If I Had a Handgun

photo by scubabix


Dennis Danziger would like us to all sing along in irony at the idea of arming classroom teachers with guns. 

Whenever I enter a crowded place, a movie theater, a mall, a restaurant, the classroom at the public school where I teach, I think of Newtown, Connecticut. Of that cold-blooded slaughter and how all of us, regardless of political inclination, remain vulnerable to such an attack.

I think of how our elected officials in D.C. have talked of protecting school children and the rest of us from the next spray of bullets, yet it seems likely that the 113th Congress will fail to pass gun control legislation that will make us significantly safer.

Of all the talk of how to lessen these random acts of carnage, the most bizarre idea, which came from the National Rifle Association, was to arm classroom teachers.

I teach in an urban high school. And over the past few years I’ve watched as my profession has been deliberately and systemically attacked by pundits and politicians, editors and journalists, filmmakers and hedge fund managers.

Their simplistic narrative has become accepted as truth—the failure of the American public school system is the fault of bad teachers.

That’s their mantra and it’s worked.

Go ahead, ask someone what’s wrong with public schools and I bet you their first response isn’t poverty, or kids living in war zones, or overcrowded classrooms, or lack of funding, or educational apartheid within public schools, or the economic apartheid practiced by private schools.

I bet most would say something like, “We need to get rid of the bad teachers.”


Over the past few years I’ve watched many of my colleagues, the good and the not so good, lose their jobs due to budget cuts. I’ve watched as our benefits have been cut.  And I know that our pensions which we’ve worked and paid for will be slashed by the time we retire. The contracts we made with our communities have been broken.

Forget the reasons why.

But consider this.

America has scapegoated its public school teachers and blamed them for the nation’s educational crisis. America has bullied its public school teachers so that the entrepreneurial class may swoop in and rake in bucket loads of cash off the privatization of public schools.

So be it.

But also consider this.

When you lump people together, label them, degrade them, take away much of what they’ve worked for, including their dignity, why would you then turn around and give them  a handgun?

Which, let’s face it, would be paid for by the government.

Because you can’t expect all 3.2 million of us teachers to bring our own weapon to campus.

And bullets? Did the NRA consider bullets?

How many bullets (also government issued) would each of us teachers be issued?  Would it be per semester? Per career?

And my god, the paperwork.

You know that every time one of us teachers squeezes off a shot, we’re going to have to fill out a report. In triplicate.

And answer to a panel.

A new bureaucracy of government workers.

And I thought these people favored smaller government.

I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s a good idea to arm teachers but with that thought in mind I dedicate this song to the visionary leadership of the NRA.

(Please note, if you do not understand irony, skip and read the end)


If I had a Handgun

(Sung to the tune of “If I had a Hammer” by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger. Video below if you’ve forgotten the tune.)

If I had a handgun

I’d load it in the morning

I’d tuck it in my waist band

And head off to class

I’d be feeling macho

I’d be feeling cocky

I’d sense the fear in my students and their homies

In and out of my class


When I heard that first bell ring

I’d button up my sweater

And cover up my gatt

So no one’d know I’m strapped

I’d reek of danger

I’d give no warning

I’d bark orders at my students and their homies

Which they’d best obey in and out of my class.


If someone was misbehaving

First thing in the morning

All the way through sixth period

In and out of my class,

I’d tell’em to zip it

I’d give them one warning

Else I might go all vigilante

In and out of my class.


Well I’ve got a Glock

And a clip with 33 rounds

And I’d best get some respect

In and out of my class

It’s the handgun of justice

It’s the bullets of freedom

It’s a new way of dealing

With America’s school kids

All over this land.


Wouldn’t we all be better off, safer, if the 113th Congress voted to reinstate the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994?

That’s what the majority of Americans want.

If only our politicians would put the lives of their constituents ahead of raising funds for their next election.

If only our representatives would remember the fallen children and teachers of Newtown, Connecticut, and Columbine, and Virginia Tech, and Chardon and of so many other schools and take action to honor them.

Dennis Danziger

April 2, 2013

Footnote: According to Pew Research Group poll report on 1/14/2013 55% of Americans support an assault weapon ban.

photo: scubabix / flickr


About Dennis Danziger

Dennis Danziger - author of the novel "A Short History of a Tall Jew," working on a memoir, "5 Shows a Day - Dispatches from the War on Education."


  1. Let me help you over the line. I have a Doctorate from a good American University. I am seriously rich in an oil-business sort of way…just sold an old Porsche of mine to a museum in Germany. I pay cash for whatever the Hell Firearm or anything else I feel a need for -ever since before you were even borne.
    Gun Control is even dumber than Drug Control. Even the Mounties in Canada refused o make any efforts to enforces the cruel and unusually stupid attempt in Oz recentlty to supprress honest gun people.

