The real crime in APS school shootings: No one did anything to stop these kids earlier.

Former civil rights and criminal defense attorney Tom Dunn is a high school teacher in Atlanta and the father of three Atlanta Public School students. He wrote this piece in response to the shootings at Grady High School and Price Middle School. He teaches classes in law and justice.

By Tom Dunn

After the Feb. 27 shooting at Grady High School, my students at another Atlanta high school and I continued our discussion about guns in schools and how to make schools safer.

The students in my Introduction to Law and Justice class agreed that allegedly bringing a gun to school was wrong, no matter what the rationale may have been of accused senior Morgan Tukes. Their proposed solutions were to tighten security and gun control, or enforce the laws we have and lock up the alleged offender for a long time.

My teaching point was that the best solution was social responsibility — what we once called community.

First, someone allegedly gave Ms. Tukes that gun. Allowing a gun to get into the hands of a minor is not acceptable in any concept of community.

Tighter gun control laws and stricter enforcement of current laws would help prevent some of these problems, but that is not enough.

In the Newtown, Conn. school shootings, Adam Lanza was able to kill 20 children, six adult heroes, and his mother because adults failed him and the community. His mother was afraid to leave Lanza alone because of his mental health issues, but she kept an assault weapon, handguns, extended magazines and ammunition in their home.

His mother bears responsibility, as does every adult who knew about Lanza’s mental health issues and his mother’s love of guns. Adults in our communities must fulfill their role in guiding, teaching and protecting our children.

Second, according to reports, two students let Ms. Tukes into the school through a back door. These two students knew, or should have known, something nefarious was going on.

Whether they  knew their friend was allegedly bringing in a gun would typically be a jury question. I reminded my students that if several young men are stopped in a car and drugs are found, they all get charged, even if one did not know about the presence of the drugs. My students acknowledged this truth about blindly trusting another with their future.

A student countered, “I can’t let down or snitch on a friend.”

I responded, “If her friends had refused to open the door, what would be different?” Another student answered, “Everything. The gun would not be in school.”

One student added, “She would not be in jail.” Another interjected, “She would graduate from high school.” Several offered that her life would not be “ruined.” If only Ms. Tukes’ friends had been true friends who were not afraid to stand up for her and for what is right.

Finally, I asked my students, “Do you think anyone else knew that she (allegedly) had this gun and was bringing it to school?” The majority of students agreed that someone knew.

I asked the same question about the student who allegedly shot another student at Price Middle School. A majority agreed that someone knew, but did nothing. They also agreed that both students would be better off if someone had done something to stop them.

No one did, and that is the real crime.

We need tighter gun control laws and to enforce our existing laws, but we must shoulder our responsibility to keep our children, schools, and communities safe. In every gun/school tragedy, there were multiple missed opportunities.

Our community dodged the bullet twice last month; no one died. Adults and students must listen, stand up and act. Community action is the best defense to keep guns out of our schools. We are our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

–from Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

65 comments Add your comment

Dr. John Trotter

March 8th, 2013
10:06 am

It starts with general discipline in the school environment. Unfortunately, in the urban schools, there is very little discipline. We at MACE have been harping on this for years. Perhaps now people are just beginning to realize how bad that it really is. It’s a shame that it has taken gun incidents to bring this lack of discipline issue into focus.

Dr. John Trotter

March 8th, 2013
10:08 am

Newton, Columbine, Jonesboro (Arkansas), etc., happened in suburban and rural-type areas, but I was addressing specifically the lack of general discipline here in the Atlanta Public Schools.

catlady

March 8th, 2013
10:10 am

There are responsible gun owners, and then there is everyone else, which includes irresponsible gun owners and those who do not, for one reason or another, own a gun. The latter group is MUCH MUCH larger than the former, IMHO.

Our legislature continues to make it more likely that guns will be used at the spur of the moment.

I am surrounded by a half dozen gun owning households. They are convinced that they need the guns to defend themselves and their property from the government, and from “those people” who, they are sure, are h3ll-bound on coming up here and taking “their stuff.”

Community Standards are more effective than metal detectors

March 8th, 2013
10:16 am

What Mr. Dunn has to say is true – we as a community need to police ourselves and our friends and families. “I am my brother’s keeper.” Enforcing community values, and being willing to report a friend who is planning to bring a gun to school, will be more effective than simply adding more metal detectors and even harsher gun laws.

