(Continued from Parts One and Two)
School shootings, like any tragedy, leave us trying to understand what happened – what went so terribly wrong, and what can we do about it. It’s natural to place blame, but sometimes the targets we want – one’s we could bring to justice – are no longer available. We can’t blame the killer this time, because he’s dead. Nor can we blame blame his mother – the source of his guns – she’s dead, too.
The key to understanding anything is education. Education is key to understanding what happened, why it happened, what can prevent future tragedies, and what can’t prevent future tragedies. Education is key to understanding our reactions to tragedy, and our children’s reactions as well.
Education is the key to it all. Not just formal schooling, but education in all its forms: curricular, cultural, emotional – everything.
We can start with some simple lessons For example, understanding the relative meaning of zeros in big numbers. I’ve encountered many people who don’t seem to understand the magnitude (or rather “microtude”) of our gun violence problem.
When the public sees numbers tossed around like the approximately 10,000 firearm homicides per year in the U.S., many think we must “do something”. 10,000 sounds like a big number, but it means little without any context.
There are approximately 300,000,000 privately-owned firearms in the U.S. Doing a little arithmetic, we find that 99.997% of privately-owned firearms are not used in homicides. That’s a pretty good safety record by any standard. If only 0.003% of firearms are used to kill people, perhaps the widespread ownership of guns isn’t the problem at all.
People often compare the U.S. to other countries in terms of firearm deaths. The U.S. certainly tops the charts in raw numbers. But how often do we see those numbers reported per capita or per gun? Ever? Alcohol, tobacco, and swimming pools are far more likely to kill any one of us than guns are.
We also need to study firearm homicide numbers along side of countless other confounding variables. Australia, for example, is held up by gun-control advocates as a model system. But how often is it noted that Australia’s minimum wage is double that of the United States? It’s one thing to make sure crime doesn’t pay; but quite another to make sure hard work is a viable alternative.
Can we honestly expect our inner-city youth to choose hard work over crime when 40 hours of hard work won’t even pay the rent on a modest apartment, let alone buy them any food or clothing?
If we decide there really is a gun problem (which I’ve seen no compelling evidence that there is), it is imperative that those who try to solve it are knowledgeable about the subject. Here’s a sampling of things I’ve heard from gun-control advocates these past few weeks:
“We need to ban the AR-15, nobody needs a gun that holds two-hundred and twenty-three bullets.”
“We need to ban semi-automatics, because no one needs to shoot six rounds per second.”
“We need to ban assault rifles. No one needs a larger caliber than a shotgun or deer rifle.”
If you can’t see what’s wrong with those statements, please educate yourself before you join the discussion. Or just stay out of it altogether. This might sound petty, but would you want someone proposing laws to govern the health insurance industry if they didn’t know the difference between Medicare and Medicaid, or the difference between a copay and a deductible? Of course you wouldn’t. Knowledge matters.
Apply this ignorance of guns to legislation, and you get things like the last federal “assault” rifle ban; which prohibited certain firearms on the basis of combinations of cosmetic features. As if looks could kill.
But the more profound ignorance in the aforementioned statements lies in the predictable use of the phrase “…nobody needs….”. The Bill of Rights has no footnote or disclaimer saying “…but only if you need it.” Good thing it doesn’t, because the only things any of us really needs are air, food, water, and shelter.
Much of the public fear and outcry about guns stems from ignorance. The cure for ignorance is, of course, education. The widespread ignorance about firearms begs an important question: why are we not teaching about firearms as part of the formal public school curriculum? We teach about everything else within the Bill of Rights; but when it comes to guns we almost dare not say the word in public school.
U.S. citizens have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Given that, it is unconscionable that we don’t have a firearms component within every public school curriculum. Yes, this should include hands-on training in the use of every kind of firearm citizens can lawfully own.
And to those among you who insist that the 2nd Amendment’s authors, by their reference to a militia, intended to grant firearm ownership only to police and active military personnel; please find a dictionary and look up the word “militia.” And as for the “well-regulated” part, please read the previous paragraph again.
Ironically, many of the “militia = professionals only” crowd turn right around and condemn the idea of police (with guns) being useful protection against armed criminals. Some go so far as to suggest that armed police and armed criminals are one and the same. Guns are guns and no guns in schools, period. To me, this is a frightening position with potentially disastrous consequences from an educational standpoint.
When my school district started a partnership with my city police department to place School Resource Officers in our high schools, one of the major goals was to create positive relationships between kids (especially those kids teetering on the edge of a criminal life) and police officers. The police department and the district both saw education as the antidote to the notion – prevalent in gang culture – that cops are the enemy.
This effort showed incredible foresight, and I have seen first-hand the good it has done. The anti-cop rhetoric now spewing forth from some education professionals stands to undermine much of this effort. What message do you send our kids when you say you won’t tolerate having armed police in our schools; as if the police are at best “intolerable” and at worst as dangerous as violent criminals?
When Obama spoke of the recent school shooting, he also mentioned the recent murder of two Topeka police officers. Shooting at police officers the instant they step out of their car is a learned behavior. It also tends to result in one’s own death sooner or later. Sooner, in this case, as the shooter’s attempt to turn his weapon on police again the next morning was anticipated ahead of time.
But how might this young man’s life have turned out differently if we had given him some positive relationships with police early in his life? How might the slain officers lives have been different? Longer, perhaps.
This sad piece of recent history does tell us one thing: criminals don’t obey gun control laws. This killer had a felony record and could not legally possess firearms. Anyone who still thinks greater restrictions imposed on the general public will keep guns out of criminal hands need only study recent history.
