The first few days of the school year are a crucible of meetings and logistics. Teachers are reassured about the health of the copy machine and admonished to fill out paperwork on time. Student schedules are distributed, changed and changed again. Textbooks are stacked into lockers, combinations are forgotten and syllabi are explained. Students and teachers also practice fire and earthquake drills. Recently, a new drill and training has been added to the back to school agenda: active shooter.
According to the training, students and teachers in an active shooter scenario have three options: run, hide or fight. The first is preferable, the last, overly sanguine. Students are encouraged to “weaponize” themselves. One child brandishes the pointed end of a flag pole, another arms himself with dictionaries. A girl wearing a tie-dye T-shirt swings a laptop. When the shooter pushes into the classroom, a female teacher in a cardigan and ponytail overpowers him with her stool and knees him in the testicles.
I’m an English teacher; I know fiction when I see it.
As I watch a teacher smash a classroom window and ferry students to safety, I wonder if this training is thanks to our Rep. Kevin McCarthy, who voted in favor of the STOP School Violence Act of 2018, a grant program that provides federal money for safety training for law enforcement, staff and students. McCarthy voted against background checks, voted to repeal a ban on semi-automatic weapons in Washington, D.C., and voted for a bill that allows veterans deemed mentally incompetent to purchase guns so long as a judge has not blocked the purchase. This STOP school violence program is a White Elephant gift, a silly little thing to laugh at in the face of our current reality.
To stop gun violence in this country, our lawmakers, including McCarthy, need to have the bravery to grapple with the gun industry, much as teachers and students are now being asked to grapple with an armed gunman.
The gun industry has wrapped itself in red, white and blue and would have us believe that when we talk about guns, we’re talking about freedom. That is not the case. When we talk about guns, we’re talking about money. In 2015, the most recent year data is available, gun manufacturers profited $1.5 billion. Gun retail sales brought in $478.4 million that year, according to NBC News.
While teachers and students huddle behind wobbly tables and hide in storage closets, Shootingindustry.com, a trade magazine for firearms dealers, reassures its readers that the industry is “focusing on customer recruitment and retainment, as well as innovative new products and programs to stoke interest in the consumer market.”
For decades the gun industry has profited from the weapons it has so generously rained down upon us while private citizens, gun-owning and not, have been forced to subsidize their business. When I buy gasoline, I pay a tax to fund the roads that I drive on. This is both logical and fair. When a gun is purchased, the price should reflect the cost that the local community will have to pay to mitigate the potential damage that gun will cause.
The $75 million a year that funds the STOP School Violence grant program should come not from taxpayers, but from the weapons industry. Additionally, firearm manufacturers should offset the cost that municipal governments must spend on public safety to guard against mass shootings. Americans will spend $2.8 billion on medical bills related to gun injuries this year. The gun industry should contribute to a fund that offsets the costs of hospitalization and treatment. This would include a mental health fund to provide grief counseling for people who lose loved ones to shootings as well as mental health treatment for the first responders and clean-up crews who must scrape the brains of children off white boards.
In the "hide" scenario of run, hide or fight, teachers are instructed to barricade their doors. One clip shows 8 year olds pushing desks to the classroom door while their teacher turns out the lights. The class huddles silently in the corner of the dark room, waiting for the danger to pass. It looks like our lawmakers are doing the same thing.
Kelly Damian is an educator who lives and works in Kern County.