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
10:16 am

still trying to decide if I want to call pantload on this, or just “is he really that stupid?”

-all the gun control laws in the universe are useless. criminals by their nature do not obey laws. reference Chicago.

-the code of silence is nothing new. it is older than public education

-all the steps we could take which might -emphasis, might- could have been taken are either illegal or opposed by civil rights lawyers. as long as we can’t do random searches of kids, random testing for drugs, ect we are spinning our wheels. and the kids are much smarter than they are given credit for-they know exactly how far they can push/what they can get away with.

factor in the culture of violence which is so common in the younger generation….

it really boils down to a very simple question with no simple answer: do you want a pseudo safe society at the expense of civil liberties, or do you want a free society with the inherent risks involved?

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:17 am

The real crime is that people give kids too much credit for being mature thinking beings….they are not.
Gun control is not going to stop irrational thining kids from carrying out what they think is th way to handle THAT situation….
When i hear kid s say I am not going to SNITCH on my firend….well then if you knew about the gun then you should be suspended too…
I am so sick of these idiot school administrators and legislators making thse stupid decisions…
Now the legislators are pussing bills thru to allow uns in churches, bars, college campuses…I digress
The kids that opened the side door for Morgan TUkes needs to be suspended as well. all of them sent to the alternative schools until they graduate.
Better yet…instead of suspending them send them to the ARMY, and MARINE boot camp….when (IF) they complete that then they can be let back into school.
I admire other countries like Switzerland that requires ALL males to serve in the reserve unit for i beleive two years after high school..
Yeah we are thanking our lucky stars that no one got killed…
The parents or whomever made the gun available to Morgan TUkes should also be punished…

Most human beings have no clue of how much responsibility it takes to be a responsible human being…we jst know we live in a free country and feel like we can do and say what we want with no consequences…..time to start imparting those consequences and mean them….

Grifter

March 8th, 2013
10:17 am

More of “no real solution at all” talk. People who rant and rave and weep over the loss of family values and “community” have no real solution to any issue, social or otherwise. You can’t legislate “family values” or police “community”. These are abstract and subjective concepts that YOU perceive. While you whittle away your time worrying about these things the rest of us will work on concrete solutions. Like your students tried to do and you failed to recognize. Maybe you shouldn’t be a teacher.

Anonymous in DeKalb

March 8th, 2013
10:18 am

Leave it to Dr. Trotter to plug his third-rate MACE group at every opportunity. Without cost, courtesy of Maureen and the AJC.

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:18 am

Dr. Trotter ….don’t limit this to the URBAN schools. I have been in private, charter and christian schools where discipline is lacking and ENTITLEMENT seems to be the course of the day….

Might

March 8th, 2013
10:18 am

It is unfortunate that this bog that represents a regional newspaper is totally fixated on the stumbles and malpractice of two school districts; APS and Dekalb. Review the list of the 8 largest districts in the state (all in Metro-Atlanta). When have we heard any education news about any of these other districts? There are good things happening as well as issues that need a spotlight in other places besides APS and DeKalb. This banter about these districts is tiring.
Gwinnett – 164,455
Cobb- 108,496
DeKalb- 97,297
Fulton- 91,682
Clayton- 51,052
APS- 49,217
Henry- 39,973
Cherokee- 38,679

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
10:22 am

@ catlady

you would be surprised at how wrong your assumption is. the vast majority of legal gun owners are extremely responsible with their firearms – we know just how dangerous a gun is.

the vast majority of gun violence occurs with people who have gotten their guns illegally with illegal purposes in mind. again, Chicago

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:24 am

hey Might….a kid in marrietta just called in a hoax gun shooting today…catch up brother/sister…none of the counties you listed are immune from any of this and just because you have not heard about it does not mean it has not happened…..
APS and Dekalb are not even the issue…

KID

March 8th, 2013
10:24 am

Until parents are held more accountable, our school systems will continue to fall apart. Education and discipline starts at home.

skipper

March 8th, 2013
10:25 am

Typical inner-city stuff. All the talk of Columbine, Sandy hook etc. is going to do nothing to help save this cluster. Harp on it all you want……check back with this mess in 10 years and see………

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
10:26 am

@ frankie

when you get a society with no sense of responsibility and an overpowering sense of entitlement …..
many of us who are old enough saw this coming back when Johnson inflicted his Great Society upon us.

