School Shootings- What is the real Issue? A Teacher’s Perspective

The recent national conversation about school shootings frequently centers on concrete objectives and assumes variables that can be controlled, when in reality it involves living, breathing individuals, each with their own agenda and issues- volatile teenagers no less. It is hard enough parenting and understanding a “well adjusted” teenager, much less trying to anticipate the moves of a teenager who is not well adjusted.

In addition, there are many instances of violence in schools that have nothing to do with guns. Just a few years ago for example, at a nearby high school, a teacher was killed by a student with a butcher knife.

However, guns make it possible to kill more people in less time, which is what makes school shootings so horrific and stir up such a strong emotional response.

Stories that make the news are those that tweak our deepest fears, such as being unable to protect our children, about being vulnerable in every day situations, about actions of others beyond our control. There are sobering statistics on gun murders in the United States compared to other countries, but in reality the threat to our children from shootings at school is minimal. 

How the US comparesThe number of gun murders per capita in the US in 2012 – the most recent year for comparable statistics – was nearly 30 times that in the UK, at 2.9 per 100,000 compared with just 0.1.   Of all the murders in the US in 2012, 60% were by firearm compared with 31% in Canada, 18.2% in Australia, and just 10% in the UK. Source: UNODC. BBC news

Statistics on Frequency of School Shooting Fatalities: Notwithstanding the occasional multiple-fatality shooting that takes place at one of the 100,000 public schools across America, the nation’s schools are safe. Over the past quarter-century, on average about 10 students are slain in school shootings annually.  Compare the school fatality rate with the more than 100 school-age children accidentally killed each year riding their bikes or walking to school.  Source: USA Today

 

 

My opinion on this issue culminates from 16 years of teaching in Texas public schools and growing up on a ranch in central Texas, currently living in a rural town in East Texas, where we use guns to shoot coyotes, snakes, wild hogs, deer, targets, and skeet. I am not against guns in general. I was taught they were tools, to be treated with respect and care, and just as there are regulations and restrictions to driving a vehicle, there need to be (and there are) rules and restrictions on weapons. With so many variables at play and the scope of the problem, or rather the rarity but intensity of the problem, I cannot say with certainty what the answer is, but I know what are NOT the answers, and where the most promising places to start may be.

 

First, teachers don’t need guns.

We don’t need guns. We are not prison guards- we are teachers. We went into the profession to help students, because we care about them. Everyone who is proposing this idea has not asked a teacher if they want a gun at school, because if they would ask we would say, “no”. One of the worst things you can do to us psychologically is ask us to even consider having to turn on one of our students with a deadly weapon.

Teachers don’t need guns, when we barely have money for the basic necessities of teaching. I’d much rather have money spent on a classroom set of laptops than on a gun and box of ammunition.

The statistics are clear, accidents due to firearms are much more common than purposeful shootings. I don’t want to worry about a young student accidentally, or purposefully, finding a gun in their teacher’s desk. I’d rather worry about students stealing my extra pens and stash of suckers.

 

Citizens don’t need unlimited access to guns.

My 12 year old cousin competes in 4H rifle competitions.  She is learning gun safety and marksmanship, it is a great hobby. There are already restrictions in place, in Texas, on her ability to own and purchase a gun.

The federal law states she cannot buy one from a licensed dealer until she is 21, and the Texas Youth Handgun Act prevents her from owning one at all when she is under18 years old. There is no mention of purchasing from a private individual or being gifted a handgun between 18-20 years of age as being illegal.Oct 26, 2009

Source: TexasGunTalk.com

But assault weapons and “bump stocks” which enable a weapon to fire like an automatic weapon are not limited.  The federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004 and has not been renewed.  Only seven states have enacted their own bans on assault weapons (Texas is not one of them).  Source: Giffords Law center  If adults can access assault weapons, then children can access those same assault weapons.  Limiting the availability is like child-proof caps on medicine.  Some people may not want or need the child-proof caps, but the safety of our children in general benefits from this policy.  Assault weapons have consistently been the weapon of choice in mass shootings, this should invite questions of our current policy.

 

Mentally unstable individuals don’t need guns.

We should not let anyone with a known mental illness buy a gun, period. They aren’t just a danger to themselves, therefore their right to own a gun ends where my right (and my children’s right) to not be shot begins.  Texas does not require universal background checks.  Texas has no law requiring firearms dealers to initiate background checks prior to transferring a firearm. Sources: Dallas News   Giffords Law center

Background checks will not catch every single potential criminal, but if it limits the number based on documented cases of mental instability and criminal activity- that is a start.

 

We don’t need the conversation on guns strangled.

We don’t need to let the NRA have unlimited lobbying power over our politicians.

We don’t need to confuse the issue of reasonable guidelines for gun ownership with the issue of gun ownership itself. It is not an all or nothing issue. Imposing rules to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unstable and juveniles has nothing to do with responsible gun ownership. Resisting changes of any kind to restrictions on gun ownership is like saying we shouldn’t have traffic laws, driving restrictions, driving tests, age limits etc. because someone somewhere will speed, drive without a license, joy-ride. We won’t necessarily catch everyone who breaks the law or find ways around it, but we need the laws to inform the basic expectations of society and make that behavior less likely. 

 

What we DO need…

We need an environment where student’s emotional needs are met so that they don’t turn to violence to express themselves and deal with their inner pain.

We need more counselors, who can devote their time to working with students rather than spending all their time coordinating testing schedules and materials.

We need fewer students in the classroom so teachers can notice and address when they see symptoms of bullying, or a student withdrawing into themselves before they lash out.

Rather than spending time and money training teachers and students on how to hide from guns or retaliate with guns, or turning our schools into fortresses (or prisons), those resources would be more effectively spent to help students manage their mental health. Because as the famous phrase says, “Guns don’t kill, people do”.

Whatever the solution, I agree with the students from Florida that we need to at least make an effort to find solutions to the problem rather than allow events to continue. We do need to address the issues of gun control, and I’m glad it appears that we finally are, but of equal import to this issue is mental health and our schools’ ability to address the emotional needs of our young adults.

It is not necessarily a gun issue, it is a human rights issue. An issue of citizens rights to bear arms, and an issue of citizens rights not to live in fear of their children being shot while at school.  It is an issue of how to allocate our resources. Spend money to physically protect our students from an over-blown, rarely realized fear that stirs our fear on a primal rather than rational level or spend money on staff and mental health resources to emotionally protect students from the mental stresses and emotional blows of life, which is a current need in every school. The issue is understanding the root cause of violence displayed by young males in our society; identifying and dealing with the mental health issues on individual bases, while limiting their tools of destruction.

I may not have all the answers, but I know what are NOT the answers.  Let’s focus our efforts on effective options and be clear about the real issue.

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