Like everyone, hearing the news of yet another tragic school shooting, so soon after a racially motivated mass shooting the week before, has filled me with a sense of despair. I wanted to say something online, to write something poignant and meaningful, but I just couldn’t find the words. I’m thankful that our host, Meghan Raftery, so eloquently shared her feelings on the matter. If you have not yet read her words, you should. Powerful and meaningful.
Her post did get me thinking about whether I feel the same now as I did in the past when these things happened. I was in my second year of teaching in England when the Dunblane massacre happened. Stringent gun control laws were passed to ensure that it would not happen again. Indeed, in my first ten years of teaching in England there was no thought that I was in danger from an armed gunman. When the Columbine massacre occurred, I was still teaching in England. From that distance, we knew that guns were a particularly American problem, but figured lawmakers would do something to ensure it would not happen again.
Ten years ago, I was working in a high school as an Instructional Technology Specialist when news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre broke. Just three years prior, students at my school were arrested on the day of a planned assault, the police finding weapons and pipe bombs in their possession ready to use. With an outsider perspective, I wrote a blog post at the time. The tone was flippant, but that hid my sense of despair I was feeling back then, and a sense that here in the US, nothing would change because fundamentally we don’t really want it to. This is what I wrote in 2012:
The tragic school shootings last week in Newtown, CT have stirred up lots of conversations about gun laws here in the US. Having taught here for 9 years and abroad for 10, it is interesting to note how different the approach is to security in schools and the sense of safety or powerlessness that exists.
At the time of writing, we know that a 20 year old male, who I will not glorify by naming, killed his mother, with her own legally bought weapons, then killed 6 adults and 20 children at the elementary school. The school had adequate security measures and by all accounts the teachers followed emergency protocols and saved countless lives in the process. It seems that the killer had some mental health issues, and that his mother was a survivalist, that is, she was preparing for a catastrophic collapse of the economy and society, whereby she would need to be ready for any eventuality, hence her interest in owning weaponry.
For those of us at home [in England], I can assume the reaction was one similar to the headline in the Sun newspaper. “End the Lunacy” is an apt description of what most people outside of the US think of the whole gun debate. I’ve described the situation before to friends as “guns don’t kill people, dumb Americans kill people.” But this is too simplistic an opinion. Other countries have similar ideas about gun ownership as the USA and they have less gun crime. Switzerland, for example, encourages every civilian to be armed. But they also screen civilians for mental health problems and provide free, universal health care to all. Thus mentally ill people can’t own guns and, more importantly, are more likely to be treated for their condition. In this way, it is less likely that incidents such as Newtown can occur.
The idea that we should have access to health care outlines one of the fundamental problems with the US. We don’t actually have a concept of what a modern society needs to be able to function. Having a social conscience here, is tantamount to being a socialist. Helping those in need, or caring for the sick, is not, in the US, the job of the government, and therefore people do not get the basic care that they need. Public education is free up to the high school level, but the more affluent can afford to pay for a “better” level of education. The idea that competitiveness can lead to prosperity and advancement, also leads to a climate of fear and inequality. It’s the fear that leads to the reliance on guns.
I’ve had many conversations with people on all sides but the most interesting are those that are pro gun. I ask, “why do you need a gun?”.
“To protect my family.”
“Isn’t that why you pay taxes? We have a police force, you know.”
“But if someone comes into my house, there won’t be time to call the police.”
“Do you live in a bad neighborhood?”
“No, it’s very quiet.”
“So why are you afraid that your house will be broken into? You have insurance for your stuff don’t you?”
So it’s fear that drives that argument.
Then there is my friend who hunts. I asked him why he hunts?
“I like to eat what I catch, it’s a good skill to have.”
“You do realize that it’s 2012 and we have supermarkets?”
“Yes, but should our society collapse, I want to be able to feed me and my family.”
“Ah, so you’re a survivalist at heart. What are you really scared of?”
So there is this general fear that pervades the American psyche. A fear of having their stuff taken, a fear of being attacked, and a fear of some apocalyptic end of the world happening that makes gun ownership so prevalent here, and different to other nations.
How so? Well, firstly, the assumption is that the government cannot do as good a job as the private individual. So at a basic level, the job of protecting the citizenry, although carried out by the police, is best left to individuals. After all, the police are an agent of the government and don’t always have the interests of the individual at heart. They are not always reliable, and ultimately it is up to the individual to look after themselves. This is fundamentally a good thing. A sensible person would take all necessary precautions to be as safe as possible. Avoid poorly lit streets, place adequate security on your doors, be aware of other people and their surroundings, that sort of thing. This is reasonable. What is not reasonable is giving up your personal irresponsibility to be smart by assuming you are safe because you have a weapon. You are only as safe as you want to be, and owning, or carrying a gun does not necessarily make you any safer. How a person acts in any given situation is the key to safety.
My take on the whole issue is this: the United States is not the home of the brave, and hasn’t been for a long time. The people have become complacent. They have been made to feel scared, of everything and nothing, whilst losing the situational awareness to reason out their place in the world around them. The easy solution, as in any capitalist society, is to buy a solution. In this case, buying a gun makes scared people feel like they can control their future when the truth is, they are perpetuating the climate of fear and social ignorance by doing so.
Unfortunately, mass shootings will continue, bad people will do bad things, and there is little anyone can do to avoid it. You can either choose to be afraid, or choose to live with knowledge, awareness and understanding. Choosing to live in a culture of fear, though, is only helping to perpetuate the problem. As individuals we should be more cognisant of our actions and how they are interpreted by others. That would lessen the need to go out in public wearing a piece. Likewise, if as a nation, we were to be a little more socially responsible and actually look after our own citizens properly, the prospects of these terrible events would be lessened.
Fundamentally, in a civilized society, nobody should need, or want to own a firearm. There really is no sensible rationale for doing so. If that were the case, every nation would follow the United States’ lead. Of course, there are special cases where permits are issued to individuals, and rightly so, but the assumption needs to be made that if someone owns a gun, then they intend to use it at some point. Use of a gun means that they intend to endanger the life of another human being. Therefore, by changing our view of gun ownership as nefarious into a modern day, civilized society, we might, in the long term, see some positive results.
Unfortunately, though, there is no real debate on guns. It cannot be debated. Those who are pro gun will not understand the position of those who want to see gun control. It is unAmerican and unthinkable. The 2nd amendment makes it a fundamental right of every citizen. End of argument. So there can be no serious debate on the matter here in the US. Opinions are too entrenched, and there is too much political money ensuring that legislation stays off the agenda.
So here in the US. Both sides are right. My pro gun friends are right, for whatever reason, to perpetuate lunacy. My opinion is right, because with tighter controls, my pro gun friends may not need to feel so afraid. Meanwhile, whilst both sides maintain their just and righteous positions, the cycle of violence and fear will continue. When the day comes and American society does collapse, I’m going to make camp at my nearest Wal Mart. They have plenty of food, and, of course, guns and ammo to keep me alive.
In part two, I will attempt to connect all that is going on with public education in 2022 to show why I’m even more convinced that nothing will change. Until then, I’m interested to know what you thought and felt ten years ago, and if your position has, or hasn’t changed.