‘Active shooters’ at campgrounds?

Here’s how much the cultural landscape has shifted: the Campground Owners of New York is promoting a five-page “Active Shooter Policy & Prevention” set of guidelines for its members, who operate private campgrounds and RV parks. New York’s state motto is Excelsior! which translates from the Latin as “ever upward.”

Well, maybe at one time.

A press release about this guidance came out last week, just days ahead of a preliminary report from the Texas House of Representatives that excoriated nearly two dozen police agencies for their botched response to a shooting at the Robb Elementary School, in Uvalde. By the numbers: 376 law enforcement officers stood by at a scene in which 19 students and two teachers were killed by one very disturbed individual.

That was on Sunday. Yesterday, Tuesday, marked the start of the penalty trial of the Florida shooter who killed 17 people at Parkland’s Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, four years ago. And today, July 20, marks the ten-year anniversary of the opening of a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado, chosen by another deranged young man as the setting for a massacre in which he gunned down 12. The day began with a midnight vigil and continued with a city-wide outpouring of anguish, still vivid after a decade of loss.

That’s the backdrop for the CONY release, which urges park and campground operators to hold active shooter training sessions and to develop policies and procedures to protect campground staff during active shooter “events.” As the guidelines, prepared by the Towne Law Firm of Albany, observe, “there may be legal liability should an employee be injured in an active shooter event” in the absence of a “well-rounded active shooter event policy.”

Well, yes. Trust a bunch of lawyers to bring up the pesky legal liability issue. But a “well-rounded” active shooter policy? What exactly does that mean? Was the Uvalde shooting response flawed by a lack of roundedness–for weren’t there abundant policies already in place for just such an occasion? Maybe a campground operator could do a better job of it?

The law firm’s guidance on the matter, unfortunately, is a predictable mish-mash of common-sense advice (report suspicious activity) and nonsensical prescriptions (do background checks on campers to determine “if they are connected to any violent crimes or incidents”–and then?) that may provide some legal cover, but certainly won’t withstand an assault by someone armed with semiautomatic weapons and a death wish. This is the same kind of wistful thinking that propelled a generation of children in the 50s and 60s to use their school desks as shelter from nuclear weapons.

It’s also the sort of thinking that underscores how our society’s default position when confronted with a threat (global warming is another example) is to prepare for the worst outcome–as if that were possible–instead of making the difficult choices needed to confront it directly. Rather than press the politically difficult battle of banning assault weapons, or requiring extensive background checks and licensing for gun ownership, let’s just practice the “run, hide, fight” scenario that apparently is coming, ready or not. Give up on root causes and just negotiate the consequences.

Sadly, the other thing CONY and the Towne Law Firm are communicating is that there’s no escape. Society’s every ill will follow you, regardless of where you go. Even “the great outdoors,” it turns out, is not immune to the tragedy of the commons as we’ve now redefined it.

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Author: Andy Zipser

A former newspaper reporter who worked at a variety of newspapers, from small community weeklies to The Wall Street Journal, I finished my "normal" work life as the editor of The Guild Reporter, official publication of the union representing newspaper workers. On retiring, I and my wife bought a campground in the Shenandoah Valley and--with the help of our two daughters and their husbands--operated it for eight years, first as a KOA franchisee and then as an independent family-owned RV park. We sold the campground in May, 2021, and live in Staunton, Virginia, a short walk from our grandsons' home.

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