We had a fire drill Thursday at our new offices north of Bakersfield.
We’re supposed to leave in an orderly fashion through one of a couple of doors, according to instructions, and gather in the southwest corner of the west parking lot, far enough away from the building to be out of the way of firefighters and, presumably, smoke and flaming debris.
We should have had an active-shooter drill instead, because that’s what everyone was talking about as we filed back into the building that afternoon. Only about 18 hours earlier, a troubled ex-Marine had killed 12 people at a restaurant-bar in Thousand Oaks, 120 miles south of here.
Once upon a time, it seemed like mass shootings were rare enough and remote enough that it was silly to trouble oneself worrying about that kind of terror. Might as well worry about a lightning strike or what to do with your Mega Millions.
That's no longer the case. Mass shootings are so absurdly common now, several people who were at that Thousand Oaks bar were also at the scene of last year’s Las Vegas shooting, where 58 were killed — and one of them died this time.
Enough's enough, somebody said. Ten years ago.
About 3,000 people die in fires every year in the U.S. That's about a fifth of the number that die in gun homicides.
Nobody argues about preparation for and defense against structure fires: identification of hazards, training, regulation, enforcement of regulation and common sense.
But guns? Plenty of argument. One side: More people should simply invest in proper training and carry guns. Armed bystanders really do sometimes stop shooters. The other side: More people are carrying guns — and gun violence increases anyway. In 1999, 2.7 million Americas had concealed carry permits; by 2016 that number was 14.5 million. Over that same period gun homicides increased 30 percent.
We don't know how many of the six off-duty law enforcement officers who were in that Thousand Oaks establishment might have been packing, if any — Californians can carry in a restaurant but not in a bar — but it's reasonable to assume someone, management or customer, might have had a weapon tucked away somewhere for just this purpose. Yet it was the shooter himself who finally stopped the bloodshed, apparently turning the gun on himself.
Seems we have always regarded any discussion of guns in America as a political debate. These days it still is, but in the same way treading water next to a torpedoed ship invites debate about boating safety. We're a little beyond that now. Put your head in the water and start swimming.
Or, in this case, duck and get out of the building. Unless you happen to have a loaded gun within arm's reach at the exact moment the threat appears and have the wherewithal and speed amid the terror and chaos to find it.
Interpretations of the Second Amendment don't mean jack now. We're in survival mode. The shooter doesn't care who you voted for.
Bars and houses of worship seem to be favorite targets of gun-toting homicidal maniacs, but five months ago a man killed five at a Maryland newspaper office. So we're members of the club, too.
Some of us were talking about Thousand Oaks after our little fire drill. Specifically, the fastest way out of our building if a gunman should ever appear at the door.
Where is my desk in relation to the nearest exit? How much exposed space must I dash through to get there? How might I help others? Is that even feasible? Should I just close and lock my door and bust out the window to escape? How would I even accomplish that? Should I bring in a couple of bricks? I guess I could: Upright bricks might look kind of rugged doubling as bookends on my desk.
Am I being overly dramatic? I think not. I posed this question on Facebook on Friday afternoon: "Who has had at least one conversation this week with a co-worker about how you would get out if a shooter walked in?" The show of hands was close to unanimous.
"I actually have had to consider how to protect my Sunday school class of elementary age kids since we are an open church and are across from a synagogue. I am scared for the first time in my life," wrote one.
"I always locate exits when I enter any restaurant or bar before I sit down," wrote another.
"My daughter and I located exits (to find) the fastest way out and discussed best spots to take cover while at a mall yesterday," wrote another. "I thought I only had to worry about earthquakes."
And for a long time, I thought I only had to take part in fire drills. Suddenly I feel like I have to contemplate bringing bricks to work. Bricks and whatever else might serve that purpose.