We are struggling to make sense of the senseless violence in an elementary school in Connecticut. Good people all over the world are thinking about how to prevent another tragedy and coming to very different conclusions. A friend, a devoted father, said he’d been thinking. “So, what’s wrong with just arming a few teachers in every school? When bad guys know there’re guns around, they stay away. I’ve got lots of guns in my home. My house is the safest place on the block.”
I took a deep breath. I reminded him the “bad guy” in Connecticut wasn’t a burglar. He was a crazy person with a death wish. I reminded him that tragedies like Connecticut were amazingly rare in a school, but what was amazingly common in a school were situations of kids fighting and angry parents chewing out a teacher for a kid’s not making the team or even students confronting a teacher with threats.
How would schools be safer with a few teachers facing those everyday, stressful, sometimes volatile situations with a loaded gun? I reminded him that the Army’s response to the horrific shootings at Ft. Hood (where, one might argue, the problem was not having too few armed weapons experts in close proximity) was not to place a soldier with an assault rifle in every hospital waiting room, the PX, the commissary, and the library. If the generals at Ft. Hood didn’t believe that was the answer, why should a school board?
I have another friend. He lives in the most dangerous city in the world. Juárez, Mexico. He wrote to me when he heard of the shooting in Connecticut. He told me that he shed tears over the loss of our children. He has not been desensitized to violence even though Juárez has lost so many more innocent people in their drug wars. This friend, a devoted father, said he’d been thinking. “It’s not your guns,” he said. “It’s something else.”
He’d read one article about how few gun deaths there were in European countries with strict gun laws, but he’d also read another article about how few gun deaths there were in Canada that had fairly liberal gun laws. He told me that he felt the difference might not be what is so often described as our culture of guns as much as our culture of fear. He said we are afraid of terrorists and communists and getting fat and cancer and immigrants and old age and not having enough money.
He said wherever people’s fearful expectations are greater than their hopeful expectations; they will choose solutions that will ultimately cause even greater harm, and it will always make them even more afraid. He has seen what fear-based solutions have meant to his city.
One day his daughter came home from second grade saying that her teacher had explained to the class that it was very dangerous to ever speak to the groups of gangs who hung around the corners; that they were bad people and would hurt them. His daughter was frightened. My friend took his little girl by the hand and they walked out to the corner where, indeed, there were some very scary looking young men hanging around. He walked her over to them and put out his hand and introduced himself to these astonished teenagers.
He said, “Mucho gusto” (Nice to meet you) and explained that he and his family were new to the neighborhood and he wanted to meet them and he introduced them all to his daughter and she shook their hands and said, “Mucho gusto.” He told me that they looked very uncomfortable, chatted politely for a while, and one by one, made their excuses and left.
He asked his daughter, “Do they seem like bad people?” And the little girl said, “No, papi.” He said, “Maybe some are. But maybe not. You can’t tell by just looking at someone and how they are dressed or if they spend too much time standing on the streets. Sometimes a rich man wearing a suit and tie might be a bad person.It’s better to meet people and get to know them, and then you can decide who you trust.”
He said, “I guess doing these things might have put my children in danger. But I think not. I think maybe some of these people think – I know that family; they’re ok. And they are more likely to leave us in peace.”
He said, “I think my house is the safest in the neighborhood.”
There are too many assault weapons accessible to too many dangerous people.
There are too few options for families dealing with mental health illnesses.
There are too many people looking for a simple answer that can be purchased, locked and loaded in a drawer.