On Avoiding Heroism

Recent events at Parkland in Florida have me and most other Americans thinking hard thoughts lately. I look back on my own years in the public education system and I think there were several candidates for school shooter back then. None of them did anything violent except to individuals, but possibly that was because no one had as yet set the trend. I suppose the first mass shooting that happened in my lifetime was the Texas Tower Sniper incident in Austin, Texas. I watched that unfold on TV, and heard reports on radio as it happened. There was no organized response. Of the three people who stormed the Tower that day and ended the sniper’s brief reign of terror, only one was actually a police officer, someone could check the facts on that I guess. The two other guys were just people from Texas who had guns.

So while I’m not really in favor of arming teachers, I’m not in favor of disarming everyone. In some states like Texas or Arkansas or North Carolina, it might be effective to support the rights of able people to carry firearms. I grew up where every pickup window had a rifle strung across it and most people laid a pistol on the dash. I don’t recall that we shot anyone. In most places in the U.S. guns are not that popular and people do not grow up with them. My father was a hunting guide back in the 60’s and he was very skeptical of city people with guns. If they got out of the car and did oddball things with their hunting rifles, like pointing them all around or just taking potshots at things, he’d tell them to get back in the car and go home. Gun sense is not automatically acquired when you purchase a gun. Probably if my father had tolerated such carelessness he’d have been a successful hunting guide, but his business failed and I respect him for that.

I think that most teachers I’ve known should not have guns because they would either shoot themselves in the foot or shoot someone else by accident, and that would be on a good day. So, no, I’m not in favor of arming teachers or even arming teachers who’ve had some training, like how to take the gun off safety. You are just creating more hazards for the police when you start arming teachers. If we need fortified schools, let’s really fortify them, with chained link fences and barbed wire and armed guards at checkpoints and metal detectors and don’t fucking allow anyone on campus with a duffel bag you haven’t searched. Banning assault rifles seems fine to me, there’s no reason any civilian needs them, but a ban by itself won’t prevent school shootings, people have used hand guns also in those events. If we’ve created that climate, where if you are angry you can shoot people, a country in which people feel privileged to act out their violent fantasies, we might have to spend some money to create safe areas around our schools.

Another thing I’ve been running through my head is this concept President Trump introduced, of the hero response where you rush into the heart of darkness and stop the horrors with your bare hands. Surely, according to him, all of us good people should have the courage to do that, and then it’s problem solved. I don’t think President Trump has ever had the courage to even clean his own toilet, let alone rush heroically into danger unarmed. Nor do I think he will ever do either of those things or even anything similar. It’s easy to talk. One of the hardest things I did in Vietnam was to confront a piece of land littered with ordnance, some of it used and no doubt some of it not yet used, plus the probability of other things laid there with the intention of killing people like me. I had failed the Mines and Booby Traps course in training. I walked forward anyway. I was lucky. I’ve not been too impressed by heroes since then. I appreciate that there are some, but I don’t want to go there. People who think it is exciting only watch movies. Heroes say, oh crap, pull up their panties and go anyway. They often fail.

The armed guard at the school didn’t go in, and obviously is suffering the consequences of that decision, as are several local police officers who stayed behind their cars waiting for backup. No one wants to be a dead hero and there’s plenty of confusion in such an event. The deputy guarding the school obviously didn’t get that job because he was cream of the crop SWAT quality. If you are such, you don’t wind up guarding the front door at a high school in Florida. Navy SEAL people won’t want that job so you won’t find people of that caliber willing to do such for a full school year. Don’t expect teachers to pick up the slack.

As these incidents become more common, fewer people among the professionals will rush in, because it cuts your career short and you might need to do it again next week. If you burst into an open hallway with no cover and there’s someone a hundred feet away with an assault rifle, it’s not likely you are going to talk them down because you have a pistol, or even hit them if you shoot in their direction. Tactical discussions and blame for lack of bravery won’t solve this issue. We need to keep the guns out of the schools. It is technically possible to do this.

We need to change the climate, not add more guns.

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