There is something very unsettling about the mental image of Navy Yard employees — many of them active-duty soldiers of the most powerful military in the world — sheltered-in-place, “hunkered down” in a room waiting to be rescued by the Metropolitan Police Department. No doubt, many of these men and women are decorated war heroes who would have, had they been permitted to carry a sidearm, bravely taken out Aaron Alexis instead of sheltering-in-place. Instead, because the attack happened in a gun-free zone, they waited for the “authorities” to rescue them — hiding out behind stacks of office chairs, settling for a false sense of security behind barricaded doors with smart phones as their only weapons.
Sheltering-in-place in gun-free zones is this generation’s version of “duck-and-cover” drills. For those not old enough to remember, beginning in the 1950s and continuing throughout the Cold War years, the U.S. government told citizens they could protect themselves from the effects of a nuclear bomb — a bomb the Soviets could drop at any moment — by huddling under their desks or other furniture and covering the backs of their necks with their hands. School children practiced bomb drills in much the same way today’s kids practice lockdowns.
In my elementary school in the 1970s, we were warned against looking at the bright light of a nuclear blast and told our hands would protect us from the radiation. Once we were old enough to learn about the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, we all knew the truth — that the drills did little more than give us a false sense of security. Sometime around sixth grade, kids started mocking the whole exercise. “This is stupid. We’ll all be vaporized instantly if a bomb drops out there,” was a typical mantra. We were all terrified at the thought, but completely powerless to protect ourselves in the event of a nuclear detonation.