It is sad, really, the frequency with which gun violence forces its way into our national consciousness. Whether it is mass murder on a college campus, in a shopping center in Arizona, in a crowded movie theater, at a place of worship, or at an elementary school, the spectacular injustice of wholesale slaughter has become a familiar story. It is a recurring theme of our national narrative.
The sadness of the situation is double-edged. On one side is the personal tragedy endured by the victims and those who love them. This is a sadness mixed with grief and anger at the unfairness of it all. On the other side is the recognition that our collective horror is by now numbed by the familiarity of the story. This is a sadness that comes from helplessness. We are lost, and there is no clear signpost leading us to a place of safety.
The voices that emerge in the wake of these tragedies are familiar. We hear calls for vengeance, prayers for the victims, and loud trumpeting for reforms that will prevent this from ever happening again. We also hear the somber voices of the status quo, telling us that the worst thing we can do is to overreact and infringe on Americans’ right to bear arms.
In the state of Georgia, our legislature, which has convened for its annual session this year in the chilly aftermath of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, may consider another kind of reaction.
House Bill 35 would allow for public school administrators to possess and carry firearms while on school property, at a school function, or on a school bus. This proposed law would allow for specific school office workers to carry loaded weapons anywhere within the “school safety zone.”
There are a lot of potent and provocative arguments in favor of and against gun control. There are many theories as to why the United States seems so addicted to gun violence, and a correspondingly large number of theories on what should be done about it. I am content to allow others to parse the constitutional issues for the solution to this dilemma. My concern here is the impact of training professional educators to serve as armed guards – on students and on the educators themselves. This proposed policy raises serious questions about the role of school in teaching children how to cope with violence in our society.
As a teacher and a parent, as an individual concerned with education policy and the way schools interact with society at large, I see these kinds of moments as tests of our institutions’ ability to deal with the extraordinary and horrific.
When the shooting at Sandy Hook occurred, my children came home from school talking about it. One brought home an anxious and sincere letter from his school’s principal. Both of them seemed to understand that something dire had occurred, but there was a curious disconnection between their reaction and the fear experienced by the adults. Adults are swept up by their imagination – what would I do if this happened to my family? They are capable of being stunned by the news because they remember when such things were exceptional if not unthinkable. To the kids, these incidents are practically a regular part of life – not unlike the many other aspects of the world that they are too young to experience personally, but are assured by adults to be normal and natural.
What does it say to impressionable young people that episodes of mass murder are regularly in the news? What message does it convey when one man snuffs out the lives of innocent children, and people rush to defend his right to possess the tools he used to commit this atrocity. At an age when children are developing their ideas about how the world works, what ideas are natural consequences of such an event?
What is the message if children now see their principal patrolling the halls with a sidearm strapped to his leg? Will they feel protected, or will they feel the fear of an impending incident? Even if panic is not the result, how can they fail to see that the principal’s answer to the threat of danger will be deadly force? What attitude does this teach about how to deal with adversity?
School officials should not carry guns. The remote possibility that these guns would actually prevent physical harm to anyone is vastly outweighed by the significant psychological harm that would occur. School administrators are authority figures and role models for our children. To communicate that any part of their authority comes from a firearm is to send a very unhealthy message to the children of this country.