Teachers, Students & Gun Violence
My first “Active Shooter on Campus” drill didn’t help.
The administration meant well, as did the SWAT-trained police brought in to prepare teachers for the worst imaginable day of our careers. How to respond effectively to a gunman [so far, always a male] and keep the students safe? The professional development training was inspired by the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon. Participation was recommended, though optional.
If there’s a gunman in your building, they said, shelter in place. Barricade the doors, turn out the lights, draw the shades and get away from windows. Direct the “Alpha” students in teams with emphatic orders to assume strategic defensive postures:
“You! Grab the fire extinguisher and be ready to strike if he comes in the door!”
“You! Text campus security and give them a headcount and location where are locked down.”
“You!” Stack up the desks in a defensive wall. Arrange books and backpacks as a ‘bullet barrier.’ Everyone get behind the barricade!”
Don’t run, the experts said.
“If the active shooter is already in the classroom, direct the students to rush an attack to overwhelm him. Be aggressive and you can take him down. Remember, he’s outnumbered.”
“If you carry a firearm, don’t go out of your classroom and try to use it because law enforcement may confuse you for the shooter.”
Teachers are thinking people. Immediate concerns filled the room:
“All this defensive preparation assumes that we don’t have a lunatic shooter on staff. How can we be sure the threat isn’t internal?”
“The door to my classroom hasn’t locked from the inside since 1990.”
“What if the gunman pulls the fire alarm? Are we supposed to ‘shelter in place’ until we smell smoke, and then run out of the building?”
“I teach Special Ed. There are no “Alpha” students to fight back in my classroom.”
“Do I get combat pay for this?”
None of these active shooter simulations, conversations and practice drills on campus inspired confidence. Stopping gun violence can arguably be done in a classroom, but not like this. Educators are first responders of the mind.
I teach American history and the Vietnam War. We discuss Constitutional law and the Bill of Rights. My students examine the legal doctrines in tension between State power and the strategies for oppressed people to seek recourse. Outside the classroom, I direct a student educational travel program dedicated to creating global citizens: experiential learning without violence. I love my job: teaching young people to engage critically in democracy, social movements, civil rights in a society still struggling to make good on its founding promise of “liberty and justice for all.” It’s a beautiful thing. Inspiring intelligent democratic participation – to vote, to speak, to organize and engage – and insist that America lives up to its promise. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Above all, life.
My work is patriotic: showing young people that caretaking of historical fact is a powerful defense against demagogues, exploitative special interests, and corporate greed in the United States.
Yet here we were — professional educators! — absurdly accommodating a perverse interpretation of the past: The 2nd Amendment. Why should gun-lover’s claim to unqualified acquisition of military-grade weaponry take priority over students’ rights to safety? The Framers of the Constitution had never intended to enshrine the individuals’ right to an automatic rifle. This is so obvious, it pains me to say it aloud without screaming. Our tradition of jurisprudence has rationally found “implied” rights (ie; privacy) and limitations on explicit freedoms (ie; speech) in the Constitution where the circumstantial guessing game of the “Framer’s Intent” made simple sense. Incredibly, in matters of life and death, our nation has failed to apply basic logical reasoning.
Why? To answer this question credibly, scientific data regarding gun control research is required. The trouble is, there is no current scientific study of gun violence. In the early 1990’s, initial research showed what is obvious: gun control minimizes deaths. But the National Rifle Association – funded largely by weapons manufacturers and those who profit thereby – derailed the science. In 1996, a Republican-dominated Congress promised to withhold revenue from the Center For Disease Control and Prevention unless it stopped research into firearm casualties. According to the Washington Post, this “had a chilling effect far beyond the agency, drying up money for almost all public health studies of the issue nationwide.” The NRA strategy of linking guns to nationalist rhetoric of “defending freedom” successfully promoted the simplistic notion that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with gun” and unfettered proliferation of gun sales to civilians skyrocketed. The privately-funded RAND corporation is the only entity providing credible research on the issue. Their findings? “While science can teach us a lot about gun policy, research in this area is generally far behind where it is for most other causes of death that claim similar numbers of lives in the U.S. each year.” In other words, the NRA has effectively blocked the nonpartisan factual study of gun violence, thereby removing credible science from the public policy debate.
