I keep waiting for Wayne LaPierre to come to his senses. For there to be some press release--designed to maximize his dignity--during which he can state, “Upon further reflection, we have reversed our position on armed personnel in the nation’s schools.” The reversal of which would push the originating speech http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/12/21/us/nra-news-conference-transcript.html into the realm of the merely surreal--rather than its current position of “preposterous”—and right this rocking societal boat that has NRA loyalists salivating over how soon their child’s teacher can be packing heat.
It’s been three weeks and counting, and I’m still waiting.
As an educator in our public school system, a parent, and a gun owner, I am in a unique position to reflect on his recommendations. During my day, I am responsible for helping my students—and my children—feel emotionally and physically safe enough to be able to step out of their comfort zone and develop to the best selves they can be. As a gun owner, I arced from dismissing the gun as pointless to clearly seeing its merit after an unfortunate event which required me to lock my children and my self in a bedroom until the police arrived. I can confidently state that concern for my students and family is paramount in my life, and also that I was once a gun safe away from brandishing a weapon in self-defense. And yet still I say that armed personnel in schools is not the answer.
Mr. LaPierre’s boundless enthusiasm for protecting our nation’s students is stated with succinct assuredness in his speech with phrases such as, “…we as a society leave [our children] every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it” and “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He says,
If we truly cherish our kids more than our money, more than
our celebrities, more than our sports stadiums, we must give
them the greatest level of protection possible. And that security
is only available with properly trained, armed good guys.
The speech goes on like this, and through it all Mr. LaPierre’s suggestions seem to reflect the temptation that we all feel when we desperately hope that there is a simple solution to a frightening problem. For instance, he doesn’t acknowledge that arming schools is in itself a dangerous prospect, perhaps leading to misfires, a student accidentally accessing a weapon, and—in the event of another shooting—student deaths as the result of crossfire. He does not acknowledge the fact that the growing incidence of perpetrators wearing head-to-toe body armor means that the armed personnel might still have to wait for police backup in order to immobilize the assailant. He does not acknowledge that these personnel might have to be carrying military-grade weapons in order to be able to protect against perpetrators who have access to similar grade weapons. And he doesn’t mention the testimony of the armed guard that was on duty during the Columbine shooting, and how more than one guard would have most certainly been necessary to change the outcome of that tragic situation. Which means that each school would need at least two “good guys” with guns to make his plan effective.
Mr. LaPierre—unabashedly—defends his position without even showing how the logistics of his own plan could be feasible, and ignores—with the determination of a first grader--the inconsistencies, omissions, and protests of the non-NRA. Nowhere in his plan—for example--is there any mention of the possible mental health effects (anxiety, depression) on our youth, even though our students would most assuredly see the guard’s presence as a clear admission of potential danger. Nor is there a mention of the possible negative impact on parents and teachers, who would start each day knowing that there were would, in fact, be dangerous weapons in the school building. And nowhere is there any consideration of—let’s just face facts here--the incredible warp speed at which our society would reject traditional schooling and evolve into a nation of homeschoolers. Since certainly not all of us regular, non-NRA folk would be willing to keep our kids around while his plan worked out the kinks.
The Sandy Hook tragedy took the wind out of our nation’s sails. The remorseless targeting of young children and their loyal charges will forever be traumatizing, and it is easy to fall into illogicality when there has been so much senseless loss. Never will there be enough grieving and reflection to aid us in understanding that kind of madness.
But we cannot fight madness with more madness. And assuming our children will be protected by throwing a few more weapons at the problem is like strutting onto the prow of a military ship under a “Mission Accomplished” banner. Using purposeful bravado mixed with good guy/bad guy vernacular to address our most delicate national problems is an indication that we are oversimplifying the situation, underestimating our opponent, and setting our sights to the level at which we will win the battle at the expense of the war.
We are fortunate in this country that most of us view brandishing a weapon to solve our problems is an option of last resort, and—even in the face of this crisis--our society deserves that we make every effort possible to maintain this norm. The freedom we expect and value--after all--protects those who opt to view guns as the answer and those who don't, and we damage the integrity of the Consitution equally by not considering both perspectives. In protecting our students with armed guards, we steer our country towards accepting the option of last resort, and, in so doing, send a clear signal that--now that we are on the last rung of the ladder of choice--we are no longer living in a society that is truly free.
A solution to this problem will take time. Because a free society is not one in which the answers are quick and easy. But our children shouldn't have to suffer under the logic that our option of last resort is the only option available to them. We should--instead--be modeling for them the care, consideration and compromise necessary for resolving complex societal issues without impeding the rights of others. In so doing, we will not only give them hope, but we will also set them up for a lifetime free of the tyranny of fear.