As an educator who teaches in a rural school district, I find the call for arming teachers and administrators following the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut both wrongheaded and counterproductive. Schools are supposed to be places of peaceful learning. I can’t imagine what it would be like to teach knowing that I or my colleague had a loaded pistol in the desk. The idea is morbid on the face of it, and only grows more grotesque when the consequences are thought through.
The unimaginable calamity that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary over a month ago should bring a sea change in our thinking about violence in our country, but we should not follow the knee-jerk reactions of Wayne LaPierre and his like minded cronies of the National Rifle Association. Making each school a fortress by arming school personnel is approaching the problem exactly backwards. On the surface it may seem logical, but ultimately just brings more weapons to places where the only armament should be in encyclopedias.
I grew up on a ranch in the Hood River Valley with weapons in my household. My family hunted deer, elk, pheasant, grouse and other game. We liked to plink at pop cans too. The right to bear ams is part of the fabric of our nation–only we have taken it too far. Arms designed for hunting or target practice are one thing. All three of the guns that were used in the Sandy Hook killings were originally designed with one purpose in mind, to kill people. Yes, they can and are used for target practice, but high capacity semi-automatic rifles and pistols weren’t designed for silhouettes or white tail bucks. They were created to shoot bullets into human beings. Do we really want these in our schools?
While it is appropriate under certain conditions and in certain schools to have armed police officers present, training and arming teachers and administrators goes against one of the fundamental tenets of education: that we teach by example. Having a Glock strapped to my shin when I go to school would make me a hypocrite. Imagine teaching the speeches of Martin Luther King, the writings of Henry David Thoreau or the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi while at the same time being ready to blow away a bad guy. It just wouldn’t work.
Already the righteous anger of our country at what occurred in Connecticut is dying down. It appears that our country is going to fall into a familiar pattern of blame and bluster with very little really being done about the problem of violence in our schools and in our society. A comprehensive approach is needed. One can only hope that President Obama has the integrity and the guts to take it on.
Ultimately, we have to decrease the number of military style weapons in our country. This includes both assault-style rifles and pistols. But taking away guns designed to kill people is only one step. In-depth mental health reform also needs to take place. Mental disease needs to be de-stigmatized, so that more people can get the help they need without being held up to ridicule. Existing laws on background checks and gun licensing need to be strengthened and enforced until every weapon and every gun owner is accounted for. These are lofty and some would say unattainable goals, but we have to start somewhere. Ultimately the peace and well-being our our children are far more valuable than any supposed right to own an assault weapon.
As an ex member of the military, I know what it is like to shoot automatic and semi-automatic weapons. These weapons are useful tools in their rightful place, but they don’t belong in a civil society, unless used by the police. It is true what some gun-rights people say that guns don’t kill people, that people do. But getting rid of the human killing machines like the ones used at Sandy Hook Elementary is one of a series of steps that must be taken if we want to truly protect our children and teach them that places of learning can only be places of peace if they are free of weapons.