There was another school shooting recently, near Atlanta, and this one was relatively benign. The gunman walked into an elementary school, told employees to call the police, fired five or six rounds from his assault rifle, and surrendered. Yawn. It’s a hiccup in the news cycle.
Of course, the NRA repeatedly assures us, with their perky charm—Wayne LaPierre never fails to remind me of Hermione Granger—that if some teacher had been armed, he (or she) could have taken the shooter out. Or he could’ve generated a lively crossfire that would’ve killed some children instead of having them emerge, physically, at least, unharmed.
Instead, what happened was that a school secretary with the courage of a lioness and a heart that has been filled by her faith talked the shooter down. She called him “Baby” while they waited for the police to arrive. But in other parts of the country, we’ve decided that it’s a good idea to arm schoolteachers, and, in so doing, I think we are admitting something very powerful. Our society has failed.
Schools, it’s forgotten, began as church institutions. They were places of God, like medieval cathedrals, where fugitives could claim right of sanctuary and so escape the occasional murderous Plantagenet.
As quaint as that seems, it still required the permission of school authorities at the Sorbonne, for example, and in an unprecedented action, they allowed police on campus in 1968, a decision that resulted in making cops look like Brownshirts and the kids look like even bigger fatuous idiots than they already were, but with blunt trauma wounds.
Granted, schools are secular now, although there are those clamoring for the tradition to return prayer to public schools—a tradition, by the way, that I, taught in a two-room Arroyo Grande country schoolhouse by schoolmarms who looked liked they’d stepped out of a Grant Wood painting, but with better left hooks—never, ever remember. We never prayed in school. We did have “Christmas” plays, but The Littlest Angel or The Night Before Christmas or A Christmas Carol never seemed to have overt religious connections to us; we just kind of took them for granted in a homogeneous Christian farming community, and after the play, we went on our merry Protestant or Catholic ways. Church was church; school was school.
But to imagine my first-grade teacher—Grant Wood or no, one phenomenally tough and tough-minded lady—pulling a Walther PPK (a lady’s gun, M, all scowls and jowls, told Bond disapprovingly) out of her desk to dispatch an intruder is at once so ludicrous and so appalling that I can neither get it into my mind nor quite get rid of it.
Schools were still sacred then, in the mid-20th century. Children—barring a flood, earthquake, a catastrophic fire, or blizzard on the scale of the big one in 1888—were safe inside them, and even if there were a disaster, a teacher would give everything in her power—including her life—to keep her children so.
But now schools are not safe. In fact, students and their teachers are now common targets for headline-seeking psychopaths, the kind who have always been part of our society, but now find schoolchildren little more than stage scenery for their pathetic psychodramas. Ducks in a gallery. I could be a duck someday, although, as a history teacher, I am not a high-value target like my colleagues in math or science.
And, oddly, instead of doing everything we can to prevent these misshapen killers from getting the kinds of weapons with which they can kill row after row of children at their desks—without the nuisance of reloading—we want to arm teachers.
Teachers aren’t supposed to take life. They’re in the business of generating hope. Two different areas of expertise.
I know expertise. I was raised around guns, and my father was an incredible shot, and any pheasant, quail, or dove in his shotgun’s arc—he had a lovely Spanish over-and-under—we referred to as “dinner.”
But if my dad had ever brought a semi-automatic assault rifle on a deer hunt, it would have been the equivalent of saying, through a megaphone: “I’D LIKE TO ANNOUNCE THAT I’VE DONATED MY TESTICLES TO MEDICAL SCIENCE. HELLO. HELLO. IS THIS ON? I HAVE NO BALLS.” He might as well have hunted in a tutu, and toe shoes are murder on your feet walking the hills around here.
As to that kind of weapon, they say—and they say it a lot, as if it were the last line of Hamlet or the first of Genesis—ban these weapons, and only criminals will get them. Sure, some will. But your average off-the-rack school shooter isn’t a criminal and doesn’t have a record. When he snaps, I’m not sure we need him with a weapon that can generate enough suppressing fire to freeze an entire Nazi rifle company belly-down in the mud outside the Red October Tractor Factory.
I guess some folks think we need those kinds of weapons to fall back on in the event we need to resist the Tyranny of Federal Power, especially since it has been irrefutably proven that the president is, in fact, the Antichrist.
I think those types need to ask some of Marse Robert E. Lee’s boys how that worked out for them, or even better, watch some Taliban fedayeen, armed with the best assault rifle in the world, as they are vaporized in the camera’s eye of the drone they never see and never hear.
And it’s not that I oppose guns. In fact, I think, at birth, every last American citizen should automatically be given a gun, at government expense, to defend himself or herself from the evil people that really are out there.
What all Americans should have is this: A .58-caliber Springfield rifle, a weapon used with deadly effect during our Civil War. You’d have to learn how to really use a gun like this, of course, and you’d have to learn how to shoot accurately. Admittedly, that’d take hard work, and a lot of it.
But once it’s mastered, a Springfield will produce a pleasantly spectacular hole in the skull, breastbone, or distal femur of any home invader, and one that’s reliably lethal. The work it can do on soft tissue is even more satisfying and, as a bonus, so is the powder plume generated when you discharge the rifle. You’re making a Second Amendment statement with gusto.
And it gets your victim’s attention immediately, if not sooner.
On the other hand, in evil hands, it’d take you, if you were one of those poor twisted bastards who decided to vent your feverish imaginary victimization on a class full of beautiful little children, about an hour and 15 minutes do the same damage the Connecticut shooter did in his five-minute temper tantrum.
The only consolation you’d have, before they—those evil Government Minions—dropped you like a feral hog would be that any little girl or boy, or any 26-year-old $40,000-a-year teacher, you were able to get to would be as thoroughly dead as any Alabama private on Little Round Top. That’s something, anyway, isn’t it?
Jim Gregory lives in Arroyo Grande. Send comments to the executive editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
-- Jim Gregory - History teacher, Arroyo Grande High School