You are here

Déjà Vu. Again.

Crayons and bullets

I had not intended to write this column. I'd been preparing to reboot our advocacy efforts with a spiffy new web site and an overview of education policy issues facing us today in Michigan. And then.

On the 24th of May, an 18-year-old boy armed with an assault rifle walked into Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and began shooting. Over the next 78 minutes, he shot and killed 21 people, 19 children and two teachers, until he himself was killed by police. Just four others survived their injuries, including an adult and a 10-year-old who were both in critical condition on arrival.

We mourn for the victims of this terrible crime, and our hearts go out to the wounded, to the shattered families of those killed, and to a community facing such powerful grief. Words are inadequate to convey our sadness, frustration, and anger. But words are what we have available to work with.

So allow me to reprint here an essay I wrote in 2018, not very long after another school mass shooting tragedy, that one in Parkland, Florida. While the national debate looks somewhat different, the legislative response in Michigan is much the same today as it was back then.

Not two days after the Uvalde tragedy, members of the Michigan House of Representatives introduced bills to make exceptions to the weapon-free school zone laws and allow designated teachers and staff to be armed (HB 6151 and 6152). Under the headline "Robbing Individuals of Their Rights Won't Stop Tragedies, But Protecting Our Children Will," the author of one of the bills, Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers), writes that he was "saddened and frustrated by the most recent school shooting" in Texas. His solution? A rehash of the "good guy with a gun" theory.

He wrongly claims that the Uvalde shooter bought his gun illegally, when in fact it was perfectly legal for him to buy an assault rifle just after turning 18 under current Texas law. Rep. Carra's answer to the threat of gun violence is to allow school staff to have (securely stored) firearms in schools. So is putting guns in schools really the answer? No, and to see why, please read on.

Gunfight at the H.S. Corral

When I was growing up in early-1970s Indianapolis, all of us kids knew that our town was on the “top 10” list of Soviet targets should nuclear war ever break out. Thanks to a US Army data center nearby, we never bothered to practice “duck and cover” drills, because there would be no point. At the time, our main source of protection was the fact that our side had enough nukes to incinerate the other side, and they returned the favor. Pentagon war planners called this strategy “mutually assured destruction” (ironically, M.A.D.).

It was supposed to make us feel safer. It didn’t.

My own children recently graduated from high school, and over the last few years I have watched in dismay as a similar mindset produced a familiar “strategy” to ensure their safety, this time at a smaller scale. Every time the horror of a new school shooting hits the airwaves, talking heads immediately pop up to proclaim that the answer to these violent perpetrators with tactical weaponry is -- more guns! The safest schools would be the ones bristling with firearms. Just securing our schools is not enough; training to lock down and barricade classrooms is “wimpy.” What we need is more “good guys with guns.”

The best (and, by the way, cheapest) way to achieve this, we are told, is to directly arm teachers and other school staff. Paid experts wax eloquent at legislative hearings, explaining that “gun free zones” simply identify soft targets to the bad guys; the only way to be safe is to have your own firepower. School visitors, carrying their own concealed weapons, can join in too and make our schools that much safer.

Picture this: as a person enters a school building bent on destruction, they are quickly confronted by the school basketball coach who, in addition to teaching civics, is a designated “good guy with a gun.” Coach whips out his 9mm, engaging the evil-doer in a “Dirty Harry” style gunfight, and…

And what? If we believe TV and films, the bad guys always miss, and the good guys always hit their targets. In the real world, though, bullets often miss their mark and most keep on going regardless. So, what happens to the kids caught in the hallway? What happens to the people in the rooms at the ends of the hallway, or along the sides, as the bullets fired by both people follow their trajectories and ricochet around?

More to the point, what happens to Coach? He, or she, won’t have body armor and almost certainly isn’t trained like a police officer, let alone a soldier, to function under fire. Even more importantly, if most recent mass shootings are any indication, Coach won’t be facing someone with an old-fashioned revolver or a bolt action hunting rifle. They will be up against someone with an assault weapon intended for the battlefield and designed for its ease of use and its lethality. Most likely, Coach ends up on the floor, bleeding out from the terrifying damage these weapons wreak, just like the kids he was trying to protect. Coach has just come face to face with the wildly popular AR-15 – what the NRA calls “America’s Rifle.” [The NRA has taken down the blog post, but it is still available on the Internet Archive. In a sick irony, it features a promotional picture from Daniel Defense, manufacturer of the rifle used at Uvalde.]

None of this seems to shake the faith of lawmakers and officials who want to bring the nuclear strategy of MAD to my kids’ schools. Some want to arm teachers; others simply want to let anyone carry a concealed weapon in school buildings (more “good guys,” one supposes). Our local school district, in fact, had to fight all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court just to secure the right to choose their own firearms policy. There was a bill on the verge of passage in the state legislature that would have wiped out that right to control guns, opening our schools up to anyone with a (lightly regulated) concealed carry permit. So instead of stopping guns at the front door, schools would have had to let people walk in while packing heat. Even the Feds have gotten in on the action: at the urging of [then] Pres. Donald Trump, [former] Education Secretary Betsy DeVos included language in the last budget to steer funding to school districts for arming their teachers. All this is being done in the name of school safety, but even advocates say that with a nudge and a wink. Underneath, it’s all an attempt to enforce an extremist view of the Second Amendment -- and to protect profits -- while our kids risk getting caught in the crossfire.

Instead of fueling an arms race, maybe we could try arms control instead? Doctors and law enforcement officials point to the particularly great destructive power of assault rifles, which fire small bullets at high speed and can do so very rapidly even in “semi-automatic” mode. Large magazines mean that you don’t have to reload as often while you pepper your surroundings with high-velocity bullets. A federal law which banned precisely these kinds of weapons was allowed to expire in 2004, and shortly thereafter Congress moved to protect gun manufacturers from any liability, no matter how reckless their marketing and distribution strategies had become.

The assault rifle manufacturers’ profits, and a profoundly warped view of our civil liberties, are being protected at the expense of my kids’ safety. That’s a trade I’m not willing to make. How about you?

Drupal theme by pixeljets.com D7 ver.1.1