Might

March 8th, 2013
10:26 am

@frankie- I know it is happening- good and bad, but nothing is ever reported or discussed in this blog besides APS and DeKalb.

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:29 am

bootney…what number doo you place on majority 51%, 70%…what..
legal gun owners sell there guns to criminals,

how do you know who is a legal gun owner or not….by the way they dress, by the car or pick up truck they drive…legal gun owners break the law too…when a manufacturing plant says you can not have a GUN on THEIR property, the legal gun owner IGNORES that rule…
How many legal gun owers were in Aurora Movie theater…

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
10:29 am

problem with “social responsibility” is it’s simply another name for political correctness.

which is alot of what destroyed community in the first place

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
10:30 am

@ frankie

take your meds. your post is nonsensical

Georgia

March 8th, 2013
10:32 am

We’ve turned out schools into shooting ranges because we accept our culture of guns and violence. Didn’t Sara Palin glean the most voter poll support after her Newsweek cover photo of her with that shotgun? (2008) I still have an enlarged poster of it on my ceiling over my bed. When I have an overnight guest, I have to lie about how it got up there. Unless we change our culture of guns, I’m going to have to keep lying about everything. aww, I don’t wanna talk about it.

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:35 am

@might …agreed, no offense meant, just don’t want this to turn into the usual THEM vs US, black vs white

this whole think starts at home and with the parents and guardians.
Stop acting like these kids have rights when they live in your home.
My kids know they are subject to search and seizure any time. that include cell phone ipod, etc…yeah they may erase stuff but just knowing that they have to remember all the time i just have to get lucky once…

DecaturMom

March 8th, 2013
10:36 am

Actually, Mr Dunn is incorrect about “I reminded my students that if several young men are stopped in a car and drugs are found, they all get charged, even if one did not know about the presence of the drugs. My students acknowledged this truth about blindly trusting another with their future.” At least in Decatur. I, unfortunately, know from experience that only the driver of the car that drugs are found in gets arrested. The others in the car go home with no charges. My son, who was NOT the owner of the drugs but was the driver of the car, paid a high price while his friends do not.

frankie

March 8th, 2013
10:42 am

don’t worry about me taking my meds….do you know if the legal gun owner sitting next to you took his…
my post makes perfect sense…perhaps your education level does not afford you the proper understanding….

Dr. John Trotter

March 8th, 2013
10:44 am

@ Frankie: Discipline is indeed bad all over now, but in the urban schools it is atrocious. I was talking to one of good friends who has his three daughters in a nice, well-known private school in the Atlanta area, and he was talking about how bad the discipline was. But, yes, “anonymous,” it is MACE and only MACE which has been stating the truth about how bad the discipline is in the schools. All we get from the other groups are spelling bee contests, tote bags, and wringing of hands about class size, etc. Don’t let you sour grapes be so transparent. MACE was right about systematic cheating, about APS and DeKalb being “gangsta school systems,” and right about Beverly Hall, Crawford Lewis, Romain Dallemand, Edmond Heatley, Mark Elgart, and SACS. Why did Mickey Mantle say? Whey they boo you, you know that you great! Keep booing, “anonymous.” We know that MACE is great! Ha! You seem to forget that I worked for six years for GAE. I know the inside.

OriginalProf

March 8th, 2013
10:47 am

According to an AJC article a few days ago, the pink pistol Morgan Tukes was carrying has turned out to be stolen with the serial numbers scraped off. This changes the situation considerably, Mr. Dunn. Hard to believe that any parents would have such a gun around the house, unless they’re in the habit of scraping off their guns’ serial numbers.

indigo

March 8th, 2013
10:51 am

The fact that Grady High School finds it necessary to have an “introduction to Law and Justice class” says a number of things about the student body, none of them good.

Funny

March 8th, 2013
10:52 am

From what I hear Dr. Trotter has to try to sell his so called union MACE anywhere he can. Rumor has it members are getting smart and tired to paying Dr. Trotter for nothing more than his loud mouth.

Funny

March 8th, 2013
10:56 am

The news media has protrated the girl at Grady High as a victim just because she shot herself instead of the intended victims. When really the rest of the student body just got lucky.

RCB

March 8th, 2013
10:56 am

Put the blame where it squarely belongs…..the parent(s). This article seems to “accuse” everyone else of misbehavior or contributing to this tragedy.

Anonymous in DeKalb

March 8th, 2013
10:58 am

@ Dr. Trotter (10:44 a.m.)

