The Biggest Test Americans Could Fail Isn’t Multiple Choice
Since that fateful day on December 14, 2012, we’ve been grieving with the rest of the nation over the senseless deaths of children and their teachers at Newtown, Connecticut. While harder to summon, even pity and empathy must be extended to the obviously disturbed young man Adam Lanza and his mother, who inadvertently armed her son with the guns to kill her, Sandy Hook Elementary children and staff, and ultimately himself. The whole heartbreaking incident defies reason. As a nation, our hearts broke for all who’ve suffered a loss. No parent should have to bury a child; no parent should have to lose a child to violence.
But before the year concluded, when marketer-in-chief of the American domestic small-arms industry, Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA), claimed that the solution to random gun murders on school grounds was to increase gun use by arming school security in pre-emptive defense against someone on a rampage, the American people recoiled with the insensitivity, amorality, and crassness of his suggestion. His statement was almost universally panned.
LaPierre’s press conference was an infomercial for taxpayer-funded expansion of the gun market. Nothing less. The fact that GOP-dominated state legislatures, like Tennessee’s, are considering implementing this suggestion indicates a more monumental a failure of the American public than any middling showing on an international test.
Most school districts make it an expellable offense for a student to bring a weapon to campus. Why would it then make sense to encourage teachers to arm themselves, or urge the creation of armed on-campus police? This is madness.
K-12 public schools that receive federal funding are Gun Free Zones for a reason: under No Child Left Behind, as part of the effort to keep children safe and focused on learning, schools are prohibited from allowing students to have guns on campus and must have an expulsion policy for violators. We teach preschool kids to “use their words.” We teach elementary school kids to use “rock, paper, scissors” to settle disputes on the playground. We instruct older students in conflict resolution or in some cases, use restorative justice techniques to make youthful mistakes and infractions a “teachable moment.” What we do not do is encourage the escalation of force, physical violence, or might into an arms race where the biggest guns keep the peace through implied threat; by most measures we strive to keep our schools from looking like mini-combat zones.
So introducing guns on campus goes against the grain of the civic and social mission of schools, which is to help children become citizens who use the democratic process to manage conflict and achieve common goals together.
Very soon, at President Obama’s urging and with the cooperation of gun retailers, domestic arms safety groups, victims’ rights groups, parent advocates, U.S. mayors, and law enforcement officials, Congress will be called upon to act and prevent future mass shootings with new legislation. Better checks of mental health status, closing gun show loopholes (reporting of weapons sold), limitations on high-capacity rounds could all be part of the yet-to-be determined legislative package.
We cannot let the youngest victims of gun violence perish without doing everything we can to ensure that it never happens again. This is a real-life test of our character, one we can’t afford to fail.