In a country obsessed with guns, where lockdown drills are practically part of the curriculum, Florida legislators just voted to allow teachers to be armed in schools. We’re headed for the Wild, Wild West.
Yesterday, a gunman shot eight people at a cookout in Baltimore, killing at least one of them. Police call the act “a very cowardly shooting.” We now have enough shootings, apparently, to qualify them.
This gun violence came on the heels of Saturday’s synagogue shooting, in Poway, California, which killed a 60-year-old woman who jumped in front of her rabbi to save his life. The 19-year-old murderer unloaded his AR-15 on congregants and shouted anti-Semitic slurs until his weapon malfunctioned.
Sadly, this is not an extraordinary weekend for Americans—we’ve become inured to this kind of devastating news. And as every town, city, and state is worried about gun violence, the NRA has been successful, even amid its implosion, to lobby governments into pushing even more weaponry on us. Florida, which has endured more than its share of gun violence, is on the front lines of legislation to invite the weapons onto school campuses statewide.
Against the wishes of parents, teachers, and many school districts, the Florida Senate voted last Tuesday, April 23, to allow arming teachers in schools. Legislators remain convinced that adding more guns to our gun violence problem will solve it.
As a university professor and a parent to 10-year-old twin girls, I testified in front of my lawmakers—to no avail. There is nothing quite as diminishing as standing in front of a microphone in a grey-carpeted aisle of a half-filled auditorium, your voice cracking as you talk, only to look up and see the absent stare of your elected officials as they think about what they’re having for dinner that night.
“I don’t know whether I should be more scared of shooters coming into the school, or the shooters that will already be there, if this passes,” I said. “The point is to keep bullets out of my children, and a shootout on school grounds isn’t a good way to get there.” I stood under the harsh fluorescent lighting, nearly in tears, with teachers and other parents sitting in the rows behind me, applauding. My state senator thanked me for my opinion, and bid me sit down without looking at me.
I was talking about my children’s safety, and my own, just after the Parkland shooting, in the wake of legislation that would put more guns in more hands near my kids. And the politicians’ stifled yawns told me all I needed to know. The life of a child no longer holds the meaning it once did, not now that they can be used as pawns in a political game—at least here in the United States.
Most days, I’m either on the campus of the University of Florida, where I’m a professor, or on the campus of my children’s elementary school, to drop them off or pick them up. My kids and I practically live on school campuses. If concealed-carry is allowed, my life could be in danger by simply walking around on a campus, where alt-right flyers are regularly placed on car windshields, people walk around with Nazi symbols, and where incidents of racist destruction of property is on the rise. I’ve even seen a noose fashioned in Weimer Hall, the building where I spend my days.
I am a writer and teach journalism to hundreds of students a week, a career field that has suddenly been deemed contentious and volatile, and threatened with murderous violence, incited by the president, who has invited his followers, from gunmen to would-be bombers, to take us out. It’s a career choice that could get any one of my students killed just showing up for work. And now, even those who teach media and politics must worry that what we say in the classroom might upset someone enough to provoke them to pull out a gun. Trump has declared the media the enemy of the people. I’m used to students disagreeing with my take on “fake news” and even ethics these days, but because of concealed-carry, my very lesson plans could very well get me shot if I accidentally anger the wrong student.
Sure, I could also carry a gun under this policy (if I got a license), but then what? Am I supposed to shoot back at a student shooting at me? My classroom is a place for learning, not for shootouts. I want ideas to fly, not bullets. I want to teach my students, not injure them. Who’s the good guy with the gun, anyway? I don’t want a good guy with a gun, I want no guns. I want to feel safe at my job, and more guns won’t do that.
I’m not alone in feeling unsafe on an armed campus. The United Faculty of Florida, a union that represents about 18,000 faculty members and professionals at Florida campuses, is completely against the measure. University presidents and trustees are also opposed. But with new governor Ron DeSantis a firm proponent of the measure, and the age requirement raised from 18 to 21 years old, the legislation has more of a chance of passing than ever.
After the Marjory Stoneman Douglas massacre, many politicians decided that more guns more readily available at school campuses, from grades K-12, would be the answer. Tellingly, educators, administrators, students, and parents disagree fervently.
As a parent, I’ve watched helplessly as my children have moved from lockdown drills, where the students run and hide, to ALICE training, where the students run and hide, but are also trained to “confuse” their attacker by throwing school supplies at an active shooter. They don’t tell the kids it’s self-sacrifice so that others can get away, but as a parent, I can see it for what it is.
When I questioned the staff about this privatized training business that’s taken over our schools’ lockdown drills, they shrugged.
“It’s this or they give me a gun I walk around with in school,” said the P.E. teacher. “Which do you prefer?”
Now we’ll have both.
My daughters attend an elementary school that is overcrowded, and, many kids are forced to learn in one-room trailers that are propped up on stilts. When they have lockdown drills, there is literally nowhere for them to go, and the teachers instruct them to get under their desks and put their butts in the air.
Many teachers in the school are completely against these training sessions, but they have no choice but to participate and guide the children through the stages. We have to have a drill every single month now. Not only do they not want to carry guns on school grounds, they don’t want their coworkers walking around with the weapons, either. Again, they’ll have no choice. If they don’t have a gun, someone near them will.
Arming teachers allows more guns on school property. We already have armed guards and police, and we’ve seen that even intense training for this work can fail. Teachers have degrees in education. Even training interested teachers takes time and money, and where are we getting either of those? Already we’ve seen incidents of how teachers carrying guns on campus can backfire. Allowing concealed carry takes away our ability to question the weapons at all.
Across the globe, we are now privy to a different governmental response, after a mass shooting at mosques in New Zealand claimed the lives of 50 people and injured many more. Instead of thoughts and prayers, and instead of fighting for more guns in the wake of this tragedy, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately proposed gun reform on the federal level, a move for which she is being heralded. In addition, private businesses and auction sites are taking their own measures and banning the sale of semi-automatic weapons all on their own.
These methods make sense: If a weapon takes multiple lives in a senseless act of violence, stop selling that weapon. Common-sense gun laws are a much better alternative. Required background checks, no weapons for people with a history of domestic violence or mental health issues, longer waiting periods, and other measures could make a small dent in the rampant mass shooting problem we have in this country. After years of debate here in the United States, culminating in a slow step forward with a lawsuit against Remington brought by parents of the Sandy Hook children massacred in 2012, we are still floundering on how to address our gun problem. Many continue to suggest more guns, even on school campuses and church grounds.
I don’t want my children to get used to the sight of guns in the classroom. Nor do I want to.
Schools are for teaching. We have a gun problem. More guns will never be the answer to that problem.
Until we come up with comprehensive gun control legislation, we are already in a safety gap. Let’s not make our campuses even more dangerous by allowing in the very things that are killing us.
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