In absence of official data, logical inference is key: follow the money. The U.S. is the world’s largest supplier of weapons. Measured in dollars, we provide more weapons technology to the world than any other product. Not energy. Not food. Not knowledge. Weapons. Think about that for a moment. It doesn’t take a degree in political science to comprehend how a multi-billion-dollar industry can exercise a chokehold on public policy. Guns killed nearly 39,000 Americans in 2016 alone. The U.S. has placed an astronomical amount of guns in circulation abroad, and at home. Known in foreign policy parlance as “Blowback,” we are now literally looking down the barrel of our own guns. NRA proponents would have us believe that it’s mental health, video games or Hollywood blockbusters at fault. Their insistence that civilian access to semi-automatic rifles is a divine right “not bestowed by man, but granted by God…as our American birthright” is ludicrous in the extreme. To argue that the volume of unregulated firearms in society has no bearing on our national epidemic of gun violence is worse than laughable. It’s criminal negligence. And the students know it.
After each mass shooting, our nation goes numb to a pathetic ritual: issue empty platitudes, “thoughts and prayers,” vilification of the mentally ill, and silencing of those demanding reform as shameful “crisis actors” who aim to “politicize a tragedy.” Lawmakers do nothing. Rinse and repeat.
Common sense gun control has been held hostage to a national pathology of Learned Helplessness. Until now. “We Call BS!” Watching high school senior Emma Gonzalez, eclipse the gun lobby in eloquence, morality and message is an extraordinary moment in our national history. The Parkland Florida school shooting survivors-turned-activists are changing national policy! <Yes, I’m cheering!> The students’ righteous fury is pure. Intoxicating. Contagious. The absurd idea to arm teachers in schools has only galvanized the educational community to align with the student movement for gun control. Major companies are boycotting the NRA, retailers are imposing their own restrictions on automatic rifle sales, law-makers are finally compelled to listen—a new generation of voters on the horizon will make it so.
It’s true: African-American teenagers have been advocating for gun control for years. Undeniably, there is a racial dimension to the gun violence epidemic in this country. Indeed, the observation that it is Caucasian kids and “crying white mothers” on television who are finally giving this movement mainstream legitimacy serves to amplify the concerns of allgun violence activists, including the primary targets of police shootings, people of color. Not unlike the identity-politics issue of immigration, the intense emotions surrounding pro-versus-anti-gun-control arguments are ugly, tapping into a visceral fear of what it means to be an American. Even those of us who share the same values (ie; safe schools) retain opposing convictions about the methods by which that goal can be achieved. Common ground with 2nd amendment zealots may be difficult to wrest into the realm of the rational. Parents are scared, and some want to believe that their children could be safer by increasing gun-carrying personnel and the “hardening” of schools. The weapons profiteers are unlikely to compromise quietly; indeed, they are already on vicious attack against the organized efforts of students demanding change.
Let the record show: the unregulated weapons apologists will fail. <I must confess joy at watching the NRA panicking from the force of these luminary teenagers. Responding to the reasonable call for regulating firearms with extreme, paranoid declarations only exposes the naked self-interest of an unhinged industry.>
Students were initially villified for their campus protests of the Vietnam War. Then as now, history will come to judge the student activists as pioneers in ending a decades-long, immoral bloodbath. As teachers, we must take this opportunity to amplify the students’ efficacy. Young people need our support as they navigate the Byzantine labyrinth of our representative democracy. Let’s scaffold their bold momentum to demand more accountability from our government on the local, state and federal levels. Join the student March For Our Lives. Organize respectful dialogues in your community. Defend students’ right to civil disobedience, school walk-outs, popular resistance. Give constructive feedback on behaviors which impede progress. Create opportunities for effective citizen forums that empower students for peaceful solutions.
We hear students say “NeverAgain,” possibly unmindful of the irony that decades ago, Holocaust survivors adopted the same rallying cry against systemic violence.
Let trauma be not our only teacher.
#March4OurLives #guncontrolnow #Everytown #PeaceWorksTravel