Friday, December 14, 2012 was my son’s first birthday. My husband and I were so excited to celebrate the life of our child. We stayed up late the night before to decorate the house and assemble his new tricycle. My husband went to work a little early so that he could come home at lunch and then we would all go to my son’s favorite place; the aquarium. In the morning everything went to plan. We woke up, had breakfast and I made a call to the pre-school I have been researching for my son. We made an appointment to go in for a tour and to start attending a toddler program they offer once a week. Then I turned on the television and saw the news of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. I was instantly heartbroken. The loss of my child at any age is unimaginable. I simply wanted to hold my child and regretted my decision to send him to pre-school. Instantly thoughts of homeschooling came to mind. In that moment I had what I call “a holy spirit” moment; a scripture popped into my mind: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” Joshua 1:9 (NIV). I realized my reaction to the shooting was natural but also fueled by emotion.
Over the course of the morning I checked in on Facebook to update the world on the events of my son’s birthday. I use this social media outlet often now as a scrapbook for my family but also for myself. I really don’t care if my friends are paying attention to my latest and greatest announcement but I find in useful for my own personal reflections. Since I have been involved in church most of my life I happen to have many friends who are pastors and although I am rather conservative I tend to have many liberal friends. I enjoy hearing other perspectives and sometimes I learn why others feel the way they do on certain topics. On this day I found myself frustrated with many of my liberal friends. There were many postings crying for “gun control”, “the end of the citizens owning guns”, and “when is enough, enough”. These calls were all in the name of making our children safer, which I am absolutely in support of, however I felt as if these cries were fueled only by emotion and without any critical thought. I felt they were using this tragedy as a platform for social reform which requires a little more critical thinking. It is too much for one person, let alone one child, to die because of selfishness and carelessness. It is also inappropriate to use the death of children to call for reform on something that doesn’t require any more reform and is not the real reason for their deaths.
I was in high school when the shooting occurred in Columbine, CO. I have a vivid memory of the event. These were students my own age doing exactly what I was doing; going to school. I remember being worried about my safety at school but I was also reassured of my safety by the armed Sheriff my school hired. He was there every day at the front gates to the student parking lot. You passed him as you walked onto the school campus. You couldn’t miss him in his bright yellow shirt and intimidating fire arm at his side. If you broke the law at my high school you were going to be arrested by him and I had heard he had handcuffs- many pairs. I remember 9-11 vividly because I was teaching pre-school that day and I was setting up my class room when my boss called me into her office and said I had to see what was on TV. After that day we put safety measures into place for terrorist attacks. A few years later I started working on my teaching credential and started working at a gang ridden high school. My first day teaching I was shocked to see two police cars parked in front of the gates and when I entered campus the police greeted me and searched my briefcase and confiscated my school scissors. I was slightly terrified when the officer asked me if I wanted to get stabbed or see someone else stabbed. While I taught at that high school I attended gang awareness and prevention training. I also began mentoring at the housing projects where my students lived. What my life experiences have taught me is that safety is an illusion. We can put all of the safety measures into place, we can make and rehearse our emergency plans, we can practice putting our school under lock down, and we can even avoid dangerous places but at the end of the day we cannot prevent evil and tragedy from striking when we least expect it. Bad things are going to happen no matter who you are or where you are. Should our schools be safe? Yes! Can we prevent bad things from ever happening at our schools? Unfortunately, No. Bad things are going to happen and when they do we will be heartbroken and ask ourselves if there is anything we could have done to prevent it. Evaluation and introspection are valuable tools if they are used to identify the root cause of the problem.
I realize many people are knee jerking right now and calling for stronger gun control or even the repel of our constitutional right to bear arms. Their hearts are hurting and it seems guns are what killed those innocent children and adults. A gun may have been the weapon but it was a person who was consumed by evil who killed those people. From what I understand he was mentally ill, why am I hearing so few calls for improved mental health services? Let us put blame where it should be, on the person who did the action and the system that failed him. It is useless to blame an inanimate object like a gun. I realize it is much harder for some to recognize evil in our fellow human beings. It is hard to blame mental illness because we may not truly understand what it is and it is so hard to recognize. However, the only kind of anger that is appropriate is righteous anger our anger is not righteous if it is not appropriate. If you are angry at guns and gun ownership than I do not feel your anger is appropriately placed.
I have seen many postings online asking the question “why does anyone need to own a gun anyway?” The right to own a gun was so important to our founding fathers that they made it the second amendment in the constitution “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be ”. If weapons were not owned by individuals the colonist would not have had the weapons they needed to fight against the British to gain our freedom. We would never have had an American Revolution. If citizens had not been able to own guns we may very well still live in a country that condones slavery. In Germany, when Hitler was elected he instituted a gun registry stating that it would make catching criminals easier. Shortly after that the Nazi party told all of the citizens of Germany to hand over their guns to make the country safer. In the name of safety the people handed over their guns, if they didn’t the Nazi’s tracked them down and punished them. By the time the German people realized that people were being taken and never seen again, that something was really wrong with their country they had no means of revolt, they could no longer protect themselves. Our founding fathers saw the need for citizens to own weapons to protect themselves and their families against tyranny. We may think that we will never see a Hitler type leader again however; the German people didn’t see Hitler coming either. We have become spoiled American’s who think we are untouchable and safe. However, events like today should remind us that safety is only an illusion. The best thing we can do is be prepared for when the worst happens.
