Mr. Burr Is Sick Today: Teaching in the Age of Mass Shooting

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As a new school year begins and I contemplate getting shot, I just hope it doesn’t happen this year. In the exact moment I’m writing this sentence, my daughter stopped by and gave me two dog stickers, because, she tells me, she knows I love dogs. And I do; I have two dogs, one I legitimately love, and another that I tolerate because he is kind of high maintenance and my wife picked him out. I would hate not to see them again or have to take a month or so off walks because I got shot. At work. I also love my daughter (and my son, though I have known him less time), and again, I don’t think it would be fair that I would not be able to be their father or am put out of commission in some way because I got shot. At work. Teaching high school.

I’m not overly focused on the prospect of death. Most of my time thinking about work is concerned with other things that have to do with my job: planning my lessons, finding someone to teach ESOL science classes, wondering about what kind of students I will have in the upcoming year. However, given that thoughts and prayers are about as far as this country is willing to go to combat gun violence, I do have to consider it.

I was in graduate school when Columbine occurred, and we talked a lot about it. Some Education professors said that this was an anomaly, while the prescient ones counseled those not prepared to deal with this new reality to find another source of employment. I don’t know if anybody did; I didn’t. I’ve been teaching ever since. At the beginning of my career, getting shot was not really on my radar. A young teacher is more focused on just making it through the day — dealing with a group of ninth grade repeaters or the mountain of paper work that comes with being new to the profession.

And to be fair, I didn’t really have a lot to miss when I was a new teacher. I didn’t even have a dog. If I did get shot, people around me would have been affected, but I would have been separated from a one-bedroom apartment, a Ford Escort wagon, some comic books, and a recipe that I’d come up with that mixed two kinds of Ragu pasta sauce.

Nineteen years later, the situation is totally different. My life is filled with awesome things. I have a lovely wife. I also worry about her getting shot, more lately because the state where I live approved a campus carry law. This means that, as a professor, she is closer to more guns whether she wants to be or not. Some of these people are the “good guys” pro-gun people are always telling us about; others could be people who think they are good, but have bad aim, or are too eager to be the good guy, or are a medium or a bad guy, but fulfilled the requirements for a concealed weapon permit. That carrying a gun on campus doesn’t really seem to make anyone safer doesn’t seem to matter.[1]

I also have two kids, who amaze me every day. Because I send one of them to school and the other to daycare, I worry about them getting shot. After Newtown, we live in a country where kids can be shot in an elementary school, and it’s not inconceivable the same thing could happen at a daycare. There is a discussion now about putting more law enforcement in schools, arming teachers and doing more active shooter drills. My kids can now worry about getting shot right along with me.[2] I also have the two dogs, but I don’t worry about them getting shot. They only leave the house for walks.

There’s a really good chance that no one in my family will get shot at school this year; statistically, we’ll be in the majority if we don’t. The thought that we could, however- the mere fact that it is so much more likely to happen in the United States than in any other country[3]– is terrifying. The plain truth is that the gun industry and a small minority of gun owners- a Harvard-Northeastern study estimates that three percent of gun owners have half of the country’s guns, though there are no concrete numbers[4]– are holding the rest of us hostage, hiding behind theoretical arguments about the Constitution and their own power narratives.

The same tired defenses will be invoked: the Second Amendment, instances where firearms have been used to good effect to deal with other firearms, and ultimately questioning my allegiance to the country or manhood. These arguments ceased to have meaning the first time a child was shot. They have only grown more irrational and repulsive.

And yet, in desperation, a part of me still wants to go point by point to make an argument: that I own guns and have used them to hunt, but think that there needs to be additional safety measures taken with weapons like the AR-15; that schools should not feel like prisons; that life liberty and the pursuit of happiness are also unalienable rights, and have been taken away from all of the victims of mass shootings and those who work under their imminence.[5] I know, however, that this country accepts violence perpetrated against its public servants and most vulnerable citizens. Unfettered ownership of a weapon is currently worth more in this country than any number of human lives, and I can’t understand how that became acceptable.

