Once again, the richest, most powerful country in the history of mankind has found itself unable protect its children from violence and slaughter wrought by a madman wielding a weapon of war. The recent mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, was obviously not the first time America’s children were subjected to gun violence. And, despite the growing #neveragain campaign, the horrifying odds are that it won’t be the last. Yet this time, something still feels different. Despite our inept White House, the calls for change in gun control laws from the teenage survivors of Parkland have been earth-shatteringly loud. They have been so persistent, so embraced by our citizens and by the media that even the National Rifle Association (NRA) and some of their pets in Congress have been cowed. For the first time, real action feels at least possible.
Of course, as soon as one tired excuse for avoiding change and deflecting responsibility loses public favor, the NRA will always be ready with another one. It used to be that worn-out trope about needing “good guys with guns to stop bad with guns.” Or the fantasy of protecting the populace from a tyrannical government. Or that other one about how useless gun control is, since criminals don’t follow laws anyway. Well, considering how prevalent guns are in America, I’d say we have a lot of good guys with guns, yet gun homicide rates are still 25 times higher in America than in any other high-income country, so those good guys don’t seem to be scaring off anybody. And while fear of a tyrannical government can be healthy, it shouldn’t be used to deflect from the far more realistic fear of experiencing a mass shooting. Nor should we make obtaining weapons more obtainable because of hardened criminals. That’s like saying we should legalize murder because we can’t stop all killing. It’s nonsensical.
The new favorite, yet equally unoriginal, talking point coming from this pandering White House and scrambling NRA is to arm teachers with firearms — or, alternatively, let teachers bring their own firearms to school. The idea is that teachers, who are already tasked with educating, nurturing, counseling and reprimanding our children, should feel free to confront semi-automatic weapon-bearing madmen with a death wish. That sounds like an awful lot to put on public servants who average an annual salary of $36,141 and who often have to pay for school supplies out of their own pocket.
I get the fantasy that the NRA and Second Amendment zealots have bought into here. They envision a world in which we can suddenly afford veteran security guards and armed teachers who can benevolently watch over our children’s lives and hopefully even educate them on responsible gun use. Mass shooters would suddenly recognize that schools are no longer a soft target; they’d have to face an alert, well-stocked militia of educators before they could touch vulnerable students who have gone through multiple mass shooting drills and know what to do. You know, like something out of a Clint Eastwood blockbuster. That’s because that’s what this is: a fantasy that can only exist in hyper-patriotic propaganda.
Arming schools to the teeth is a clear sign of a failed society. Arming schools to the teeth would not benefit anyone — save the one group that already benefits from mass shootings: the profitable gun lobby. We already know that armed security guards have little deterring or countering effect on mass shootings. There was an armed security guard at Parkland. An armed security guard at the Pulse nightclub. An armed security guard at Columbine. Is this why institutions, such as banks, no longer regularly employ an armed security guard? The FBI has found that the presence of an armed guard actually increases the risk of violence. No one is addressing the possibility of a teacher’s gun being used against themselves or against students — which, by the way, has happened before.
The psychological trade-off is also substantial. Study after study has found that heavily armed schools have a seriously detrimental effect on the health and well-being of the students. High-security environments make students feel less safe. Schools with armed guards have higher rates of serious violent crime than schools without such personnel. Nor do armed personnel peacefully bide their time in between shootings: schools with armed teachers frequently report violent confrontations between them and their students. This shouldn’t be surprising. When your job is to monitor and weed out threats, and the people you’re protecting are potential threats themselves, allusions to “Big Brother is Watching You” write themselves. People, let alone teenagers, don’t take kindly to being constantly suspect, least of all in the one place they should feel safe. This is especially true among students of color, who often report high levels of racial profiling in such circumstances.
This is about the point in the conversation that inevitably leads to an explosion of what-aboutism. You can practically hear a gun advocate start to say “Oh yeah? What do you suggest we do? Take away all guns?” First off, no. But some gun control is necessary. Even if it would not necessarily halt every mass shooting, putting limits on the types of weapons readily available to the trigger-happy — say, trigger-happy teenagers — would certainly limit the carnage. Second, there is some merit in the “mental health” argument, as it was clear that many shooters, including the most recent one, were severely troubled youths who fell in between the cracks of underfunded and underutilized mental health programs. Third, I actually agree with a common Republican talking point: this epidemic is caused by a culture that excessively glorifies violence. but it isn’t Hollywood or video games that are promoting this violence — it’s gun culture itself. I’ve talked about the NRA’s propensity to incite violence before. Just look at Wayne LaPierre’s most recent public address. Instead of addressing what gun owners or the gun industry might do to prevent more mass shootings, he spent his time before the cameras slobbering about socialism and accusing Democrats and liberals of being the evil enemy of freedom-loving patriots. Gun culture thrives off of toxic cultural divisions; it craves an “us-vs-them” mentality to pump sales. The Parkland shooter was in a rifle program funded by the NRA. Online, he used to parrot right-wing talking points. Some patriot.
Like everything in life, the answers are multifold. Confronting mass shootings will require action on numerous fronts — and a serious reflection on our societal health. The one bandaid that will not work, however, is throwing guns at schools and profits at the NRA and gun manufacturers. Arming our schools will remind America’s young not that we kept them safe but that we thoroughly failed them because we didn’t take their safety and security seriously enough to actually make hard choices. That would require adults to change. What will get instead is more children being murdered in their classrooms.