When I hear the cry for gun control I wonder if these same people really understand what they asking for. Legal gun ownership is well regulated. Many people who own guns legally do so safely and with great awareness and consciousness for safety. I personally know many people who own guns and many who have a permit to carry a concealed weapon. I have lived in home with more than one gun. I know how to load a gun, set and release the safety, how to fire a gun and I how to conduct myself safely around a gun. Thanks to my gang training I know how to conduct myself with some who is pointing a gun at me as well. I have seen many people ask the question, “Why does anyone need to own an assault weapon?” but a little gun education answers this question. I also understand the difference between a hunting a rifle and a semi-automatic assault rifle. I was educated about guns by a military sniper instructor. I understand a rifle is good for distance shooting (i.e. deer and turkeys) but doesn’t do much good against an assailant who is close to you and is not always good for multiple shoots. Why does anyone need to own an assault weapon, for the same reasons law enforcement wear assault rifles as their side arm. Assault rifles are relatively easy to use at a close range and they are quick and effective in disarming an assailant. They are also the number one weapon used by criminals and are easily purchased illegally. If you own a gun for protection this is the kind of gun that you want to have in your home or on your person. The double edged sword is that criminals use assault weapons in drive by shootings and in situations school shootings.
I have attended biker events with Hell’s Angels and other biker groups and have always understood that any one of the people I was around could and probably did have concealed weapons. I have sat in teacher- parent conferences in which I have told a gang-banging parent that their student was failing my class, that their child’s behavior was unacceptable, and that I was concerned their child was going down a path that would led them to crime and imprisonment. I was always aware in these situations that I could be putting myself in danger. I once had a very powerful gang-banger tell me that I was a “very brave gringa with cajones”. I almost peed my pants but his son started doing his homework and after serving his detentions he didn’t earn anymore in my class. I have comforted students who have lost friends and family in drive by shootings. I have read, graded and prayed over essays written by students who have seen and experienced great violence. My experience with bikers and teaching in gang infested areas has taught me that it is not the law abiding citizens with guns that I should be concerned about, it is the citizens who function outside the law that are a much greater concern.
Even if we make legislation that limits the sales of guns further, it will not take guns out of the hands of criminals. Short of building a Berlin style wall between us and Mexico, it would still take us generations to gather up all of the illegal fire arms in this country and even then we would not be able to wrangle them all. The boarder is only part of the problem, we have two very vast coastlines that are difficult to police. If criminals still have guns, gun crimes will still be committed. It was from my students that I learned crime pays better than minimum wage, the risks may be high but the monetary reward is greater than spending the day flipping burgers. If criminals still have guns, gun crimes will still be committed. Guns are still only one facet of the problems with violence we face as a country. We cannot prevent someone from going crazy or being consumed by evil. We also know that it is not recognizing the signs of mental illness are difficult at best and in many cases it is hard to predict their actions.
I saw an article that stated the incident in CT raised some serious questions about guns in our country. In asking some big questions about guns and who carries them too. Why do so many states prevent citizens from carrying concealed weapons? What if the teachers at the school or even the security guard had been carrying a concealed weapon, would the outcome have been different? Would one life have been saved? What if one of the trained military personal at Aurora, CO had been carrying a concealed weapon? Would the outcome have been different? It seems there is a connection to when armed police officers arrive and the end of the shooting. A criminal will always have the element of surprise on their side but would a concealed weapon in the hands of one of the good guys turn the tables of a tragic situation? The idea that a teacher might have a gun may be shocking but if a person intent on doing harm to children has a gun, does it even the odds even a little? After 9-11 every flight has an Air Marshall dressed in plain clothes is carrying a concealed weapon and I know I feel safer knowing he is there because I know we all have a fighting chance against a flight take-over.
The last teaching assignment that I had before my son was born was eye opening to me in many ways. My last day in a public class room I was physically tackled by a female student. She shoved me in to my closed classroom door and screamed in my face. I would have returned to the classroom however it was determined that the school was an unsafe environment when the principal refused to remove the student from my classroom. The principal did not want to expel the student because it would affect the attendance of the school and thus our funding. It was shocking to me that the bad student who was a terror on campus was allowed to stay at the school while a good teacher was asked to stay home because Workman's Compensation knew she was a liability to my safety. If she was a danger to me than she was a danger to others as well. To be fair while I was on leave and the situation was being investigated I became pregnant which made my safety and the safety of my unborn child tantamount. In this situation and in many I have seen at the schools I have taught at, it is often the bad children who have all the rights and not the good children or teachers. If we want school violence to end we need to change this dynamic. We need to let the innocent protect themselves, especially if we are going to give the aggressor the advantage of our protection.
My husband and I don’t own a gun and I would not call myself a gun enthusiast. We don’t feel the need, but that doesn’t mean that I want to lose my constitutional right to own one. I am not concerned about people who go out and legally purchase guns. I am far more concerned about guns that make it into criminal hands illegally. I consider those people my enemies and I should always have the right to defend myself against my enemies.
As a teacher, a mother, and as a Christian my heart is broken over the deaths in Newtown, CT. I extend my deepest condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one due to gun violence. I will not blame guns for their death; I will blame the people who use the guns. I will not blame my government; I will blame the people who break the laws. There is no way to make sense of violent acts however we can definitely make a situation worse with our ignorance. I pray we will continue to grow as a country and that we learn to lay blame in the appropriate place rather than look for a scapegoat.