And yet, a thoroughly incompetent teacher can hand over monthly dues to you—and you’ll fight to keep him/her from being fired? Including by intimidation, if that works with administrators? Your whole sales pitch pretty much promises exactly that, no?

Why shouldn’t readers conclude that YOU are part of the problem in weeding out those who really don’t belong in the classroom?

And personally profiting from it, to boot.

Pluto

March 8th, 2013
10:58 am

In a relatively free society, we are really dependent on individual and social responsibility by all players if we are to cohabitate with our neighbors. That being said there will be individuals that don’t play by the rules and deviate from societal norms. Hell, some of these folks are just plain evil and spend too much time trying to rationalize their behavior. The great majority of gun owners are law abiding and don’t go around showing off their pieces and shooting themselves or others. Is more regulation necessary? I don’t think that will accomplish anymore than what we already have. We have become a culture that celebrates death via movies, video games, unborn babies and the like. What other result should we expect.

Maureen Downey

March 8th, 2013
11:00 am

#indigo, Mr. Dunn teaches at another APS high school.
Maureen

MiltonMan

March 8th, 2013
11:02 am

Good God another liberal calling for moe gun control laws. Funny that Tom Dunn mentions nothing about Morgan already having an arrest record and why is she sporting a pistol with serial numbers removed???

MiltonMan

March 8th, 2013
11:04 am

NYC high school graduates – 80% of them cannot even read. Mr. Dunn where is your article insisting on your fellow teachers not allow this to happen????

Meli

March 8th, 2013
11:12 am

Tom Dunn is absolutely correct in that it all starts at home. Period. We have a culture now where parents seem to think their child is capable of doing absolutely no wrong and everything they do will be considered completely adorable to everyone else on the planet. it’s no wonder that these kids will grow up to be criminals and their parents will sit there in shock when faced with TV cameras and say, ‘it’s not true, my child could not have possibly done this’. I can’t help but think of Judge Greg Mathis, who loves to tell his TV audience that his mother knew he was a hoodlum and would hear of police investigations in her neighborhood, then call the police and say, ‘I don’t know if he’s involved, but he probably was. Investigate him.’ I can’t help but feel that if Morgan Tukes’ mother had behaved more like Judge Mathis’ mother and believed her daughter and/or her friends were capable of such things, she would have found that gun and kept her from bringing it to school, not to mention making sure she knew her friends would be off limits permanently or else Morgan would be unable to sit down permanently.

marcia herritage

March 8th, 2013
11:16 am

Since you want to talk about history let’s start where this problem all began. You came to a land of what is now called America and brought with you GUNs and other exchangable goods. Little to the natives surprise, those same guns were used to take their land from them. You also brought over religion to overshadow barbaric ways?, but little to your surprise had you really believed that same gospel you were preaching…no one stopped this earlier? Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

Meli

March 8th, 2013
11:18 am

@MiltonMan–did you not read the entire article? Seems you only stopped at the first couple of sentences. No, he did not mention Morgan Tukes had an arrest record, but he certainly didn’t stop at saying that gun control laws would fix everything. He said it would help, but it won’t fix everything.

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
11:19 am

“we’ve turned our schools into shooting ranges”?

no wonder Obama got elected. most Americans can’t think anymore

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
11:21 am

@ marcia

was there a point in there?

Dr. John Trotter

March 8th, 2013
11:21 am

I see that I have some very courageous anonymous critics on this thread today. Well, well, well. I have always said that I am open to a public debate. Just get anyone from GAE, PAGE, or any other group to meet me in an open debate about the real issues in public education or about the performance of MACE of representing teachers. No problem. See how agreeable I am? Ha! Does MACE intimidate the principals? Perhaps MACE does. But, it’s all in their minds. If principals would treat teachers professionally, they wouldn’t have to be so scared. At MACE, we simply go be the law.

Anyone on here who wants to go to the MACE website or to my personal blog knows how to get there. I don’t have to spell out the internet addresses. I think that this may be the problem. The old stodgy groups know that MACE has the message and the performance. They have neither message nor performance. No wonder they keep yelping anonymously.

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
11:25 am

@ anonymous,

your personal dislike of Dr John’s organization aside, what in his statements actually are wrong?
does it matter if MACE, the NFL, or NASA made the same statements?

we have a discipline problem which is out of control at many schools and helps create the environment which leads to things like school shootings (not the only reason to be sure).

marcia herritage

March 8th, 2013
11:28 am

@ bootney only to those who can see!

marcia herritage

March 8th, 2013
11:32 am

@ booney By the way, was’nt booney farnsworth put under a spell?