Gun owners might want to imagine themselves in some kind of militia[6] or find that an automatic rifle is fun to shoot.[7] I want to quit reading about dead kids. I want to teach and have my children learn in a place where they feel safe. I’m tired of constantly doing threat assessments. I want to do my job, and then go home to my family. Even the NRA acknowledges that 552 people have been killed in school shootings since 1900[8]. That’s an average of 4.7 deaths per year, which, the Association helpfully points out, makes it statistically more likely that the average person will be killed in a terror attack, though some of those deaths occurred on foreign soil[9]. Paradoxically, the statistical unlikelihood of the occurrence does not minimize the need to arm classroom teachers[10].

This is the kind of logic, combined with copious expenditures[11], that has kept sales brisk[12] and regulations minimal. Attempts at change prove fruitless. My calls to legislators seem to fall on deaf ears, and even the minimal tide of outrage in the days after Parkland has ebbed to business as usual. The die apparently has been cast, and I will turn my attention to the mundane and meaningful activities that comprise my life- walking the dogs, meeting new students, preparing one child for kindergarten and exploring the vagaries of the potty with the other.

These are simple tasks in which I take great care; to be a father and a teacher is as great a responsibility as it is a joy. I can only, given the unwillingness of those elected to take any real action, beseech gun owners to take as much care with their firearms as I do with my children and students.

References

[1] https://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/_pdfs/GunsOnCampus.pdf. The most recent and rigorous research on RTC laws that corrects for these flaws consistently finds that RTC laws are associated with more violent crime.

[2] Dvorak, P. (2018, March 01). Perspective | Millions of kids haven’t lived through a school shooting but fear that they will. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/millions-of-kids-havent-lived-through-a-school-shooting-but-fear-that-they-will/2018/03/01/59e778fa-1d71-11e8-ae5a-16e60e4605f3_story.html?utm_term=.7d9246ae413f

[3] Grabow, C., & Rose, L. (2018, May 21). The US has had 57 times as many school shootings as the other major industrialized nations combined. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/21/us/school-shooting-us-versus-world-trnd/index.html

[4] Ingraham, C. (2016, September 19). Just three percent of adults own half of America’s guns. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2016/09/19/just-three-percent-of-adults-own-half-of-americas-guns/?utm_term=.08bc7778883e

[5] When a high school seems like a prison. (2016, October 14). Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.csmonitor.com/EqualEd/2016/1014/When-a-high-school-seems-like-a-prison

[6] Breitbart News. (2018, February 01). A ‘Well Regulated Militia’ the Basis of Private Gun Ownership. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from https://www.breitbart.com/2nd-amendment/2018/02/01/a-well-regulated-militia-private-gun-ownership/

[7] Spitzer, R. J. (2015, June 12). Why are assault weapon sales jumping? Because they’re fun to shoot. Retrieved July 26, 2018, from http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-spitzer-ar15-fun-20150612-story.html

[8] David Unsworth: Gun Control Hysteria Not Matched by the Data. (18, March 29). Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.nratv.com/videos/cam-and-company-2018-david-unsworth-gun-control-hysteria-not-matched-by-the-data

[9] Mosher, D. (2017, January 31). How likely are foreign terrorists to kill Americans? The odds may surprise you. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.businessinsider.com/death-risk-statistics-terrorism-disease-accidents-2017-1

[10] Sheriff Grady Judd: VICE News’ Discussion on Arming Teachers. (2018, May 1). Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.nratv.com/videos/stinchfield-sheriff-grady-judd-vice-news-discussion-on-arming-teachers

[11] Stephens, B., & New York Times. (2017, October 11). Counting up how much the NRA spends on campaigns, lobbying. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/article/2017/oct/11/counting-up-how-much-nra-spends/

[12] Alston, J. (2018, March 02). Gun sales continue to rise despite national gun debate. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from http://www.cbs46.com/story/37635096/gun-sales-continue-to-rise-despite-national-gun-debate

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