Opinion: Teachers are educators, not mercenaries

USA Published: Mar 27, 2018, 04:38 PM(IST)

Students at Ballard High School participate in a walkout to address school safety and gun violence. Photograph:( AFP )

By S. Suresh*

It is not easy to write about gun violence and gun-related deaths in America. Even before the ink is dry, more shootings will bring more deaths somewhere in the country. As I wrote this article, the nation had to contend with the heartbreaking loss of the lives of three women at the hands of a gunman in the small town of Yountville, California.

Presenting a frightful perspective on gun deaths in America, The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof asserted in 2015 that, “More Americans have died from guns in the United States since 1968 than on battlefields of all the wars in American history.”  This statistic has been verified more than once by PolitiFact.

The Gun Violence Archive, a non-profit organization that keeps track of gun violence in America, not only provides a sad commentary on the senseless loss of lives from gun violence, but its records also demonstrate why Kristof’s astute observation will stay true for the foreseeable future in America. Studies show a direct correlation between gun ownership and gun-related injuries and deaths. In an analysis of gun ownership across 50 US states, those with more guns tend to have more gun-related deaths. In a similar study of developed countries, America, which has 42% of civilian-owned guns in the world, stands in a league of its own when it comes to gun-related deaths in comparison with countries like Japan, UK and the Netherlands, where gun ownership is low.

I have unequivocally stated that guns have no place in a civilized society, and that America has to engage in a debate on the relevance of the Second Amendment rather than gun control. In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it is alarming to see the dialogue shift toward the arming of teachers and school staff.

Armed Teachers?

During the Republican primaries, President Donald Trump opined that the country’s response to gun violence ought to be more civilians with guns. “I am a Second Amendment person,” Trump said. “If we had guns in California on the other side where the bullets went in the different direction, you wouldn’t have 14 or 15 people dead right now. If even in Paris, if they had guns on the other side going in the opposite direction, you wouldn’t have 130 people plus dead.”

America’s delusional president wants to turn the entire country into a war zone, including schools, which are a gun-free zone today. Despite strong evidence that more guns would mean more gun-related deaths, Trump loves the idea of “bullets going in the other direction” and believes in the myth that more good guys with guns ought to be the nation’s answer to mass shootings. At a White House meeting on school safety, Trump stated that “certain highly adept people, people who understand weaponry and guns,” ought to be allowed to carry guns inside schools. He is not talking about soldiers or mercenaries, but about teachers. The president went as far as to suggest that teachers willing to carry guns should be paid bonuses.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s repeated call to arm teachers drew mixed reactions after the shooting in Parkland, Florida. The National Rifle Association (NRA) and some teachers are in favor of Trump’s call to arms, while many teachers’ unions, parents and educators have overwhelmingly rejected the idea. As with any aspect of the gun debate, the nation is polarized on the topic of arming schoolteachers. The strong divide was amply evident in Florida lawmakers’ knee-jerk response to the Parkland shooting. 

Reacting to the school shooting, Florida passed a bill on March 7 that has a provision for additional funding for arming school staff. While the bill has positive aspects, including raising the minimum age to purchase firearms, a three-day waiting period and restrictions on the sale of assault-style weapons, it also includes the provision to arm school teachers. Florida’s Senate narrowly passed a modified version of the bill to create a school marshal program with the additional funding earmarked for arming non-teaching school staff. Defying the NRA, Florida Governor Rick Scott, a self-professed proponent of common-sense gun laws, signed the bill into law on March 9. The final scene will play out in the federal court where the NRA has filed a lawsuit contesting that the new Florida law violates the Second Amendment constitutional rights of people under the age of 21 to bear arms.

Watershed Moment

Taking the step of arming school staff will, unfortunately, negate the benefits of other aspects of Florida’s rnew law. Schools are a place of learning. They are sacred institutions that impart knowledge to students. Nelson Mandela believed that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Teachers have the unenviable job of shaping the next generation of responsible citizens, creating in them a desire to learn and equipping them with the skills needed to change the world for the better.

Teachers are referred to in Sanskrit as gurus. A guru is a revered mentor who enlightens the minds of students and molds their values. A guru dispels the darkness that is ignorance by guiding students to the path of knowledge and wisdom. It is inconceivable that the very fabric of what a place of learning ought to be is getting ripped apart by the ill-conceived ideas of the most pedestrian president America has seen in recent times. With school marshals, armed school staff and teachers, America will create an indelible image in the impressionable minds of its young learners that guns and violence they bring are a normal way of life. In the process of making violence the norm in society, America is failing in its duties as a nation to nurture its next generation.

The year 2018 has the potential to be a watershed moment in the war against guns in America. Drawing the wrath of the NRA, retailers like Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger have taken a stand and stoped selling assault-style rifles and guns to anyone under the age of 21, federal and state laws notwithstanding. Students are taking to the streets and staging protests against gun violence. Even a Republican governor with an A+ rating in the NRA’s grading system took the unexpected step of signing into law a gun-control bill that might improve Florida’s standing with the Giffords Law Center.

With the midterm elections looming in November 2018 can and should become a referendum on where America stands on guns today and how much power the NRA wields in American politics. 

*S. Suresh is a product executive with more than 25 years of experience in enterprise software. 

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)

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