I’d die for my students but I don’t want to kill for them.
I have taught at Saddleback College in Southern California since 2000. For the past year, I’ve been teaching six and seven year-olds storytelling skills on the weekends.
I’m also a science fiction writer. In 2007, one of our best science fiction writers, Michael Bishop, lost his son Jamie in the Virginia Tech shooting. Jamie was a German teacher and died protecting his students. When Jamie died, I grieved for his family and students and thought, “What if someone did something like that at Saddleback?”
We talked about it in class.
I decided that if someone came like this shooter at Virginia Tech, I would do the same as Jamie. I would secure the door. I would protect students with my own body. If the killer came close enough I would rush at him.
Better to die on my feet than kneeling or begging for my life. Maybe I could give someone else a chance to disarm or stop him.
More than a decade later and the only change in the conversation is the level of firepower and frequency of attack. The Virginia Tech shooter, an isolated student who had terrified his English teacher with a play about shooting and killing everyone at the school, used Glock 19 and Walther P22 pistols to gun down 32 Virginia Tech students and teachers before turning one of the weapons on himself.
Most recently, an isolated, expelled student who repeatedly expressed his desire to “become a famous school shooter,” and who reportedly could not do laundry, cook, get along with girls, or refrain from using the ’N’ word or marking swastikas on his backpack, used an AR-15 rifle and seemingly limitless amounts of ammunition to gun down 17 students and teachers in Parkland, Florida. Surviving students are on television speaking on behalf of gun control as I write. As I write, gun control opponents are demonizing the students via television talk shows, and the Florida state legislature reportedly voted to kill a bill just to talk about gun control while the students were on the way to the state house to testify.
Oh: and now they are seriously talking about arming teachers. This suggestion has been made since at least 2010 and is rapidly gaining traction.
When Jamie Bishop died in 2007, I had no idea that the Federal ban on semi-automatic assault-style rifle sales had expired three years earlier.
Today, we have teachers in Oklahoma who teach a 4-day week so they can work extra jobs just to make ends meet and stay in the classroom while keeping a roof over their heads and feeding their families. Even in California where a high priority was set on K-12 and higher education in the 1950s and 60s, teachers cannot afford to live within a two or three-hour commute of San Francisco Bay-area schools, and here in South Orange County, I see part-time teachers sleeping in their cars in the parking lot when I arrive to teach an early morning class. There is a nationwide teacher shortage because of the low pay, high educational requirements, and unaffordable housing in many areas.
Everyone who knows me knows that I don’t object to responsible gun ownership. My grandfather was the Constable of my hometown of Redlands during the 40s and he had a 12-gauge Remington slide-action shotgun, a .22 Remington rifle, and a vintage Colt .38 Police Special revolver. He had a gunbelt embossed with “To Nort from Joe Rivera,” who was the Sheriff at the time.
He showed me how to clean and store all of these guns. I went on bird and deer hunting trips with him and his friends. He held me while I pulled the trigger on the 12-gauge and I learned why he always came back from hunting trips with a black-and-blue chest. I, myself, had a pellet gun, which after my grandfather died, I used to shoot a rattlesnake that was eating our doves in their cote. It took six pellets to take that 6-foot snake out. I also shot a sick gopher who probably had rabies.
I know what guns are and I know the lesson Bampy taught me: “Never point a weapon at anyone unless you mean to use it.”
I’m sure my grandfather would have shook his head and said something quiet under his breath about the people who think it’s a smart idea to give teachers guns and let them defend their students against school shooters.
There was another thing about my grandfather. He was the kind of man we have all too few of these days. If he had nothing nice to say about someone, he said nothing at all. He always worked to find at least one good thing about everyone he knew. He was himself, completely honest, a man who passed on with one of the clearest hearts and consciences ever.
Even though I could probably handle a gun and don’t have temper or mental issues that would make arming me yet another danger to students on top of the ones they already have: I don’t want one. I don’t want a gun at the door to my classroom building, nor do I want a metal detector. Armed security guards and metal detectors have been features at inner-city schools for decades. That’s because the powers-that-be don’t care about those students but see that money is to be made from hiring security and installing hardware that pre-criminalizes the students in prison-like environments.
To get them ready for, you know, the school-to-prison pipeline.
What is crystal-clear to me, but which I think large numbers of average Americans on both sides of the gun debate don’t yet realize, is that the people who make decisions about which guns people can or cannot legally buy, and what types of ammunition will be sold, aren’t any more moral, trustworthy, or decent than the Parkland, Florida shooter. [I had honestly forgotten his name. I have remembered, but intend not to use it for reasons I hope readers will understand.]
The amoral greed has gotten so bad that the powers-that-be actually think they can justifiably continue to sell hundreds of thousands of AR-15s a year, despite the fact that there has been a reported “glut” of such weapons since 2013. They think any type and quantity of ammunition can and should be sold to anyone with the money to pay and a delivery location to receive it. They feverishly demonize students who are begging for an end to the hellish terror that is unleashed with ever-increasing frequency.
It’s not even about American guns and ammunition — some of the biggest world small arms manufacturers aren’t American.
But most of the world’s fighting forces are American, drawn from small towns, rural areas, inner cities, and poor suburban neighborhoods. We send our troops all over the world, including to secret locations they are not allowed to talk about, and we have been in Afghanistan for almost 20 years now, and in Iraq, for only 3 fewer years than that. U.S. bombs drop on 8 countries, and school children in nearly every Middle Eastern country can share the same, or worse, fears as our students in Parkland, Florida. Not six months has passed and the horrific carnage in Las Vegas has already completely faded from the news.
One of my students was in the front eight rows at that concert and saw a woman’s head blown to bits, splattering her face with blood, brain, and bone.
Unlike many people who comment on such matters, I know what violence is, personally and living in a violent situation. I’m not a wealthy person and I have worked in and with people of all economic backgrounds and circumstances for most of my working life. Most people in poorer neighborhoods know not to make idle threats.
I’m pretty sure I’d be a safe teacher with a gun and I might even be able to use it effectively to stop a school shooter.
But I don’t want one.
We need to stop school shooters, no question. But more effective than stopping them before they kill or restricting gun purchases and ammo (the Parkland shooter reportedly had 10 guns and stockpiles of ammo) is putting ethical, responsible, decent people into positions of power. Not just elected office: business leaders. Appointed commissions. Administrative offices.
The only thing that differs between the Florida legislators who voted to not even discuss gun control when they heard the Parkland students were coming and the Douglas High School shooter is that he was 19 and had been expelled from school. The Florida legislators are older, have homes and jobs, and people are expected to obey what they say.
I don’t want a gun.
I don’t want to obey people with the morality, ethics, and respect for others’ lives of a school shooter or Florida legislator, either. The lives of my students, the lives of those in other countries who suffer because of this every single day, and yes — my life — are worth much more than that.
Have some Steve Cutts.