  2. We are at a pathetic place, here in the United States. Having a Vietnam Veteran as a father , I grew up around firearms and know how to handle them. I still don’t own a gun and that is my right. I have friends that arm themselves to the teeth, carrying guns in there car and have small children. I have friends that practice clearing their house with their spouses, like a swat team clears a house. Pathetic and frighting people. From my experience, people that go to shooting range are the majority frighting people. And many are not too smart. They all are “afraid” of other “people” and who are” these people” they’re afraid of? A part of me wants to arm myself, just to protect myself from these “frighting people.” I’m not there yet and I’m not sure how long I can hold out.

    A former Inner City School Teacher

  3. wellokaythen says:

    In order to get teachers to be more heavily armed, you would need to change a lot of insurance regulations or else provide a LOT more funding for schools to get insurance. A lot of school districts are required to carry insurance. I cannot imagine their insurance companies sitting quietly while their policyholders start packing heat. No doubt many insurers would drop their coverage or seriously jack up their rates. Schools today can hardly buy a swingset without a mountain of ass-covering, so I can only imagine what would be required for armed teachers.

    Whatever the ‘real’ statistics are on gun accidents and gun violence, I suspect the insurance actuarial tables have the best information. They have millions and millions of dollars riding on the accuracy of their risk assessments.

    This will probably get decided in by insurance bean counters and in the insurance marketplace.

  4. Joanna
    Do not disagree but I do have a one word response: Cops.
    Do you realize how common it is for them to mis-use their state issued weapons? It is a lot higher than zero. In most places, it is higher than for CHL holders.
    Every argument against civilian ownership of guns would apply to Cops being disarmed.

  5. Richard Aubrey says:

    Right. You have to wonder if they believe this stuff. I mean…reality, guys. Everybody knows about it.
    We’ve run the experiments, we have the data. We know better.
    Well, as somebody smart and famous said, “It’s tough to reason a man out of a position he didn’t reason himself into.”
    Not only was it a lame discussion about where to leave your gun in the classroom, it was obviously beyond the bounds of reality. Nobody ever expected to do that, suggested it, or whatever. They just made it up and expected us, or some of us, to believe it.
    Not getting it.

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      I think you’re assuming too much of humanity. What about that couple where the parents were major gun control advocates and carried a gun legally, even to her kids’ sporting events. Then her husband killed her less than a year later?

      I mean, she was super responsible (I assume) but her husband was still a murderous maniac. Her gun didn’t save her.

      I’m not saying we shouldn’t allow people to carry guns, I’m just saying that assuming people who own guns and are generally responsible to start with aren’t going to go crazy and murder someone is just completely off-base.


      • Richard Aubrey says:

        There’s always an exception. But CHL holders as a group are almost as crime-free as cloistered nuns. Really, there is hardly a less criminal bunch. Including mayors against guns, a group which has gotten some ink for criminal behavior recently.
        When you think about it, Dennis’ point about arming teachers being a bad idea is based on a number of ideas about teachers which would validate taking their drivers licenses away. Which I don’t think he figured.

  6. What anti-gun people never get is something every CHL holder knows instinctively. And that is if you are carrying you have an absolute responsibility to keep your weapon under your control. If you notice that someone always takes their purse or briefcase with them to the rest-room, now you know why. If you are a teacher carrying you would never consider keeping a weapon anywhere but in a concealed holster on your person, at all times.
    Anti-gun people seem to spend all their time in a dream world of false hypothetical situations.

    • wellokaythen says:

      We can’t have it both ways. We can’t have relatively unrestricted rights to own firearms AND assume that everyone carrying is responsible. Everyone with a permit is always instinctively responsible? I just find that hard to believe.(Cops and soldiers never go postal?) Maybe there’s an argument to be made that the exceptions are so extremely rare that they’re insignificant, but it’s hardly a 100% guarantee. This strikes me as something like a faith-based kind of argument and not so much an objective one.

  7. Richard Aubrey says:

    Some years ago, John Lott wrote a book called, “More Guns, Less Crime”. He was, of course, excoriated by all right-thinking people who insisted the results would be the OK Corral, blood in the streets, shootouts at stop signs.
    Now, the critics are reduced to saying the drop in crime in shall-issue states is for some other reason.
    Might be so.
    But, even if there are sufficient other factors to obfuscate Lott’s prediction about the cause, the fact remains the critics were wrong.
    Reality vs. hypothetical.
    Reality wins.
    Or, no, it doesn’t. Should. Used to.
    Not any more.