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
11:38 am

@ marica

its wasn’t , not was’nt.

I’d wish you a nice life, but somehow I doubt you’d be able to have one

bootney farnsworth

March 8th, 2013
11:40 am

@ Dr. John

is it me, or do you see the same trend here of people doing everything BUT attempting to discuss the issues Maureen brings up?

Inman Parent

March 8th, 2013
11:40 am

The real crime in APS school shootings: No one did anything to stop these kids earlier.

Between 2/3/13 and 2/16/13 a 13-year-old Inman School student was robbed at knifepoint on Euclid Avenue. The young victim identified one of the suspects as a fellow Inman classmate.

Will the robber be at Inman this year and next and at Grady in two years?

Two Inman seventh graders were tasered for fighting on a school bus parked at Inman and refusing to stop even when the principal and a teacher tried to break them up. The mother of one went on TV to complain about the tasering, but didn’t say anything about her daughter’s dangerous behavior.

Will these two kids be at Inman this year and next, and then at Grady in two years?

Morgan Tukes’ mother, and some others, are even arguing that 17-year-old Morgan deserves a second chance, to graduate from Grady.

Our community dodged the bullet twice last month; no one died. Adults and students must listen, stand up and act.

Brasstown

March 8th, 2013
11:46 am

I do believe Colonel Herritage is out on the veranda sippen a mint julip.

NONSENSE

March 8th, 2013
12:47 pm

This is a bunch of bull and propoganda. Just anything to take the blame off of the real criminal — Tuft herself.
Let’s get the facts straight.
two students allowed Tufts to get into the door. HOW COULD they have kbnown she brought a gun to school? She merely came in limping. Thery didn’t know she shot herself and the gun wsn’t on her and let’s face it — if a white kid didn’;t allow her in the door they would be called a racist. I’m not buying this ridiculous plot to try to take the blame off of Tuft and her parents.
The community is NOT responsible.
First of all, the community woulod have to know that she had a gun. Not the sort of thing Tuft would tell all the white kids in the school and their parents.
Blame is due where it belongs on Tuft and her parents. It is up to parents to know what their kid is up to.
It is up to Tuft — for goodness sake she is SEVENTEEN — to know etter to own or bring a gun to school.
She got what she deserved. I’m glad she shot herself. Better her than someone innocent.

Jerry Segers

March 8th, 2013
1:29 pm

Thinking back to the ’50s and the ’60s when I was in school, as students we had no rights. We did as we were told. If we misbehaved at school there were consequences when we got home. Yes there were eraser fights, and fistfights over the cute girl in the class, but no major problems. The eraser fights ended in a paddle to the rear of everyone involved (We all were) and the fist fights ended in the donning of boxing gloves and fighting till we could not stand up or decided the girl was not worth the effort.

On the other hand if we felt we were mistreated at school, mama would have a talk with the teacher, principal, or lunchroom person and the next day an apology was given by both parties and life went on. During that time I carried a knife in my pocket every day and carried shotguns, pistols, and rifles to school when I was learning gun bluing.

Since then society has been handing out rights to students and parents like they were candy. Students can sue the principal if they get paddled, it bruised their personality or some such. Students can sue for bad food. Students have the right to leave class. Students have the right to….. The end result today is the teacher only has the power to beg: “Johnny, please stop shouting so I can go on with the class.” If johnny refuses, the teacher can call security and johnny is removed from the room a hero. The entire class is disrupted and johnny is back the next day with a solemn admonition not to do that again.

In short there are no longer penalties for bad behavior; therefore, students now rule the class room and anyone who has read Lord of the Flies knows where that will go. We can commiserate as long as we like, but it is not going to get any better until the society around each school decides they have had enough. They will then band together to keep the children in line starting at an early age and segregate the students that misbehave from the new population of children that are ready and willing quit worrying about their “rights” and learn their lessons.

Unfortunately, it seems that so far no communities are yet willing to take on the task of rescuing our schools. Perhaps the next generation will see thing differently – we can only hope.

Dr. John Trotter

March 8th, 2013
1:43 pm

@ I don’t think that it is just you, bootney. Sometimes folks like to throw rocks from behind anonymous rocks. Ha!