In reaction to the Parkland school shooting President Trump suggested that schoolteachers should come to class carrying pistols. Instead of using their free time to improve their command of their subjects or improving their skills as teachers, they should go to the shooting range to improve their aim. This proposal has proved to be quite popular in North America.
But there is also significant opposition. Particularly teachers themselves have been very critical of this proposal. A number of mishaps involving guns in schools have shown that students are not safer in their classrooms, when their teachers or school police officers come to work armed. In Virginia a school police officer accidentally discharged his weapon sending a bullet into the adjacent middle school classroom. A California teacher demonstrating gun safety in his classroom accidentally put a bullet in the ceiling. Falling debris injured some of the students. A Michigan Sheriff left his loaded weapon in a locker room where a sixth grade student found it.
Since 2014, the Associated Press reported more than thirty mishaps involving weapons brought into schools by sheriffs or teachers. Thirty events endangering the lives of students in school.
The lesson is clear. Guns are dangerous. Bringing them into schools endangers students and teachers. Arming teachers may well decrease safety in schools rather than increasing it.
These are serious reasons for being distrustful of the President's recommendations to deal with school shootings. But there are other reasons behind the groundswell of opposition, especially among schoolteachers, against arming educators. This opposition has been immediate and emotional. It is not clear from what we hear why so many teachers refuse to consider bringing loaded weapons into classrooms.
The reason is, I suspect, that to the teachers carrying loaded weapons is a way of normalizing gun violence. While teaching algebra or history or English grammar, the teacher also conveys another lesson, namely that gun violence is a component of ordinary, normal daily life. You need to be prepared to respond to shooters bursting into your classroom. It is a part of ordinary everyday life that people pull guns on each other. Everyone must be prepared to defend themselves against such violent aggression.
Many Americans, many schoolteachers, want to resist this Wild West picture of normal life. They refuse to accept this narrative of life in civilized society being one of personal violence, of lethal aggression against which everyone needs to be ready to defend themselves. Social life where blazing guns are part of everyday life may describe accurately what it is like to live in Sudan or Somalia or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but ours, many Americans insist, is a civilized country. Gun violence is the exception not the rule. We have police officers specialized to deal with those exceptional situations. Ordinary citizens talk to one another. They may get exasperated and raise their voices. There may be fistfights at times. But gun violence is not normal; it is not acceptable. It should not be encouraged by arming more people to start shooting when they think their life is in danger.
Obviously Americans disagree about this. Different states have different rules about carrying guns, openly or concealed.
There are two very different pictures of what life in America is and should be like. There are those who believe that in public life violence is the exception and that means that only the police should be armed. Others think that gun violence is a daily occurrence. It is a normal part of life in this society and all must be ready to defend themselves.
The disagreement is fundamental. It is our heritage of centuries of violence against the native inhabitants of the continent. In the past, daily life could always erupt into violence, public forces to keep the peace were weak or nonexistent, and every citizen needed to be prepared to defend him or herself. The ubiquity of firearms, the streak of violence pervading our public life, a threat to pious Christians as much as to children in schools, is a part of this inheritance from previous generations. It is the price we pay for taking away the land from its previous inhabitants.
It is time to distance ourselves from this shameful past. A major element of this distancing would be to make an honorable peace with the descendants of those whose land we took. Another part of this distancing is to put an end to the culture of private violence, to ban weapons designed to kill human beings and to confiscate them from their owners. Our gun culture is profoundly uncivilized. It gives the lie to our claims to be a great nation that others should emulate.