Lezlie Christian, MPW
Too common is the image of young people running out of school buildings with their hands up because shots have been fired in their school. Americans are either becoming desensitized to this violence because it has become a familiar component of the background of their lives, or they don’t want to watch the news and witness yet another exhibition of the tremendous potential for deadly devastation when there is easy access to military style, high capacity, semi-automatic weapons. Marjory Stoneman Douglas has been the most recent example of tragic destruction of the lives of American school children. Why is access to these types of military weapons more important to the legislators and the people of this country than the lives of all our children?
Oklahoma legislators, as well as national leaders, in desperate attempts to prevent another tragedy similar to those at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, at Sandy Hook Elementary, Virginia Tech, Columbine High School, and many others, have considered introducing legislation that would allow administrators and teachers to carry guns. They believe that that will solve the problem of the explosion of gun violence, particularly in schools, in America. It is the second week in April, and there have already been 18 reported shootings on school property in the U.S. just in the first three months of 2018 (Ahmed & Walker). How many more innocent people must lose their lives before we realize that our current plans are not working? Moving in the direction that puts more weapons in the building will NOT decrease the chances of destruction by firearms.
This is an opportunity that I, for one, am unwilling to accept. Public school teachers, some of the most highly educated individuals in their respective disciplines, are not trained to be cops. If they’d wanted to be cops, most likely they would have pursued that field instead of becoming teachers.
According to CNN, there have been 18 school-related shootings in the few months of 2018. These include accidental discharge in the classroom by a teacher, and incidents between students that were unintentional, as well as deliberate destruction. Seventeen dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High. One shooter, with combat grade weapons. According to CNN’s estimate, that’s an average of 1.4 shootings a week.
Back to the legislation. These legislators earnestly seek to protect the youth of our state, and every state, and know that teachers and administrators hold the safety and well-being of their students ever foremost in their minds. But arming teachers is a phenomenally bad idea. One accident, and at least two lives are ruined, not to mention the traumatization of everyone who witnesses it.
Teaching is my second career. I carried a gun for many years while on the job as a licensed private investigator, working criminal defense. I never knew that the career change I was considering would put me and many others in greater danger than working for alleged felons.
Changing careers is difficult, but there were compelling reasons for me to do so. I grew to feel that it would be unhealthy for me to continue to expose myself to the sordid and horrific details that make up the record of human interaction. Becoming a teacher held the potential to be more effective keeping people out of jail from the classroom than from, well, jail. Inadequate education was the one characteristic that almost all my clients shared, more common than gender. “About 41% of inmates in the Nation’s State and Federal prisons and local jails in 1997 and 31% of probationers had not completed high school or its equivalent. In comparison, 18% of the general population age 18 or older had not finished the 12th grade.”
Clearly there is a correlation between achieving an adequate education and avoiding incarceration. Further, the U.S. Department of Justice, in their Bureau of Justice Statistics, reports that “Between 1991 and 1997, the percent of inmates in State prison without a high school diploma or GED remained the same — 40% in 1997 and 41% in 1991. Of inmates in State prisons, 293,000 in 1991 and 420,600 in 1997 had entered prison without a high school diploma, a 44% increase” (Harlow).
Being a teacher in a large public high school, the demographics of which are eerily similar to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, I share their intense concern, and my students know that any intruder would have to get through me before getting to them. I’m smart and observant, and have more than a passing understanding of how to defend myself. Our school performs drills regularly in order for both teachers and students to know exactly what their duty is during several different types of emergency situations.
Also obvious is that it is impossible to anticipate every possible situation, and humans sometimes do horrible things to each other, many times for unknown reasons. Another tactic that is flawed is the strategy that has been practiced in most public schools in America for at least the last ten years: quickly locking the door, extinguishing the lights, and scrambling to hide behind desks in the corner. Every student who has spent as much as two months in any public school in the last ten years knows the details of the drill. We’re sitting ducks, and sitting ducks are easy to pick off.
But Districts are struggling with disgraceful funding shortages, (another issue altogether), so most alternatives are unattainable, such as giving radios to teachers, enabling them to make better, more informed decisions, knowing the location of the shooter or shooters. Radios are expensive. Since schools struggle to buy enough paper for teachers’ use, how can you begin to consider funding radios, much less guns?
I never had to use my gun on the job, but I practiced its use and maintained it well. My step-father taught me how to shoot, and I’ve always enjoyed target practice. I have annihilated hundreds of paper targets over the years. Great stress relief.
The level of security it afforded me as I traveled around the country by myself looking for and interviewing people involved in criminal cases was most welcome. Sometimes the people lived in labyrinthine apartment warrens of urban density, other times at the dead end of a deeply-rutted red-dirt road, aswarm with tick-laden hounds. The gun was a tool that insured I would have a better chance of protecting myself should I need to do so.
Many of my former clients, in their absolute ignorance, or unfortunate limited cognitive ability, used guns inappropriately, usually ruining at least two lives in the process. Reading about, seeing images of, and hearing from witnesses the results of gun violence in thousands of cases spanning 25 years makes me feel certain that arming teachers and administrators with such potentially dangerous weapons is not the solution to the problem, it will only compound it.
The thought of teachers or administrators carrying weapons in schools makes me nauseous. Guns aren’t like classroom technology, something you can take a certain number of hours of training on to become proficient in, then use it with little risk. Guns are tools, and have numerous valid purposes, but they aren’t like smart boards, they can and do kill people in the hands of other people. The professionals who have trained to carry and use guns in their work regularly spend countless hours on training in the use of their weapons. They practice regularly. They have spent years building the body awareness that goes along with the weight, both literal and figural, of wielding a deadly tool.
One solution that would at least limit the ability of any would-be shooter to kill large numbers of people in a short time span would be to limit access to military-style, high capacity semi-automatic weapons. I don’t propose banning all guns, because there are legitimate reasons to have access to certain types of firearms. Some of my students hunt to supplement their family’s diet, and they use their kill responsibly. Some folks have the need to carry or possess a weapon for self-defense or home-defense. In neither of these cases would a gun such as I described above be appropriate or even practical. If in public, a weapon is best safely holstered or stowed in an easily accessible handbag. For home protection, the distance you could potentially need to cover would probably be no more than ten feet. If you don’t feel comfortable with the difficulty of shooting a revolver accurately, then purchase a 9 mm firearm. Less recoil means easier accuracy. And you don’t need more than 6 rounds, even if there is more than one intruder. A military style weapon would be overkill. So let folks keep their self-defense or hunting firearms, but don’t allow military style weapons into the hands of civilians. It’s a ludicrous proposition that they have any need or use for that level of firepower. If we do not have them in our homes, or make them available to the public, fewer shooters will have access to them.
Compounding the difficulty of the issue is the fact that most young people don’t really understand the consequences in real-life terms of violent force. Those weapons can kill quite by accident. The multitude of ways things could go tragically wrong is impossible to predict. But I believe the likelihood of a tragic event due to a shooting in a school goes up exponentially once we legally introduce guns into schools. Beyond the cost in lost lives and livelihoods, there is the issue of liability. Who is going to bear that? Let’s please take a moment to consider the clearly unintended consequences of acting on this new measure aimed at protecting our young people and choose wisely.
Ahmed, Saeed and Walker, Christina. “2018 school shootings: A list of incidents that resulted in
Casualties.” CNN https://www.cnn.com/2018/03/02/us/school-shootings-2018-list-
Harlow, Caroline Wolf, Ph.D. “Educational and Correctional Populations.” Bureau of Justice
Statistics, U.S. Department of Justice. 2003 https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ecp.pdf
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