On March 14, students across the country will walk out of school to demand action on gun violence. They are telling elected officials, “Enough!” They are saying what most people know but are reticent to admit: Americans have an unhealthy relationship with guns. On average, 25 American children age 17 or under are killed every week by gunfire. That’s 1,300 kids who die each year from homicide, suicide or accidental discharge. If these deaths came from any other source—think lead paint, cigarettes or cars—we would have all manner of political action and restrictions. Not so with guns, because we are addicted. We are so in the thrall of guns that even the loss of our most precious asset won’t change our behavior. Since Valentine’s Day when 17 people were killed in yet another mass shooting, teachers across the country have recoiled in horror:
Today at school I cleaned out my closet so I could hide a few extra kids should a shooter come on campus. Then I tried to calculate how many could fit under my desk. There isn’t a day I wipe tables in the cafeteria for lunch duty that I don’t think, if a shooter were to enter that door, where would the closest exit be?—Mary Schlieder, 2008 Nebraska State Teacher of the Year
I am still recovering from the latest school shooting. Facing my 10-year-old students the next day, looking them in the eye and assuring them that they are safe and that I would never let anything happen to them was brutal. Brutal because I couldn’t be honest and had to make them believe me. They were really scared so I lied, repeatedly.—Marguerite Izzo, 2007 New York State Teacher of the Year
There is a high-top table in the corner of my classroom. It’s big enough to sit four students with a wooden top and a metal base. I was thinking of that table the other night at 3 a.m. the other night, after helping my wife with a feed and change or our 4-week-old. I was thinking about it because if I turned it on its side and pressed the top against the door and curled my body behind the base, I might be able to hold off an armed gunman and see my family again.—Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year
Addiction is a subtle process. Whatever we become addicted to is used judiciously at first, but over time starts creeping into inappropriate places. Drinking at work or using one’s smartphone at the dinner table, once unthinkable, can become normal in the mind of an addict. Claims that the behavior is harmful or should change are met with great anger.
Guns Are No Different
So too with guns. Our addiction to guns is so strong that we’ve normalized allowing them in places that were once unthinkable: churches, protest marches, bars, private businesses. Now we’ve hit bottom with some leaders suggesting we add schools to that list. Arming teachers, they say, is the best way to reduce gun violence at schools. While many citizens—including teachers—are responsible gun owners, we don’t believe having guns in the classroom will make kids safer. In fact, we believe it would make things worse. Former
New York City Police Chief Bill Bratton called this idea “the height of lunacy.”
Anthony Swofford, a marine veteran turned college professor, said, “The presence of a firearm is always an invitation to violence. Weapons have no place in a learning environment.” America has roughly 4 percent of the world’s population and
40 percent of all privately-owned guns. That’s more guns per person than any other country. We have more gun deaths than any developed nation. Yet our response to mass shootings is always the same: MORE GUNS. A shooting at a movie theater? Arm the ushers! At a concert? Arm the concertgoers! At a school? Arm the teachers! Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, is it not? There are myriad reasons that teachers oppose carrying guns at school:
While gun proponents envision armed teachers heroically stopping assailants, research suggests otherwise. Numerous studies show that highly trained police hit their targets less than 50 percent of the time during a shootout. If our stray bullet kills a student, who’s responsible?
Research shows that people with guns are more likely to harm themselves or accidentally harm others than stop a crime. The FBI reports that in 2012, for every felon killed by an armed citizen, there were 78 suicides, 34 homicides and two accidental gun deaths. Given our suicide epidemic, how long would it take before a teacher or student used a sanctioned gun to kill themselves at school?
Schools, by nature, are chaotic places. There are hundreds of people, varied schedules, multiple classrooms, substitute teachers and few cabinets or drawers that lock dependably. In the hectic school day how often might an overwhelmed teacher leave a gun unattended or unlocked? Gun proponents say it won’t happen, but it already happened with a teacher in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. And children die from gun accidents about once a week in America, almost always from finding their parents’ “secured” gun at home.
Educators work hard to create warm, welcoming environment in schools. Do we really want kids seeing armed teachers at school? How would kids respond? Our guess? Not well. Consider the morale and academic results in schools with metal detectors and heavy security. That is not an environment conducive to learning.
Adding guns to schools is counter to the way we treat other societal dangers. For other hazards we use government research to design policies that reduce risk. Think about cars. Over the years we’ve added seat belts, airbags and child seats. We have age requirements, road tests, speed limits and size limits; a license to drive a car is not the same as a license to drive a large, potentially more lethal truck. To reduce deaths caused by speeding drivers, we didn’t suggest other drivers speed as well. We found sensible ways to address the problem.
The president and others suggest that gun-adept teachers could keep our schools safe. For gun proponents—and the politicians they support—it’s an emotionally satisfying idea. But students from Parkland and their peers across the country aren’t buying it. Neither are we. We are saying out loud what most people instinctively know: If we truly want to stop school shootings, we must change our relationship with guns.