News, notes, and observations from the James River Valley in northern South Dakota with special attention to reviewing the performance of the media--old and new. E-Mail to

Friday, December 28, 2012

A manual of arms for the classroom gun

The renewed talk of regulation of certain types of guns and ammunition has sent gun sales soaring.  In an interview,  a gun store owner commented that gun sales always soar when liberals make stupid statements about guns.

In this reaction, there is no mention of the 20 first graders and six teachers killed at Sandy Hook.  No mention of the people gunned down in Aurora, Colorado.  No mention of the fire-fighters who got out of bed early in the morning to  put out a blaze in New York state and were gunned down trying to discharge their duties.  There is  no mention of the 8 children gunned down every day in the U.S.  There is only outrage at the liberals and the dumb suggestions they make about gun control.  No mention of the fact that guns were used in  19,308 suicides. 11,015 murders, and 600 accidents in 2010.  Of the murders by gun, 8 are of children each day.  And that defines the moral state of the nation.  

Most perplexing about the circumstance is the suggestion that teachers be armed in the classrooms.  But that suggestion is merely the latest in the trend of devaluing and making education ineffective by letting the most stupid people among us influence what education covers and how it is delivered.  This latest suggestion demonstrates one huge fact:  the people who make it have no inkling of what takes place in a successful classroom and what conditions are necessary to make it successful.  Nor do they care.

Over the years, teaching has been impeded by loading on to teachers duties which interfere with creating the atmosphere that allows focus on true learning. A huge part of the job in classrooms is establishing discipline and creating the atmoshperics that allow teachers to address the subjects that is the primary purpose of their being in the classroom.  To accomplish this task, it requires a concentration on all the factors that enable students to concentrate and perform the learning tasks they are in school to participate in.  While presenting the subject,  a teacher must be aware of the level of attention being expended by each of 25 to 30 students.  And that means not being distracted by cell phones, interruptions from the office, behavioral problems among the students,  the effects of social cliques,  and all the other factors that affect students and intrude upon the process of learning.  Those who recommend that teachers be armed have given no thought to the fact that school shooters more often come from inside the schools, not from outsiders such as Adam Lanza in Newtown, Conn., who blasted his way into a locked, secure school building. They haven't considered the fact that there are troubled and disturbed young people in every classroom, some of whom will regard the presence of a gun in the classroom as a challenge and will scheme ways to appropriate or disable it.

Locally, the assignment of police officers to educational settings has had its hazards.  One young policeman was reprimanded and then resigned after he was engrossed in talking to a group of students when a young man came up behind him and took his taser gun. In another case, a policeman who was on campus duty during a strange murder or suicide was reprimanded for something he did or did not do and resigned right afterward.  The point is that when dealing with situations with young people at their schools, the officers were dealing with factors that consumed their attention so that their focus was on many other matters than the rules of armed engagement.  

During the time of the Sandy Hook shooting, a number of police officers have been gunned down.  In South Dakota in August 2011,  two police officers were killed in Rapid City, one of them a member of the special response team, during a routine stop of some young men.  The idea that teachers who are engaged in working with their students will be able to get into a combat mode and effectively neutralize a clear threat is more than ridiculous.  Armed officers who are trained in the use of weapons are caught in circumstances in which their involvement in keeping the peace makes them vulnerable to the designs and actions of shooters.

If teachers are armed in schools, there are many questions that arise.   Where should the gun be placed so that it is accessible, but not to students who are bent upon some playful prank or a disturbed act of violence.  The armed services all have rather stringent rules regarding the storage and handling of firearms.  What rules would be appropriate for schools?  Would teachers be tested for their proficiency with firearms.  What kind of firearms would be recommended or permitted?  What about the teachers who think the presence of firearms would be a huge detriment to education?  

A factor in the Second Amendment that those who advocate the unbridled presence of firearms ignore is that the militia for which the firearms are permitted is a well-regulated militia.  What set of regulations would be required to assure that firearms do not get into the wrong hands or are otherwise misused?

I am an old soldier and an owner and user of firearms.  But I have said that if college students were allowed to carry weapons on  campus,  I would cancel class if students came in bearing weapons.  The fact is that many students do not approve of the presence of firearms in the educational setting and would find them distracting and counterproductive to the purpose of learning.  Furthermore, students who are serious about the job of learning would not want to be bothered with the keeping and care of firearms during the pursuit of academic work.  

The presence of more guns in the classroom as a countermeasure to those who want to shoot up schools is an ignorant and fatuous suggestion.  When people are involved in the activities of creating and keeping the peace upon which civilization rests,  they are not in a position to take swift and effective action no matter how well armed or capable they might be.  Thirty rounds from a semi-automatic assault rife can eliminate any threat to a shooter's plans quite quickly and effectively.

