CHICAGO – Having grown up in Lockport, Illinois, I always remember the start of tornado season. In elementary school, beside the run-of-the-mill fire-drills, we’d duck-and-cover on the outskirts of hallways to prepare for sirens signaling an impending potential natural disaster.
Now I am a high school teacher-librarian in Englewood on the South Side of Chicago, one of the most violent and impoverished areas of our city. My students walk through metal detectors as a security guard greets them at the door.
My students have done both tornado- and fire-drills, but in the last few years, we’ve added district-mandated lockdown-drills in preparation for a school shooting. I am required to shut and lock my doors, turn off the lights and get the students in my library onto the floor and against an interior wall. Every time, I think about what I would do in an actual school shooting situation but quickly realize that, faced with an enraged teenager with a semiautomatic rifle, none of my scenarios for saving myself or my students would stand a chance. We are more prepared for and have a better chance of surviving a tornado than a lone gunman with a well-hatched plan.
And no, President Trump, having a gun would not make me feel any safer – just the opposite.
Last week’s shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed 17, have again brought the issues of gun control and mental illness to the national forefront. One solution making the rounds is arming teachers, an action President Donald Trump advocated for on Wednesday as he spoke with students and parents from the school and elsewhere. “If you had a teacher who was adept with the firearm, they could end the attack very quickly,” he said, suggesting arming 1 in 5 educators. Maybe they could; or maybe they could worsen an already horrifying situation, or even create one.
Gun Control and Gun Rights Cartoons
All this solution would do is answer gun violence with more gun violence, with the additional possibility of dangerous unintended consequences.
It’s true that some rural counties, citing long waits for emergency services, allow teachers and staff members to carry guns within their schools. But these teachers can receive as little as eight hours of training before they are allowed to arm themselves for class, including “mindset development,” aimed at preparing a teacher to be ready to gun down one of their students. “Teachers aren’t really supposed to have favorites but you know, you have the ones that are close to you,” one teacher told the BBC. “But if that student made the poor decision to endanger everyone, I’m going to have to do something about it.”
This limited experience is supposed to prepare teachers to make a split-second, professional decision in a chaotic situation? Is that a shooter at the door or a scared student seeking shelter or a policeman coming to the rescue?
I teach in a school with over 70 teachers. Do I want to bring more than a dozen guns into my school, with more than a dozen different operators using them? Are we supposed to find more than a dozen places to securely store them on a daily basis? Or would these teachers carry their weapons throughout their often-stressful days? Imagine the fear students and adults would have on a daily basis that a teacher’s handgun might accidentally be fired.
Instead of arming ourselves, educators should join the fight for common-sense gun laws by contacting our legislators, marching alongside our students in upcoming protests and thinking of areas in our curriculum where we can teach students that real change can happen in our country, even on issues that seem as insurmountable as guns.
As Parkland survivor David Hogg, a senior, stated, “We need to do something. We need to get out there and be politically active. Congress needs to get over their political bias with each other and work toward saving children’s lives.” He also told CNN, “We’re children, you guys are the adults.”
As adults and as educators, we must teach about moments of American social change that happened not so long ago. Our laws are mutable when activists in large numbers take a stand. Peaceful protests have led to voting rights for minorities and women and to marriage rights for LGBTQ citizens.
Outside of our laws and policies, students need to learn about how a combination of science, medicine and advocacy took down big tobacco which, at one time, had as big a hold on our lawmakers as the National Rifle Association does today. Imagine what could happen if we could make gun violence as disturbing and ugly as PSAs showing grotesque images of humans riddled with cancer and emphysema showed smoking to be.
I have taught many students who have been impacted by gun violence in Chicago, and it has impacted my life. I stood over a casket of a young African-American male who had already been accepted into college before he was gunned down in the middle of the street during his senior year. I taught a bright, thoughtful African-American female in her home because bullets severed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the neck down. I have hugged students as they sobbed over fallen siblings and passed bullet-ridden windows on the way to my classroom in my first school. Giving me a gun wouldn’t solve any of those problems.
Instead, we need to arm our educators with the teachings of nonviolence. Our students learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement, but his speeches and civil rights outcomes often overshadow his tenets of nonviolence. “Man … has now reached the day when violence toward another human being must become as abhorrent as eating another’s flesh,” he wrote in 1963. “Nonviolence may become the answer to the most desperate need of all humanity.”
We are at a point, right now, with lock-down drills a school routine, where nonviolence must be the answer, not more guns and the invitations to violence they bring with them.