  8. Richard Aubrey says:

    I believe the nutcase at VaTech had half an hour. Lanza had fifteen minutes. Even with a bolt-action rifle, he had time to shoot off about as much as he could carry.
    Point is, the issue is the time the guy has to do his thing, not the weapon.
    Armed citizens on site–teachers or not–cut that time down.

  9. How would it make us “significantly safer”? Seriously, how? Background checks wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook, unless you propose screening someone’s entire family before allowing them to exercise a constitutional right. The Aurora shooter’s psychologist warned police, who did nothing (much less put him in any databases). An AWB wouldn’t have stopped VA Tech, the deadliest shooting, where no “assault weapons” were used (and the largest mag used there was, I believe, 15 rounds). Again, a failure to report the mental health information allowed legal purchase. The problem is *not* the particular weapon — a weapon with enormous home defense value. It’s the people. And we’re doing essentially nothing about the people.

    Look, I’m snotty to anti-gun types because your cheerleaders are people like Biden (who advises committing actual crimes during home defense), or the Congresswoman who didn’t know that magazines can be reused. These are *basic facts* of guns, that your side consistently gets flat wrong. Doesn’t it make you doubt yourself that almost every single person who advocates for your position knows almost nothing about firearms or tactical situations? (Except a few cops…if you want to trust their interpretations of constitutional rights, I have a fourth amendment to sell you.)

    Also, no — not every teacher has to be armed (you can’t possibly believe anyone is proposing this). If you are scared to carry a gun, I guarantee you the evil NRA themselves will tell you *not to carry a gun*. Why? Well, unlike most anti-gun types, they’ve actually spent decades teaching thousands upon thousands of people gun safety. You should not carry if you are not absolutely confident with your weapon.

    Want to end gun violence? End the drug war. But that’s not on the table, I guess cuz it’s mostly not white kids that are dying from that.

  10. I am neither pro nor anti guns personally, but for the points you’ve made I do agree it would be a major issue in schools. I am curious, however, how you would feel about tranquilizer guns? I am sure there are issues with the possibility that for some it could be lethal, but it seems like it may be a legitimate compromise. I was just curious how someone who feels strongly about gun control would feel about such a proposal.

    • Dennis Danziger says:

      That’s a thoughtful question Kelly. Honestly, there’s not a place in my classroom or in many of my colleagues’ classrooms where anything can be locked up. Things get stolen on high school campuses. You put 100 weapons of any kind on a high school campus and a portion of them are going to land in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Adult school classes use our classrooms. We don’t even know who they are. They come in at night. Every school I’ve taught at has been broken into. Then who’s got the guns?

      • From teaching in urban schools, I am definitely familiar with locked storage as a precious commodity. I’ve had to create locked storage of my own with drills and hasps, but I’ve never trusted any lock with an overnight storage item of value. I don’t know anything about tranquilizer guns, but I’d like to think that they are made to only fire tranquilizers. In that case, I’d feel more comfortable with gang members firing tranquilizers than bullets (continuing with the idea that they would end up in the wrong hands).

        I am not super invested in the idea; it just occurred to me as a middle-ground option. I was curious as to whether or not gun-control advocates had issues with the ideas of tranquilizer guns in general. Because I don’t have an opinion either way, I am unsure of the value at the root of the position and whether or not that value is in opposition to tranquilizers. If the value is preservation of human life, I would think tranquilizers would be a good option. But that may not be the underlying value.

        My agreement with your well-stated arguments concerning guns still stands.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Keep in mind that we have actuality–not hypotheticals–in Utah and Texas and there have been no unfortunate incidents.

  11. Richard Aubrey says:

    The larger number is the number of dead in mass shootings ended by cops when they show up. The smaller number is the number of dead when a mass shooting is ended by an armed citizen on scene.
    Pick one.

    • Dennis Danziger says:

      I choose making it illegal to own an automatic weapon unless you’re in the military or law enforcement.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Dennis. It’s been illegal for civilians to own automatic weapons since about 1933. The exceptions require extreme licensing activity and have not been involved in a crime, ever.
        And if you’re in LE or the military, you don’t “own” the weapons. The insitution owns them and lets you use them.

        • Dennis, this is why gun rights types are so condescending and so uncompromising. You’re insisting that this legislation will make us safer, and don’t even know that automatic weapons have been illegal for civilians to owns for the better part of eight decades. That’s a basic fact of firearm law in the US that literally everyone should know before they have an opinion. Since your reasoning is not based on facts, it must be based on emotions. Since it’s based on emotions, well…that’s always a great source of legislation, right?