Other efforts to undermine the 2nd Amendment could also use a history lesson. Some people suggest high taxes on guns and ammunition, or mandatory safety courses and liability insurance. “You have to carry liability insurance on your car, after all…”, they say.
These feel-good ideas demonstrate the need for some civics lessons about the difference between constitutional rights (such as owning firearms) and social privileges (such as owning and operating a motor vehicle).
More importantly, these ideas show a great need for history lessons about poll taxes and other past efforts to suppress people’s rights. That’s what these ideas are really about: limiting legal gun ownership to the relatively wealthy. (Dare I mention the racism hiding behind poll taxes? Do I need to?).
Some logic lessons also seem in order. Critics of public education usually blame teachers when U.S. student achievement falls behind other nations. Educators are quick to point to our 30% child poverty rate compared to the 2% child poverty rate of other nations. Educators say the problem is poverty, not bad teaching.
How many of these teachers compare our homicide rate to that of other nations, and blame the difference on the availability of guns? Might our high poverty rate have some impact on our crime rate as well as on our high school dropout rate? Of course it does.
If you don’t believe the constant struggle to survive within generational poverty leads people to crime; you aren’t being honest with yourself. Ask yourself which places you wouldn’t want to walk through alone after dark. Not the wealthiest neighborhoods, are they?
Do wealthy people engage in gun violence? Of course they do. The shooter in Connecticut is proof of that. But exceptions don’t make the rule. Could we save more lives by fighting poverty than by fighting lawful gun owners? I think so, but it would require effort and sacrifice.
I suspect the majority of people calling for more gun control don’t own guns at all and don’t care to. For those who do own guns, I suspect their definition of “reasonable restrictions” stops right where their own guns begin. It’s easy to ask other people to give up some of their rights when it’s of no consequence to you personally. The problem is, it isn’t just the 2nd Amendment that leads to preventable homicide.
How many murderers-to-be were acquitted of earlier crimes – turned loose on society by those pesky rights to due process and trial by jury? How many future school shootings could be stopped if we had mandatory searches of every person’s home? All of them, perhaps; if not for that pesky 4th Amendment blocking the way.
Or what of William Spengler who, having served 17 years for beating his 92-year-old grandmother to death with a hammer, subsequently set a car and house ablaze as a trap for his sniper attack on firefighters?
As a convicted felon, Spengler could not legally possess firearms; so it can’t be the 2nd Amendment at fault here. If, rather than locking him up for 17 years, we had simply dragged him into town square for a good old-fashioned stoning; none of this would have happened.
Spengler isn’t alone, either. About 56% of violent crimes are perpetrated by repeat offenders, and 30% of violent offenders have 10 or more prior arrests. Darn that pesky 8th Amendment.
Instead of a few citizens chanting “shame on the NRA”; perhaps we should all join together for a chorus of “out, damned spot!” Because it isn’t just one specific freedom that leads to preventable deaths. It is freedom itself; and that’s a tough lesson to learn. It’s an even harder one to accept, but accept it we must.
Even freedom of speech leads to murder. Obstetrician George Tiller might be alive today if not for the extreme anti-abortion rhetoric that drew a target on him. (Also noteworthy, once again, is the fact that his killer had prior convictions for explosives; thus could not legally possess a firearm).
Instead of asking why so many killers have guns, we need to start asking why we’re raising so many killers.
We bombard our children with gun violence as entertainment from every possible angle: television, movies, music, video games…. What are we teaching them?
You can say these images don’t affect behavior, if that makes you feel better. But big business will still invest millions of dollars in a 30 second commercial during the Superbowl. Maybe they know something you don’t. Or something you won’t admit.
Following the tragedy in Connecticut, top Hollywood celebrities chimed in with their feel-good “Demand a Plan” video. Shortly after, observant citizens called them out for their transparent, modern-day “out, damned spot!” speech (sensitive eyes & ears: watch the latter at your own risk).
But alas, freedom of speech covers Hollywood movies, too. Free speech also covers YOUR right to spend your money as you see fit; and Hollywood entertainment evolved in this free market. So enjoy the show, and good luck washing your hands afterwards.
We could restrict everyone to such an extent that no one could harm anyone else. We come close to that in our prisons; so it is certainly possible. It’s just not desirable.
Freedom requires acceptance of risk. That is perhaps the most important lesson, both for us and our children. I heard it said that we should not place armed police in our schools; because we should be creating a sanctuary for our students. A noble idea, but not a realistic one.
We don’t live in Mr. Roger’s neighborhood; and we ultimately do our students a disservice if we pretend we do. But still we pretend. We talk of teaching critical thinking skills; but we suspend kids when they try to articulate their thoughts about our violent society.
Do we really believe bad things will disappear if we just refuse to talk about them? Do we think our kids will be better equipped to deal with life if we raise them in such a bubble?
Life is full of experiences, some pleasant and some horrific. In the words of the greatest author of the last thousand years, Stephen King, “the world has teeth and it can bite you with them any time it wants to.” The longer we hide this fact from our children, the greater will be their sense of injustice and betrayal when they find it out for themselves.
The world bites us all, any time it wants to. We can’t control that. But we can control how we respond to it. The world will bite our kids, too. Have we taught them how to respond to adversity, or have we left that up to Hollywood and the video game industry?
If we truly educate our kids, we must prepare them for the world they live in; not one we wish they could live in. If more children grow up with realistic expectations for the world; maybe fewer of them will bite back with bullets.