Another factor not mentioned by many, other than some savvy experts on the issue, is something that is drummed into swat teams and negotiators:  never give a person on the rampage nothing to lose.  When  desperate persons realize that their own death, either by themselves, a swat team, or the court system, is an inevitability,  they are encouraged to do as much damage as possible before they are taken out.  However, most of the school shooters reached that point before they started the incidents in which they killed people.  They either planned to shoot themselves or entice the police to kill them as the finale of the shooting escapade they start.  No one, including well-armed and protected police, have much of a chance when a shooter operates from the  attitude that he is going to die anyway, so there is nothing to lose by being as dangerous and murderous as possible.  The only solution is to look at how guns get into the hands of people who are going over the edge into suicidal desperation.

[A vignette:  I just had to make a quick trip to Target to pick up some printer supplies.  It is 16 degrees F.  outside,  and while I was in the store, this young man marched past me in sandals without socks, cell phone to ear while he talked loudly and importantly to someone on the other end of his call--presumably, wearing only a fleece sweat shirt, and a black matte gun clipped smartly to his belt.  As he strutted about, the store personnel and customers all smiled at each other knowingly and shook their heads at the pathetic spectacle parading before them.  I wonder if the gun galoots realize that this is the response of the vast majority of people to their arguments and actions.]

The problem we face now is that the absence of any regulation of firearms has released so many guns into American society--we are 5 percent of the  world's population but own 50 percent of the world's guns--that the task of gaining any control over the accessibility and fire power of weapons is probably impossible.  The advocates against precautions often cite the TSA and its extensive searches of airline passengers as the lengths government will go to intrude upon the lives of private citizens.  The fact is that the precautionary measures of the TSA were taken at the insistence of citizens who wanted to be able to use air transportation without the fear of becoming a 9/11 type casualty.  We bitch and piss and moan about the inconvenience and the humiliation, but we realize that if the provisions were not employed, we would be all over the government for failing to protect its citizens,  and we will be all over it again if some plot to blow up an airliner is successful.  We have reached the same point with gun violence.  The vast majority of the people want the government to do something.  Something reasonably intelligent.  

The guns we brought to school. 
I have brought firearms into schools.  As part of a Civil War re-enactment unit,  I participated a number of times in giving living history presentations to students so that they could experience something of the daily life of that time.  We put up tents in the school yard and showed the kids how soldiers slept 15 to a tent by tactical spooning,  we let they try on the wool fatigue jackets, and we let them try some typical mess hall chow, which increased their appreciation of the school cafeteria.  But of most interest to them was the muskets we brought along.  We had to get special permission and carefully arrange what we could do with them.  We showed them the time-consuming process of loading a charge.  Then we let them hold the muskets and showed them how the soldiers carried them. At most schools, they let us take the kids outside and set up a firing range, where we let any kid who wanted to fire off a cap in the musket.  The cap is the little igniter used to detonate the main charge.  We showed them the range safety procedures, then let them load the cap, pull back the hammer (usually with our help), and then fire into the grass, in the manner musket shooters do to insure that the barrel is clear.  It makes a little pop, but creates enough crud in the barrel so that we will spend a good part of the evening swabbing out the piece with boiling water and black powder solvent.  We did not attach the bayonets or let the kids handle them.   A few of the kids joined re-enactment units when they got a bit older, but most of them were most impressed by the arduous effort it took to stay alive and survive in Civil War conditions.  Our unit cast its own lead minie balls, and we put them on leather thongs to give the kids as a memento of the time.  The kids learned something about the role of guns in the development of our nation and, from some pictures we showed them, they understood something of their destructive power and the fact that guns took as many lives as they preserved.  None wanted their nation to repeat a civil war.  Guns  came to school as part of a lesson plan, but not as something to revere and worship under the guise that guns created our nation.  Our nation was created by constructive ideas, words, and deeds, and guns were often threats to what good people had built.

It is hard for many of us to understand how people can so blatantly let their obsession with firearms make the deaths of 20 first graders appear as a trivial incident.  It seems incomprehensible that the instruments of violent destruction can be claimed to have nothing to do with the fact that the U.S far outranks any other nation in the world in the incidence of death by firearms outside of actual war.  The yearly total of death of U.S. citizens by guns far exceeds the total combat death count of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan (2,173).  the total combat death count in Iraq (4.486), and in two years surpasses the total combat death count in Viet Nam (44.747).  

America has made a choice.  Actually, that choice has been forced on many of us.  We have chosen to live by the gun.  Surely, that's how we will die.  And that is what the  latest lesson guns in the classroom has taught us.  .  

1 comment:

Erin said...

There is a South Dakota conservative blogger who thinks any discussion of controls on firearm is the sign of a sick society. It is like person with tertiary stage syphilis thinking everybody in the world is insane except him. It is really frightening that these people just cannot come to terms that what is really the symptom of a sick society is 20 first-graders gunned down and they only thing they fear is that someone might put a deterrent on their right to do so.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States