It’s been more than two years and my opinion hasn’t changed: I won’t be bringing a gun to school any time soon.
I wrote those words in an op-ed that appeared shortly after the mass shooting at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College in October of 2015. Remember that tragedy? You’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten, considering America averages almost one mass shooting a day.
The most recent mass shooting at Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14 was followed once again by “solutions” involving more guns because “to stop a bad guy with a gun, it takes a good guy with a gun.”
Said NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre: “In every community, PTAs, teachers’ unions, local law enforcement, moms and dads – they all must come together to implement the very best strategy to harden their schools, including effective, trained, armed security that will absolutely protect every innocent child in this country.”
Echoed President Donald Trump: “What I’d recommend doing is the people that do carry, we give them a bonus, we give them a little bit of a bonus, because frankly they’d feel more comfortable having the gun anyway, you give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free you’ve now made the school into a hardened target.”
If only more teachers were trained to carry guns, in other words, schools would be “hardened” and kids would be safer.
If only the facts supported this idea:
1. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center has found that “more guns” result in more deaths. Teachers carrying guns in public schools only increase the statistical likelihood of gun violence occurring in those schools.
2. An FBI analysis of mass shootings revealed that law-enforcement officers incurred casualties in 47 percent of the incidents involving shooters between 2000 and 2013. “These are people trained to do this kind of thing full time, and nearly half were wounded or killed. Teachers with limited training would very likely fare much worse.”
3. The National Association of School Resources Officers has publicly opposed the idea of arming teachers because, among the many reasons, “discharging a firearm in a crowded school is an extremely risky action, with consequences that can include the wounding and/or death of innocent victims.”
The NRA will have none of this. The solution to every gun problem, the gun lobby says, is more guns. Indeed, as the number of Americans owning guns has declined, the number of overall guns has increased.
According to the University of Chicago, about half of all Americans in the 1970s had one gun, on average. Today, only one quarter of Americans own guns, averaging three or four each.
Author Kurt Andersen traces the rise of the “apoplectic-fantasist faction” that took control of the NRA in the late 1970s in his book Fantasyland – How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History.
“[The NRA] turned its dial up to 11 and kept it there,” writes Andersen, “becoming the center of a powerful new political movement that opposed any and all regulation of firearms — the types and numbers of guns and accessories and ammo people could buy, who could buy them and how easily, registration, licensing, even a requirement to use safety locks.”
When Congress passed laws in the 1990s establishing an FBI background check and banning the manufacture of certain semi-automatic guns, the NRA responded with a paranoid letter to members, asserting that the ban gave “jackbooted Government thugs more power to take away our constitutional rights, break in our doors, seize our guns, destroy our property, and even injure and kill us.”
By then, writes Andersen, “the winds were with the gun lobbyists. When the ban on semi-automatic weapons expired in 2004, it was not renewed.”
Today, the NRA’s sway on DC politicians is so strong – 52 senators have an NRA rating of A-minus or better – it’s little wonder that America is still awaiting any meaningful response to any mass shooting.
Following the mass shooting in Florida, students spoke out at a rally attended by hundreds. Senior Emma Gonzalez’s words were perhaps the loudest.
“To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you! If you actively do nothing, people will continue to end up dead,” said Gonzalez.
One week later, dozens of students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were joined by hundreds of other Florida students who rallied at the state capital in Tallahassee to promote school safety and gun control. Florida students were joined by peers across the nation who walked out of schools in solidarity.
And Lane Murdock, a sophomore at Ridgefield High School, traveled to Hartford last week to promote her brainchild, the National School Walkout on Apr. 20, the 20th anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.
“When tragedies like the shooting in Florida happen,” said Murdock, “we as teenagers have no voice and no platform, even though the shooters are going into our schools and our spaces. Most of us can’t vote, yet.”
High schoolers like Murdock might lack voting leverage, but they are building a national audience that could loosen the stranglehold the NRA has on politicians. Even so, the NRA has successfully cultivated an irrational ethos of gun fixation that overwhelms those currently in power. Real change is not likely until the younger, enlightened generation takes control.
In the meantime, I won’t be bringing a gun to school anytime soon. I’m a teacher in a public school, not a pistol-packing security guard. The most pragmatic thing I can do to keep my classroom safe is to teach each day with a hardened conviction for my subject and a hardened compassion for my students. They are, after all, members of the generation committed to making America sane again.
Barth Keck is a father of three and an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
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