An Explosive Topic

I’d rather not breach the subject of gun violence. There may be no more explosive topic. But I also know that not saying anything says something. And now I read in my local paper that our school board may soon be talking about the possibility of arming teachers with firearms.

I acknowledge that something has to be done. Firearm violence is literally an epidemic. The Center for Disease Control reports that the United States had 38,000 firearm related deaths in 2016. That’s more fatalities than a September 11 level terrorist attack every single month for a year.

As a Christian, it is hard to know where to start. Jesus teaches us to turn the other cheek and those that live by the sword will die by the sword. He has the power to conquer his enemies, but chooses to suffer and die on a cross for the sake of those who kill him. For the Christian, to use violence in order to fight violence makes us question ourselves: do we really believe that the power of love is greater than the power of evil? But when someone with a semi automatic, large magazine, assault rifle attacks students and teachers, it’s hard to know what to do. In addressing this epidemic, I am remembering Benjamin Franklin’s little proverb: “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” It would seem that our most effective use of resources would be on the preventive side of the equation.

Automobile fatalities occur at a similar rate as firearm related deaths (37,461 in 2016 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). We have no problem with regulations for the purpose of highway safety, including making sure that someone has been trained before issuing a license to operate a motor vehicle. I am dumfounded as to why we are so reticent to impose regulations for firearm safety.

Some firearms systems that are currently legal do not make sense to me. I do not know any hunters who need more than a 20 round magazine. And why are kits that change a semi-automatic assault rifle to fully automatic even legal? I sympathize with common sense gun owners, but policies and laws have to be made because there are people out there who simply don’t use common sense.

Perhaps more important than what types of weapons and ammunition are allowed to be purchased, is the question of who should be allowed to purchase them. It seems with nearly every active shooter event, the shooter has either already been diagnosed with a mental illness, or obviously should have been diagnosed and treated. We need to invest a great deal more in mental health, regardless of firearm safety. Firearms are one of many dangers to those who may harm themselves or others due to such illnesses.

I hear a great deal about the final phrase of the Second Amendment, “right to bear arms.” With every right, comes responsibility. I can’t remember a time when I’ve heard anyone mention the words in the first phrase of the Second Amendment: “well regulated.” (I’m not going to deal with the issue of whether or not we need a standing militia here). Is it such a far-fetched idea to develop a license for those who own and operate a firearm, much like a license is required to operate a motor vehicle? Such licensing could be disallowed or rescinded for those with mental illness, or those who are convicted of domestic violence or other crimes, or those who use a firearm irresponsibly, and so forth. It would also allow those who want to buy and sell at gun shows to continue to do so since any background checks would be performed prior to the issue of a license to own.

But arming teachers is just a bad idea. The active shooter training that I have participated in makes clear that in the event of an active shooter, people who are armed but untrained will cause more harm than good. Talk to any law enforcement personnel about how difficult it is to avoid shooting innocent people when shots are being fired. Anyone armed on the scene needs to be trained and current on their practice with a weapon. We can talk about investing more for metal detectors and other security equipment and armed, trained, security personnel on site. But teachers typically earn masters degrees to be proficient in teaching. They spend hours upon hours of overtime outside the classroom already preparing lesson plans, grading papers, in parent conferences, answering emails, etc. Where will they find time to become and remain proficient in firearm usage during active shooter scenarios? And who will pay overtime for that training?

We also must consider the presence of guns in a room filled with children or teens. We witness the tragic events of school shootings, and it grabs our attention. But virtually all other classrooms do not have guns present. Why would we introduce the presence of firearms (remember many firearm fatalities are accidents and suicides) into classrooms with children and teens at all?

The answer to guns in schools is not adding more guns. The answer is better, reasonable, enforceable, regulation of those who choose to exercise their right to have one on the preventive side of the question. We can discuss having trained security personnel on site on the defensive side of the question. We recognize there’s a serious problem. Hopefully, we can work together to help solve it.