When Will We Learn?

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My dad never owned a gun and my mother never had an inclination to purchase one even when she was alone in a home that had been burglarized several times. In fact, she felt uneasy around guns and sometimes admitted to her fears of them by telling me about family members who visited her with concealed carry permits and weapons hiding in their purses or their cars. In spite of my mom’s hesitancy around guns I saw my share of them while growing up in Texas. Most of my uncles had guns of some sort, usually for hunting. A bachelor uncle who lived with my grandmother kept a loaded pistol on his dresser. All of us cousins tiptoed around the weapon when we visited our grandmother, but we were also in awe that our uncle would leave it out in the open knowing that we often invaded the confines of his room to avoid the smoke and loud chatter of the adults who seemed not to notice the element of danger that was right before us. 

My husband came from a family of hunters, and so he brought a variety of weapons with his clothes and other belongings when we got married. Admittedly I was never comfortable having the guns in my home, especially when my children were small, so I made him keep them unloaded and safely stored away. Over the years they have mostly sat unused save for the time when he decided to shoot at paper targets and then enter marksmanship contests. Once he became shooter of the year at a local club, he locked the guns away again and has not touched them for several years. 

I am fully aware of the second amendment and the nuances and questions associated with it. I understand that there are perfectly reasonable adults who enjoy the sport of hunting and even those who see guns as a form of protection of their families, but when we have more guns floating around than the number of citizens in the country, I begin to question our fascination with lethal weapons. 

In my state of Texas anyone can now openly carry a gun without any kind of formal training. While there are supposed to be waiting periods and checks and balances regarding the legal sale of guns, we have all witnessed loopholes that provide even shady characters with arms. We Americans appear to have a kind of obsession with the idea that if everyone has a weapon we will somehow be able to better protect ourselves from evil doers. While there have indeed been a few cases of brave souls who have thwarted violent incidents with their guns, for the most part the crime rate has only increased along with deaths from gunshots that were either purposeful or accidental. Furthermore, we are putting guns into the hands of younger and younger individuals while also being quite lax about storing them safely in our homes. 

I don’t have big problems with those who have secure gun safes that they carefully monitor. Nor am I terribly upset by those who enjoy hunting, even though I find the the idea of killing animals only for sport to be a bit appalling. I see my hangup about taking the lives of animals as being my own, and therefore something that should not affect the enjoyment of others. What bothers me the most is that we the people of this nation have seemingly become so accustomed to school shootings and mass killings that we are unable to find sensible compromises for controlling the numbers and types of weapons circulating in our midst. It feels as though each new tragedy only increases the proliferation of arms rather than curbing the wild west mentality that now pervades our society. 

I am a teacher, retired from public school classrooms, but still regularly providing knowledge to a small group of students. I spent my adult life inside schools and I innately understand all of the stresses and strains on our educational system. I was still active in education when the tragedy of Columbine made national headlines. I wanted to believe that the incident was a random anomaly even as I had to engage in training for a potential shooting in my own school. Suddenly we were not only having fire and tornado drills, but also practices for shooter lockdowns. I had to discuss procedures with my students who reminded me that the lock on my classroom door had never functioned properly. I worried that if anyone entered the school from the back parking lot my and I students would be sitting ducks. I decided that I would offer myself as a shield if need be. I felt that I had live my life and they deserved to live theirs as well. 

I watched metal detectors being installed in the buildings where I worked. I watched as all entry doors were kept locked during the school day. Suddenly armed  resource police officers were staying on campus all day long. Systems of doors that might trap an intruder became a way of life. It felt uncomfortable and icky, stealing so much of the joy of teaching. I had to become ever alert for trouble. I had to rehearse what I would do if there was ever a danger inside the hallways.

On one occasion in one school where I worked we were told that an armed shooter might be on campus. We went into lockdown. As a school administrator by then I had to run from classroom to classroom to be certain that every door was secured and that the teachers and students were aware that they must stay inside. It was a tense moment that was many times worse than those drills. Fortunately the individual who caused the real time execution of our planning was apprehended outside of the gates of our campus and we were all soon sighing with relief, but the danger had been too close to feel entirely comfortable. 

The numbers of school shootings have continued to multiply. Invariably the shooters have had access to guns that were legally purchased. The response each time is momentary horror followed by the purchase of more guns and new prevention ideas that put the onus on teachers and administrators rather than addressing the reasons why such events have become so commonplace. Suggesting that teachers carry weapons is an example of one of the worst of the ideas while mentioning that we need to restrict gun ownership in a sensible way is generally decried. Thus we do little or nothing and get nowhere, while already overworked and stressed educators add the worry of watching their students being killed to their list of duties. It is a travesty that we do not seem to have the courage to adequately address. 

I do not pretend to know the answers, but I am certain that we can’t keep looking away from the reality that we have a gun problem in the United States. We are no safer now with guns in every nook and cranny than people hoped and believed we would be. The access to lethal weapons is easier than getting a license to drive a car. It’s time that we be honest and come together to protect our schools and public places, not by all being armed and ready for a gunfight, but by insisting that gun owners have reasonable rules about purchasing, storing and learning how to use guns safely. It’s no doubt a task as difficult as dealing with climate change, but it’s time we begin to tackle the issues that really matter. If we do not, it is only a matter of time until more innocents will be killed. Being pro life should mean really caring about everyone and working to keep them safe.