By the editors of Rethinking Schools
Just a week after 14 students and three staff members were murdered at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February, President Donald Trump predictably — and enthusiastically — endorsed the National Rifle Association’s prescription for school shootings and our nation’s gun violence epidemic: more guns and give them to teachers.
“You give them a little bit of a bonus, so practically for free, you have now made the school into a hardened target,” Trump said, according to The New York Times, giving a nod to the NRA’s mantra that the “Only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
Survivors of the Parkland shooting couldn’t help but find some dark irony in Trump’s stance and that mantra when a couple months later the NRA announced that guns would be banned from both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence’s speeches at their annual convention.
Parkland student Matt Deitsch wrote on Twitter: “Wait wait wait wait wait wait you’re telling me to make the VP safe there aren’t any weapons around but when it comes to children they want guns everywhere? Can someone explain this to me? Because it sounds like the NRA wants to protect people who help them sell guns, not kids.”
Deitsch is right, of course, and his comment exposes an underlying issue in any conversation about gun violence in schools in the United States: This is fundamentally an issue of profits versus the health and security of our young people.
[This editorial is from Rethinking Schools’ summer issue, which was released earlier this month. To read articles from the rest of the issue and to subscribe to the magazine, visit www.rethinkingschools.org]
The arms industry, with political protection from the NRA, is given the “right” to sell weapons without meaningful restrictions at the expense of young people, our schools, and our communities. Gun-related deaths are now the third-leading cause of death for Americans younger than 18, according to a study published last June in Pediatrics.
Trump and the NRA might propose that teachers be armed, but educators have largely rejected the premise as both unsafe and unwise. A Gallup poll conducted shortly after Trump made his comments about teachers and guns found that three out of four opposed the idea nationally and the vast majority felt arming staff members would make schools less safe.
And indeed, stories of students injured by teachers who have accidentally discharged weapons are becoming all too common. Many of them sound like a March incident in Seaside, California, when a high school student was hurt when his teacher accidentally fired a shot into the ceiling and it ricocheted.
Trump and others who initially called for teachers to be armed after Parkland have also been noticeably silent on the matter since teachers in several states went on strike and started storming state capitols in protest.
But there’s much more that we as educators can do — besides dismissing yet one more unsurprisingly bad idea from Trump — to combat gun violence and get guns out of our schools.
One of our roles as teachers is to guide students to examine the roots of an issue. When we talk about the Bill of Rights and the roots of the Second Amendment, we can expose the popular mythology that surrounds it — that this is somehow about individuals resisting government oppression — and lay out its true intent: to defend and deepen white supremacy.
In her book Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz shows that the Second Amendment began in slave patrols and in collective measures by white farmers to steal Indigenous people’s land and then to “defend” themselves from those same people who were unwilling to be victims of that theft.