Overhearing a conversation in a teachers’ workroom at a Wyoming high school, one teacher explained to another how he dissuaded students from participating in the nationwide high-school protest on March 14 against gun violence. He informed students that they would be marked absent, and that they could not make up that day’s test. The other teacher gave her approval, saying, “These kids don’t even understand these issues.”
This not being a particularly private place, and my being in earshot, though merely a substitute teacher, I didn’t feel shy about saying, “I would have encouraged participation.” They said “Why?” I said, “Because it would have been a tremendous learning opportunity, and we need gun control in this country.”
She said, “Guns don’t kill people! We just need more mental-health care and gun training. People have a right to their semi-automatic guns so they can go out there in the desert and fire them recreationally.” That, by the way, was three sentences, five topics, and in one breath.
The bell rang. Storming out the door and walking quickly to our classes, I got in a few incoherent statements, and perhaps steam was blowing out of my ears. Had I a little more time and been better composed, however, this is what I might have said:
“First, if guns don’t kill, let’s try a little experiment. I’ll hold a gun, you stand in front of it, and I’ll pull the trigger and we’ll see what happens.
“Secondly, though spending money on all types of health care is a pretty good idea to me, and you too, you say, your recommending that more money be spent on mental health will stop mass shootings is disingenuous. This is because of what I call the over-the-top gun nuts, like Republicans, NRA-types, and people who are at the conservative end of the political spectrum. These are the very supporters of lessening public spending on health care. Just look at how the Republicans have damaged Obamacare.
“Thirdly, more gun training. Well, I guess we could agree on that. That’s what the NRA used to do, as volunteers, before they became a lobby for the gun industry.
“Fourthly, as for the ‘right’ to bear arms, when the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, the guns of that day had almost no resemblance to what guns have become in our day. Also, the Second Amendment has an important caveat, ‘A well-regulated militia being ….’ In other words, where it says ‘… shall not be infringed’ right ‘… to keep and bear arms …’ was conditional upon a well-regulated militia. I can’t even find a poorly-regulated militia. Could someone please provide me with the address or phone number of a militia? I want to join and march around and stuff.
“Finally, as for recreation, there are just some things you must not do. It is part of the ‘social contract,’ that largely unwritten code of behavior, though widely understood, that there are things you just can’t do. Though there are some people among us who could probably build an atom bomb in their garage, because they like that kind of stuff, no they can’t do it. Even though I pay for the roads, by way of taxes of course, no I can’t drive through my crowded neighborhood at ninety miles per hour. By extension, semi-automatic guns that can kill seventeen people in just a few minutes should not be available to anybody outside of the military, and some police.”
Here we are with a red-hot bloody issue, potentially the most significant learning opportunity in the high-school experience for students -- and they do understand the issue of staying alive -- and we have teachers who are using their pro-gun agendas to isolate them. No wonder Wyoming is so parochial. We can’t hide out in the sagebrush forever, you know. Especially the kids. They are going to go all over the world. Their schooling today should be an education and not an indoctrination into local nutcase’ism, controlled by a poorly-regulated militia.
Right here and right now are the right place and time to talk about gun control, before more killings, and the bringing about of needful changes.
In the event, only about 4.7 percent of the students protested at this particular high school. Though this is not an impressive turnout, it might have been greater with more open and fair minded teachers. Still, it will be explored, dissected and discussed by many for generations. Teachers should sometimes reexamine their beliefs, because, increasingly, guns are killing their students.