According to a new Quinnipiac University Poll, 42% of Americans believe that arming teachers could have prevented the massacre last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (Of self-identified Republicans, that number leaps to 59%.) Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has stated that arming teachers “needs to be part of the broader, more robust conversation about how can we avoid these things in the future, and how can we ensure that when my child, your child, goes to school in the morning, they’re going to go to a safe and nurturing environment.”
Estimates are that upwards of 150,000 U.S. students have been directly affected, as witnesses, victims, or schoolmates, by gun violence in their schools. Of the 90-some people who die by the gun on the “average” day in the United States, seven are under the age of 19. We all know that the U.S. has both one of the highest rates of gun ownership and the highest rate of gun violence in the so-called developed world.
At last, however, the nation seems to be hearing and attending to some the voices being raised against the proliferation of and easy access to firearms, including assault rifles of the sort that allowed the Parkland shooter to kill 17 people in a matter of minutes. This is because the loudest, most passionate of these voices are those of students themselves.
There are those who seriously believe that more guns—imagine yourself or your colleagues in your classrooms, armed—will make schools safer and their cultures more healthy and less anxious. Against all evidence, they believe that more weaponry is the best defense against weaponry. (Any history teacher will tell you that, with very few exceptions, arms races do not have happy endings; if we thought we were out of the nuclear woods after the collapse of the Soviet Union, consider the current situation between the United States and North Korea.)
Students, they who populate and energize schools and school cultures, don’t need this history lesson, because too many of them have learned from their own experience. And when students are calling upon their fellow students, upon their teachers, upon their communities, and upon their elected representatives (even if they themselves are too young to vote) to change our laws on access to firearms, we need to listen more closely than ever.
And in their support, and in support of a healthier, safer nation, we need to act with our students.
In the next two months there are three proposed student and school “days of action” on behalf of the movement to bring an end to the mass shootings that characterize American society to much of the world:
And with a significant portion of the American populace still wedded to the idea that arming teachers is a good idea, educators must act on their own behalf as well as that of students and school safety if they do not want to risk becoming gun-toting adjuncts of a new and strange kind of educational police state or to find themselves working in schools where classroom guns are as common an emergency resource as a fire alarm or telephone. We all know that where there are guns there are accidents with guns. This I know from my own experience: when I was a child my next-door neighbor’s child had shot and killed a sibling while playing with the gun their father, a military officer, kept in the house. (I’ve written elsewhere about my family’s connection to the Newtown Massacre and about the absurd measure once taken at the school where I grew up to deter Halloween vandalism.)
I grew up in a rural world where guns were common. As a tween I often shot for fun, usually but not always supervised by adults, somehow having been convinced that .22-caliber bullets weren’t much more dangerous than BBs, a piece of misinformation that terrifies me in retrospect. I know and like many people who hunt, who enjoy target practice, and even who collect historic firearms. Personally I’m not for taking all guns out of everyone’s hands, even if we didn’t have a Second Amendment that would prevent that. But gun ownership and use, like owning and driving a car, needs to be subject to considerable and rigorous regulation. That regulation, at the very least, must severely limit the types of guns and accessories available to gun-owners and -users, and it must require stiff, comprehensive background checks and meaningful waiting periods. As a middle schooler I should never have been allowed to plink away, unsupervised, even at tin cans.
As executive director of the ICG and as an American, I stand, and the Independent Curriculum Group stands, with the students who have taken up the banner of freedom from gun violence. We support the calls for action mentioned above and urge our readers and all those in our school and organization community to support these students. Even as passionately committed adults we haven’t been able to get very far in advancing the movement toward gun control, so let’s now step up to do all that we can to help and sustain the kids in what will likely be a difficult and contentious journey toward a more sensible, more safe world.
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Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)