Just as The New York Times’ Harvey Weinstein series ignited #MeToo, so the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, has galvanized a movement – and a generation – against gun violence in a way that we thought the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting would but never did.
I know: We’ve been here before – too, too many times. But this time feels different as high school students have taken to the streets and to buses – latter-day Freedom Riders, Oprah Winfrey called them – to protest the absolute lunacy of children, and the rest of us, being held hostage by people who think their Second Amendment rights entitle them to assault weapons.
Why does their right to own guns that should only be in the hands of the professionals trump our peace of mind?
And speaking of Trumping and professionals, El Presidente – whose index card talking points included a staff reminder to express empathy to the survivors, that’s how narcissistic he is – thinks it’s a good idea to arm teachers. Not the ones who couldn’t shoot straight, mind you. But the principals and the ones who care about their students. Because only some teachers care about their students.
These would be given a bonus. Let’s understand this: There’s no money for school supplies so teachers themselves often have to supplement their classroom needs. But there’s money for academic Annie Oakleys.
Many, of course, have pointed out the insanity of this plan. What if the designated teaching sharpshooter were in one part of the school building and the murderous intruder in another? How will this affect students’ relationships with their teachers and their learning experiences?
What about liability should something go wrong (and something always goes wrong)?
People, we don’t even have to go there. This is about something much simpler, truer and more basic. It is this: Who we are and what we become is as much about what we can’t do as it is about what we can.
We Americans like to think it’s all about mind over matter. (“Do what you can’t,” the Samsung commercial has reminded us during NBC’s presentation of the Winter Games in PyeongChang.)
That’s admirable (to an extent. The Nazis also believed in “the triumph of the will.”) It’s a philosophy that has enabled us to achieve great things. But it discounts the crucial idea that temperament is as important as talent. The qualities that make a great teacher are different from the qualities that make a great police officer and a great soldier, even though all three professions are about service. If this weren’t true, then anyone could do any and everything and we’d have chaos.
There is also the role of the subconscious in the physical. How many times have skaters fallen on jumps or skiers missed gates in routines and runs they have done thousands of times – except that now they are under the pressure of competition? How many cops have killed innocent people? How many soldiers have killed comrades in friendly fire? And these are the professionals. What about those, then, who have been given minimal training?
Yes, as Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” We could all train to combat shooters in a variety of ways. We can all be more mindful. But Trump isn’t preaching that. It’s too stressful for students to have to drill for lockdown, he says, even though they already do.
But just because he can’t keep a thought in his head for more than a minute doesn’t mean the rest of us can’t. I’m sure it’s hard to learn the role of Hamlet and play it night after night but scores of actors have done just that. Here’s where the real mind over matter kicks in – the rational mind over irrational matter. Just as you never know who’ll step up and be a hero, you can’t say who’ll freeze in a crisis – as in the case of deputy Scot Peterson, who never went into the school building during the shooting even though he was at the scene. And you never know who’ll go berserk, despite all the worthy mental health programs.
You cannot control all of the people all of the time. You can only control what you can. Guns can be controlled – age restrictions, background checks, a ban on assault weapons. No one is trying to take guns away from the NRA. You enjoy target practice, you have a farm and need to protect your livestock – all understandable. You don’t need an assault weapon to kill a wolf attacking a sheep. If you think that’s a correct equivalency, then your mental, intellectual and emotional problems are far greater than owning a gun.
This can be done. Look at Dunblane, Scotland. The murder of 16 children and one teacher at the Dunblane Elementary School by suspected pedophile Thomas Watt Hamilton in 1996 led to two Firearms Acts that banned private ownership of most handguns in Great Britain. (Among the students who survived the shooting was tennis star Andy Murray, who never spoke about it publically until 2013.)
I call on everyone – myself included – to get out and vote for gun control candidates just the way the right has supported anti-abortion candidates. Understand that you can’t be anti-abortion and pro-guns. Either you are for life in all its forms or you are against it. You can’t be for fetuses developing in the womb and then look the resulting children in the eye as they weep, helpless, and say, “Sorry, you’re on your own.”
So, vote. Boycott those politicians and companies that take NRA money. And support these students who are now on the frontlines, doing the work that we gutless adults should be doing.
They are our future.
Let’s make sure they remain so.