Keeping our children safe shouldn’t require arming teachers, staff, or parents.
On the Monday following the horrific murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, someone called in a threat to my kids’ school district. The district locked down all five schools in the district including my daughter’s kindergarten-only school and my son’s elementary school. I heard about this via an email from the district. I was calm until I called my wife with the news. Then, we both cried.
The police eventually deemed the threat to be without credibility. The kids came home free of fear or even anxiety. The teachers had clearly held it together much better than had I. The kids mentioned the locked doors and the lack of recess and gym but seemed unbothered by the events of the day. I cannot thank the administrators and the teachers enough for making such a troubling situation so easy on my kids.
But, here’s the thing: while I’m glad to live in a school district with such wonderful educators, I don’t want my kids to live in a world where preparing for a school shooting is normal.
Clearly, my level of distress was and still is high, due in no small part to the fact that the threat to my kids came so soon after the horrific murders at Sandy Hook. But my intent isn’t to write about my emotions in all of this. We all love our children. My sadness over what occurred is not unique. We all ache. This is something we share.
What we don’t share is our opinions on what should be done now.
I am a supporter of Second Amendment rights. I have plenty of very responsible friends and neighbors and family members who are gun owners. I see no utility in seizing their guns or preventing them from purchasing more.
But the Second Amendment is not a mandate. It permits gun ownership; it does not require it. And yet, I have heard plenty of people argue, after this most recent tragedy and after previous incidents of mass murders involving guns, that what we need is more guns. The argument generally goes as such: if we are all armed, then no one would dare start shooting. People say this as if it is the obvious and only solution. But, personally, I can’t imagine a more cynical and depressing answer to gun violence.
What kind of nihilistic society believes that our safety, let alone the safety of our children, should be governed by who has the best weaponry or is the best marksman? Is our only recourse to arm ourselves and live in a condition of perpetual anxiety, always ready to draw our guns, afraid to go anywhere without first arming ourselves? Perhaps we can convince ourselves that such a society would be a more secure society, but we certainly can’t believe it would be a more peaceful one. There is no peace when the only defense is self-defense.
I prefer to be optimistic. I hope for a society where my family can be safe even if we choose not to arm ourselves, and where the school staff is unarmed. Because I do not want to be a soldier. And I do not want my children’s schools to be fortresses. I want to be a dad, not part of some militia. I want our schools to be places of learning, not armed encampments where children are hidden behind locked doors. I want my kids to be free from the worry that evil might visit their classroom.
Arming ourselves and our schools is an act of surrender. If we do that, we admit that our society is failing and our only hope is to hunker down and just try to survive. But I don’t believe our society is failing. It may be sick. It may riddled with narcissism and sensationalism and political divisiveness that boils into hate, but I refuse to believe we can’t improve. That we can’t find ways to protect ourselves through improvements in our mental health system and through a general cultural shift, where we start recognizing our shared humanity.
I am fine if you want to own a gun. I will stand up for your right to do so. But don’t tell me I have to own one too. Don’t tell me I have to send my kids to a school with armed guards with assault rifles. That is not the America I want for my children.
When my kids came home after the lockdown at their schools, we explained to our third grader what had occurred. His only real question was: Why? Why would someone threaten him? I had theories as to the perpetrator’s mental condition and need for attention, but this kind of speculation wasn’t the answer my son wanted. He meant: What kind of society allows such a thing to happen? To that, I have no answer. But that doesn’t mean there are no solutions. We can’t erase evil and tragedy from the world, but we can do more than add more guns to the equation. I believe we can do better than that.
Image credit: Fort Meade/Flickr