18 December 2012

Today was a good day, all of my students made it home okay: Thoughts on Sandy Hook and all that comes next.

As a teacher, I suppose I try to look at particular subjects without the normal veil of cynicism and sarcasm I'd normally wear. And there are many, many things I've learned not to take as seriously as I've gotten older and so much wiser. Football? Basically it's an opportunity to eat Buffalo Chicken Dip once a year. Immigration? My great-grandma was an immigrant and she was all right. Besides, we can't rely on white people to make the cuisines of other ethnicities. That's how we ended up with Taco Bell. 

And as far as political theater goes, I think the fiscal cliff is at least as funny as The Cosby Show and definitely funnier than Blossom and Saved by the Bell. Boehner hasn't given us any catch-phrases or buzzwords (Joey Lawrence only had "Whoa!" which isn't really a catch-phrase as much as it's a noise that sits just above grunt on any developmental vocalization chart.) I know that Congress will either work it out, or it won't. But no matter what happens it ain't going to kill me.  

But explaining this lock-down procedure with the same tone that I'd use to explain the rock cycle or the Big Bang theory has framed the subject of gun control and free, unlimited access to certain guns and types of ammunition in an entirely new shade of absurdity for me. Because it's not funny. At all.
Since Friday we've experienced an inconveniently-timed fire drill, an urging to review lock-down procedure and to carefully consider the possibility of a shooter in the building with our students, and will discuss ways to improve the process after school today as a faculty. Yesterday, as California Area School District went into lock-down, I had to respond to the question, "What if he shoots the glass and opens the door from the inside?" by explaining a secret scenario that I've been replaying in my head since Columbine. I told him, "See this lab stool? I'd beat him with it until he stopped moving."

Brilliant, right?

I actually had to say that to my 4th period. And since then I've discussed other contingencies to protect our students with the teachers on my floor, the fruit of our labors being the idea that we need to use tape to mark visibility lines on the floor so the students know exactly where and what a potential shooter could and couldn't see. A whole new shade of absurdity.  

Most of the people reading this probably experienced Air Raid Drills and fire drills and severe weather drills as students, but nothing comes close to the eerie silence of 900 people pressed against the walls and floors of their classrooms in total darkness and total stillness. Nothing comes closer to the raw emotion of an actual incident than a lock-down drill because a fire comes with the sensory experience of alarms and smoke, and a severe weather alert is usually preceded by a National Weather Service warning. This lock-down, on the heels of what happened last Friday, had the somberness of a memorial, which I suppose for some of us, it was. It was an extended, shared moment of silence.  

I know most teachers remember the Sandy Hook—or Columbine, or Paducah—shooting victims every time they look into the faces of their own students—your kids—and have to explain how things could possibly go in an actual emergency, even if they don't know for certain how a real incident would go down. I know when I walk through the cafeteria in the morning I see escape routes and secure walls. When we have a bomb threat, I count heads over and over as we evacuate the building, a habit I picked up as a whitewater raft guide back in the Nineties. When somebody cuts across school property wearing bright orange, carrying a hunting rifle, we call the office who immediately notifies the police even though we 'kind of' know how his intentions are good.

Thanks to the proliferation of cheap handguns and abundant ammo, that's the new reality in our nation's schools.   

Look, even most sensible non-gun owners know that most gun owners only ever look down their sights at deer and turkey. Or they should know that. And I don't think anybody is trying to change this particular situation.   

Some of you keep a pistol or two in a nightstand or closet for that terrible moment when an intruder kicks the door down and pushes into your bedroom or into your kid's room. Most of you are more than happy to never use your weapon in the capacity of home defense, and are more than happy to take it out to the range a few times a month to shoot at black circles on a big piece of paper.   

I believe the Second Amendment protects your right to bear those arms, and believe that right should be defended, same as the right to worship and the right to speak as you please. And although I'm no constitutional scholar, I can't see the Second Amendment ever changing to take those rights from you, nor would I want it to. There's a reason Jefferson plopped that one down at number two.

I'm just going to speak for myself here, but what I'd like to see happen is something that should've happened without so many meaningless deaths. I'd like to see a ban on assault rifles for all non-military and non-law enforcement uses, and I'd like to see tighter restrictions on the way handguns and ammo are distributed to the general public. Is that taking away a gun-owner's right to hunt, or defend himself or his home?

It isn't.   

Consider the following:

Statistics can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Per capita stats would look much different than straight stats, numbers would vary by state and by year, and even the method of data collection could be used to skew statistics to benefit a pro-gun or anti-gun stance. And I suppose that's why I'm saying what I need to say here, in a post, rather than in a circular series of internet quibbles that either end like they start, or with an unfriending or unfollowing.  

But the one personal statistic I can't interpret objectively in the number of students I've personally known who have been injured or killed, accidentally or intentionally, by a handgun. I refuse to see them as numbers instead of names because I can't afford to forget the emptiness and sadness I felt upon learning that a young life had been extinguished so senselessly. I've been to the funerals. It's real. The names mean more to me than a number ever will.

Am I biased?

I have to be.  

Would they all be here today handguns weren't so accessible?


You know there's no way anybody can be certain.

And what I didn't say on Facebook, and what I believe with all my heart, is that the kind of person who would wait three days for a handgun, the kind of person who understands that there's a reason ammo purchases should be regulated, is the kind of person who probably gets wrongly offended when things like this come up. Most of the people who own guns never fire it in a non-recreational capacity. I know that guns are passed on from fathers to sons in a tradition that predates the Constitution. I know that lives have been saved by quick-acting gun owners.

Nobody's saying they should have to give up their guns. I'm not.

I'm saying it's time to compromise. It's time to give in to the demands for regulated ammo and a ban on assault rifles for non-military and non-law enforcement uses.

And do I have an answer for the folks who feel that this is a slippery slope to total civilian disarmament?

I do.

I'd say to have as much faith in your Constitution's ability to protect the United States of America  as you do in your gun's ability to protect your family or yourself.