Gun Crazy - Left Side

The greatest thing we have to fear, as FDR once said, is fear itself

Tom Robotham talks about some misguided strategies for dealing with school violence

In the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, according to a recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, several states passed laws making it easier for their citizens to carry firearms. In South Dakota, for example, it is now legal for school districts to arm teachers.

Meanwhile, some parents have responded by taking matters into their own hands. In the weeks after the school shooting, for instance, a company that sells bulletproof backpacks for small children reported a 500 percent increase in sales.

Such steps may be understandable, given the horror of the mass murder in Newtown. But they are also pathetic.

Let’s set aside the question of arming teachers for a moment and consider some of these other ideas for making children safer. The notion that bulletproof backpacks are going to protect students from a psychotic killer armed with assault weapons is just about as silly as the air-raid drills we used to have when I was in elementary school. Either we’d duck under our desks or go out into the hallway and pull our coats over our heads—the idea being that these steps would protect us from the effects of an atomic blast.

I’m sure most parents recognize the inadequacy of bullet proof backpacks, but desperation often leads people to do silly things. I will not be surprised if we reach a point when people begin to think seriously about sending children to school in full body armor, supplemented by Kevlar lunch boxes.

The idea of arming teachers is scarcely lessabsurd. A couple of years ago in this magazine, I wrote about going to a local gun shop to get certification for a concealed carry permit. The “training” consisted of a three-hour class. Two hours were devoted to reviewing laws; about a half hour was spent on gun safety, and the final 30 minutes were spent at the firing range. Ultimately, all I had to do to get my certification was hit a paper target with “reasonable accuracy” at a distance of about 15 feet. I passed with ease. But facing a paper target on a carefully supervised firing range is just a tad different from pulling a gun on an intruder, deciding in a split second whether or not to shoot, and hitting the gunmen (if, indeed, we read the threat correctly) accurately enough to stop him cold. I quickly concluded that I would not even consider carrying a gun without months or years of intensive training, lest I literally shoot myself in the foot or accidentally hit an innocent bystander. And the truth is, even with lots of training, I don’t think I’d have the nerves of steel required to use a gun effectively. It takes a special kind of person, after all, to do so. And I think it’s safe to say that many if not most elementary school teachers don’t have that kind of emotional makeup.