when i was little, more moons ago than i would prefer to think about given the choice, it was very rare for intruders to penetrate schools and shoot children. it occasionally happened that an angry student in a high school or college would show up and start randomly attacking their classmates but elementary school felt relatively safe. other than the overwhelming culture of violence and bullying, of course. which is even worse now for many reasons, the main one being generalized acceptance of it. but there were no guns in my elementary school. not from the students or anyone else. and that is most definitely a good thing.
sadly it’s not true anymore. from sandy hook to uvalde and we know it’s not the last, only the most recent in the unending stream of school shootings — of elementary school shootings. we’re not talking about young adults. we’re talking about people committing mass-murder of children. of unknown, random children. there may be more evil things a person can do than execute children. but i can’t think of any.
what comes to mind, though, is the effort devoted to preparing children in modern classrooms for shooting incidents where an intruder enters the building and attempts to kill them. not only do they talk about it, they actually do drills to prepare in case it happens. which it seems likely to continue to. teachers have to coordinate locked doors and silent kids hiding out of sight. it’s like hide-and-seek but with the punishment for being found not being laughed at by the other children but your death and the execution in front of you of all your friends and your teacher.
it reminds me of something else just as meaningless and useless from my own childhood. i am a kid of the eighties — a millennial. which means i’m a child of the cold war, a time when here in north america we were told endlessly of the soviet threat, the russian soldier like goliath with an unlimited arsenal of nuclear weapons poised to strike and looking for the merest excuse to launch an unprovoked attack and annihilate the whole western hemisphere in a radiative nightmare of heat and light. this is what we were told by our elders, teachers, news broadcasts and popular culture. the russians were coming. if you haven’t seen red dawn, that’s about the sum of it. the old one. not the one about the north koreans. you should watch it. it’s awful but it’s a stunningly-accurate depiction of the cultural environment of the eighties.
the answer to this, however, was not to actually try to make real peace (korea? laos? vietnam? afghanistan? the war was, in fact, not particularly cold at all, was it?) with the soviet union and the rest of the warsaw pact but to train children to protect themselves in the face of a nuclear attack. by hiding under mdf-and-aluminum desks with our books over our heads. they called them “duck-and-cover drills”. we ducked under the desks and covered ourselves. because, of course, as we would later learn in our physics classes, the best possible radiation shield in an attack was mdf and hollow aluminum tubing, right? not to mention a hydrogen-fusion bomb wasn’t just going to vaporize us if it exploded in a nearby city… much like in our ridiculous religious indoctrination classes (yes, canadian schools were still run by the churches when i was a child) telling us not to worry about war with the soviets because god was on our side and wouldn’t let children die. yes, in the middle of the aids epidemic.
which is why it reminds me so vividly of that when i hear about these senseless but all-too-predictable shooting incidents like yesterday’s. we’re fighting the wrong enemy in a war that shouldn’t exist.
why are we training children to be quiet? that won’t save them. why are we training children to be afraid when all it’s doing is causing them to have more painful daily lives in school, wondering when the next terrifying adult will start rattling the doorhandles and screaming, waving a gun around? that certainly won’t save them. and why are we putting the idea in their heads that if they don’t shut up and hide the deaths of all their friends will somehow be their fault for not being good enough at keeping quiet and hiding from the enemy? if this isn’t a recipe for future therapy needs, i don’t know what is.
let’s fix the problem.
what’s the problem? it’s not that people are angry, though that’s definitely a problem. it’s not that people are self-indulgent, though that’s an even larger one. and it’s not that people have guns, though that’s a massive one right there, too. it’s that people believe that hurting others is valid, that children are a legitimate target for anger and violence and that hurting others is a possible solution to their problems.
how do we fix that?
well, there are many things that need to be done. but the first thing is to talk about it. publicly, collectively as a society. we need to start understanding as a group that anger is wrong. that violence is unacceptable. and, more than anything else, that causing others pain, even in retribution, is never a solution to problems. we need to get away from the “payback culture” or “retributive outlook” so thoroughly and ubiquitously adopted in the modern west. if someone hurts you, you hurt them back. that’s not what “an eye for an eye” was ever supposed to mean. and they’re not exactly up on their rabbinic literature, i suspect, anyway. but that’s what the western world has devolved into. payback. you’ve hurt me so i have every right to be angry and hurt you back. we binge youtube videos of retribution and causing harm. seriously, it’s one of the most commonly searched concepts. as a content-creator and teacher, this hurts me in more than one way.
there are practical things we can do, though, to improve the situation. other than cultural improvement, that is, to eliminate the source of the link between feeling angry and taking it out on innocent people.
the most significant thing we can do is take away the guns. no, i don’t mean background checks or mental-health evaluations or better tracking. i mean take away the guns. everyone’s. make firearms illegal for anything other than military and police purposes. this isn’t about “you have to register your weapon”. this is about “nobody should have a weapon at all”. and if you have one, it should be taken away and you should be prosecuted for possession. we don’t look at heroin or crystal meth and say “it’s a personal choice” or “it’s part of our history”. yes, what you put in your body is theoretically a personal choice. and drugs are certainly part of our history — at least as much as guns have ever been and if you don’t think that’s true let me know and i’ll convince you. with lots of evidence. we look at these as dangerous weapons destroying our children and young adults. among others. and we take them away because they’re too dangerous to be out there in the world killing people.
sounds like guns.
so there’s a clear decision to make — what we can do about guns. we can make a clear decision and say the lives of our children are more important than our personal freedom to have firearms. or they’re not. we can’t have it both ways. it’s one or the other. we sacrifice our guns to save our children or we sacrifice our children to save our guns.
i suspect, though it may simply be experience talking and experience tells me there’s no hope, i know the answer. we will sacrifice our children and allow them to die because we want guns.
prove me wrong.