a failure, not just of leadership, training, planning, execution and everything else covered in the DOJ report, but a failure of courage.
The report, for the first time, records that officers told DOJ investigators that they did not want to face what they called “the battle rifle” and risk being killed.
There it is: the first official description of a civilian semiautomatic AR-15 rifle as a piece of military hardware powerful enough to cause 370 police officers to cower in fear that they might be killed by a teenager who had no formal training on the weapon, including no marksmanship training, no safety training, in fact, none of the training that virtually every law enforcement officer on the scene had had with the weapons they carried, many of which turned out to be the fully-automatic version of the same AR-15 style rifle.
That is how afraid they were of that gun. Three hundred and seventy of them, some wearing with tactical vests that did contain ballistic plates capable of stopping a .223 mm bullet, were so terrified of the rifle wielded by the 18-year-old untrained shooter that they refused for over an hour to confront him with their vastly superior firepower which they could bring to bear with the experience of dozens of hours of training. Some of the law enforcement officers even had ballistic shields and were wearing Kevlar-reinforced helmets. Nearly every officer visible on video tapes of the incident was wearing what are called “tactical gloves” which supposedly enable the person wearing them to hold and fire their weapon with greater accuracy and efficiency.
But the figure that should be carved into granite in the Texas hall of shame is 370. That is the number of law enforcement officers at the scene of the shooting who did nothing for 77 minutes to save the children, many of them grievously wounded, trapped in the two classrooms with an armed shooter. The number, 370, represents more armed persons than a typical infantry combat battalion is comprised of. Some of the law enforcement officers on the scene were equipped with armored tactical vehicles designed to protect them in just such a scenario. Those vehicles were never brought to bear against the shooter. They might have used an armored vehicle to crash through the exterior wall of a classroom. Such an assault might have shocked the shooter as law enforcement officers wearing protective gear spilled out of the vehicle and engaged him with their automatic firepower.
That didn’t happen.
Instead, as we have all seen in security footage from the school that day, the Texas law enforcement officers hid around the corners of walls in the hallway leading to the school classrooms occupied by the shooter. They aimed their AR-15 style rifles down the hallway.
But they didn’t shoot their rifles. They could have put together a small squad of officers and fired a fusillade of bullets down the empty hallway leading to the classrooms in a show of force meant to scare the shooter with the sound of all the firing, showing how much firepower they had on hand. They could have then called out to the shooter to surrender, or they were coming in after him.
That didn’t happen, either.
Instead, they let 77 minutes expire before a team of heavily-armed officers from the Border Patrol Tactical Unit crashed through the door of the classroom carrying at least one tactical bulletproof shield. The shooter fired at them from a closet, they returned fire and killed him. No officers were injured in the assault that killed the shooter.
Much, much more went wrong that day. Wounded children were not immediately treated where they lay in the classrooms by emergency medical technicians because the EMTs did not follow the officers into the classrooms. Instead, the wounded were picked up and carried outside the school and put on the ground. Not on stretchers, or into an ambulance, but on the ground. One victim died lying on the ground. Other wounded children were carried to a waiting bus and driven away from the scene. Not to an ambulance, where medical equipment was waiting like oxygen, breathing tubes used for CPR and portable defibrillators. One 10-year-old boy who was placed in an ambulance died halfway to a hospital in San Antonio that was 40 miles away. He was not put in a helicopter because there were no helicopters waiting at the scene to transport the wounded, despite the fact that law enforcement officials had had nearly an hour and a half to arrange for them.
The DOJ report blames a failure of leadership and training for the disaster that happened at the Robb Elementary School that day. But it’s way, way worse than that. The 18-year-old shooter was able to walk right up to the school carrying his AR-15 assault rifle and all that ammunition because in the state of Texas, it is legal to carry a rifle openly. If you have a handgun, it must be carried in a holster. But you can carry a rifle, ready to shoot, in your hands. And you do not need a license to either own the firearm or to carry it in the open in Texas.
Let me tell you how insane this is. Recently in Memphis, Tennessee, a man was seen on a public street carrying an AR-15 style assault rifle. At least one school he walked past, the Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal School, was put on lockdown with all children locked into their classrooms.
The man carrying the rifle did not break any laws. It is legal to openly carry an AR-15 on a street in Tennessee. Police who later approached the man were told that he was armed because he was “scared.” He told police that “Memphis is a dangerous place.”
So, here’s another study for the Department of Justice to undertake. How are schools supposed to protect themselves if people can openly carry the same “battle rifle” used to kill 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and they can carry that weapon on a sidewalk that leads to a door to a school? The person with the weapon cannot be stopped by the police or detained because he is not breaking the law.
So, when is a law broken in a so-called “open carry” state, you might ask? The answer is, when the killing starts.
That is where we are, folks. It’s not illegal to carry semiautomatic rifles openly on the street in states like Texas and Tennessee. Hell, it’s not even illegal to cower in fear in a school hallway when 100 feet away, children are being killed behind a closed schoolroom door.
Not one law enforcement officer of the 370 present at the Robb Elementary School on the day of the slaughter has been charged with a crime. It’s not illegal in the state of Texas to be a coward.
Lucian K. Truscott IV
Lucian K. Truscott IV, a graduate of West Point, has had a 50-year career as a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He has covered stories such as Watergate, the Stonewall riots and wars in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan. He is also the author of five bestselling novels and several unsuccessful motion pictures. He has three children, lives in rural Pennsylvania and spends his time Worrying About the State of Our Nation and madly scribbling in a so-far fruitless attempt to Make Things Better.