  12. Dell Que says:

    there was an assault weapons ban in effect in CT where the shooting took place. obviously that didn’t work. you think that arming the teachers is not the answer either. okay, if you don’t want to arm the sheep, then hire some sheep dogs. as a 30-plus year army veteran serving as a civilian in afghanistan, i’m around armed people all day every day. it doesn’t bother me. training, common sense, and muzzle awareness prevent accidents and incidents. many school districts have school resource officers (full time, uniformed police or sherriff’s deputies) whose place of duty is at the school whenever it is in session. if you don’t want to “waste” law enforcement resources, then hire veterans, retirees, etc who are licensed and trained with firearms to provide security at the schools. there are armed guards in places like banks, hospitals, etc. why not schools? in Beslan, they have men armed with fully automatic weapons at the school every day because the parents there have said “never again!” and they mean it.

    • Dennis Danziger says:

      An assault ban in Connecticut, sure. But how easy is it to cross state lines and get anything you want? State by state doesn’t work. Laws need to be federal laws and strictly enforced…otherwise there is more rather than less violence.

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        If the weapons have to come from someplace, then the place from which they come must be awash in violence. Examples?
        Also, I believe it was the CDC which calculated that the last assault weapons ban had no disceernible impact.
        Keep in mind that assault weapons are used in a tiny fraction of gun violence. Rifles of all sorts kill fewer people than fists.
        Again, you posit a hypothetical while we know the reality is the opposite.

  13. Allowing CHL owning teachers to carry at work if they choose to is already legal in some states. No bad incidences have occurred. It is just silly to state that the Districts would have to pay for any of this. Purely made up out of nothing. No Schools that do allow it have ever mentioned cost.
    Military gun management is almost entirely dependent on how much confidence they have that they can control or at least predict the next encounter with bad guys. Heck, no gun owner would object to keeping everything in a safe if they lived inside a heavily guarded military base. Likewise, no military guys would march into Indian Territory if their weapons were still in a safe.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    From one teacher to another….thank you. This made my day.

  15. Andy Pelosi says:

    Thanks Dennis. Good piece.

  16. This is amazing. Thank you so much for your incredibly well-thought and extremely eloquent post. It is especially effective from someone in the trenches. Off to share!-The Dose Girls

  17. wellokaythen says:

    I think we should take a look at how some of the people who are trained experts in firearms handle the presence of guns. Let’s take a look at the U.S. military. It’s safe to assume they know a thing or two about firearms and firearm safety, and they’re trained to use them to defend themselves. They have been entrusted with some really high-powered weaponry. The nature of their job is that they are targets for all sorts of violence from all sorts of people. It’s like a walking around with a target on your back, far more than any suburban schoolteacher.

    So, what does it look like on the vast majority of U.S. military bases? Is everyone walking around with a firearm? Absolutely not. Does everyone get to have a personal firearm in their residence just because of the Second Amendment? Absolutely not. There are very strict regulations about who, how, and when base personnel carry weapons. Only people specifically allowed to carry them in specific circumstances are allowed to carry them. There is usually an armory on base for exactly this reason. Even at some of the relatively forward-positioned bases in Afghanistan, guns are strictly regulated. You can’t just come down off the mountain and bring your rifle into the canteen.

    Now I ask you, why do these weapons experts have this highly restrictive policy? I can’t imagine that the Pentagon does this because it’s run by anti-gun liberals. Is this the big bad federal government impinging on the rights of its citizens? I don’t hear a lot of conservatives complain about how anti-gun the military is. I’m willing to believe there are just good, objective reasons why they have strict gun policies. I’m not a military man myself, but I can think of a lot of solid reasons why this highly restrictive policy is a good one. Most of those reasons sound like very good reasons why your average teacher should not be armed at school.

    • PursuitAce says:

      Sounds like you’re making the NRA case for them…armed protection of the unarmed.

      • historyfelon says:

        Armed protection of the unarmed..yes….they are called The Police. On a military base (and I have served in both the regular Navy and the Army Reserve) the only armed personnel are the police (MP’s and SP’s or government hired police) even though there may be thousands of personnel on the base.

    • The carrying of guns is strictly regulated. However in a relatively short time the entire base can be put into combat readiness.
      There are even loaded assault rifles behind breakable glass for a example. Though I’m speaking here from a european perspective. Don’t know if US bases are more vulnerable to a surprise attack of commandos/terrorists.

      Just arm the guards and let those who have a CCW pack some heat.

    • It’s because the military is run by risk-averse commanders who believe that hiding from the problem will keep everyone safe.

  18. Excellent!!

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