I had some content teed up but it can certainly wait. Here is short note from Mary Wells and me, there really are not words but we tried.
Again yesterday parents in an American town had their world shattered by a truly monstrous act of violence. And although the facts are still coming into focus, as with Sandy Hook and Parkland, it appears the incident at Robb, in Texas, occurred at the intersection of mental health, firearms, and insufficient preventative action. 19 elementary school kids. 2 teachers. Others in critical condition. It’s crushing.
In our grief and frustration we can’t lose sight that four of five school shooters signal their intentions beforehand. We have insufficient red flag laws, insufficient awareness about the ones that exist, and a too lax culture of firearms responsibility. Our mental health treatments and general societal approach to mental health remains inadequate. All of these issues can be addressed without trampling civil liberties. For various reasons we just choose not to.
When it comes to firearms that’s because with rights come responsibilities, and a lucrative firearms industry has skewed the conversation about firearms from ‘where is an appropriate place for guns in our civic life?’ to “is there any place not appropriate for guns?” Should you be able to carry on campus, at a bar, in church? Should we arm teachers? Those are the questions now. It’s frog boiling stuff, that would bring a Rip Van Winkle up short, ‘wait, what?’ We’ve just gradually accepted this expansion of guns from a sporting, hobbyist, and security activity to a way of life, this central fixture of our civic life – and too often our schools. There is a horrific cost to that.
Even many gun owners are troubled by the ubiquitousness of open and concealed carry and the general presence of firearms way beyond hobbyist, sporting, or personal protection uses in our lives. That’s why at once there is a lot of room for agreement and progress here and the politics remain daunting.
In the end, there are no short term fixes to culture problems. Whether we have the patience and fortitude to genuinely change the culture to balance 2nd Amendment rights with reciprocal responsibilities like safe storage and sensible access restrictions is an open question that won’t be resolved by the next vote in the U.S. Senate. The 2nd Amendment is not the only one without some limits – as Justice Scalia noted in Heller. Resetting this broken conversation will take work, however.
With regard to schools, a few things to keep in mind. First, again, we’re already hearing that the answer here is “harden the target” or arm educators. We cannot turn schools into armed forts, we’re talking about kids and where they spend their days. The best preventative step on school shootings is a healthy school culture – and that obviously pays other education dividends. There is a whole industry focused on selling security hardware to schools even as we debate whether schools should do SEL at all.
Arming educators is a horrendous idea – most people have no idea what a gunfight is like and those that do caution that this is a terrible idea in practice. It’s one of those proposals where, for the most part, support is inversely related to experience.
We should grieve with these families, remember this horror and honor their suffering, but also be careful not to fuel the disturbing fascination/copycat phenomenon around some of these events.
These episodes are best disrupted upstream with good school culture, trust so students have adults they can go to with concerns, and sensible but unobtrusive security measures.
Finally, and this is hard to talk about because these incidents are so shocking from a distance and unimaginable up close. Despite a spike in violence, that we’re seeing more generally as well, schools remain largely safe. For most kids school is the safest place they go all day. What happened in Uvalde is an incomprehensible horror and an intolerable one. But schools are under a lot of pressure right now and we’re not doing educators any favors by stoking even more parental anxiety. Gun violence is a societal problem that often shows up in education settings given the ubiquitousness of schools and the connection to various kinds of domestic issues.
We must address it and to do so we need a lot more than “thoughts and prayers,” but we don’t need to make the work of public schools harder than it already is right now by terrifying parents, making kids more anxious, or turning schools into bunkers.