I’ve rewritten this piece in my mind repeatedly trying to discard phrases like “monumentally stupid” and “moronic” After all, I know there are some very fine people on both sides of the gun debate, and some friends of mine who I love and respect have expressed that they feel this is a good idea.
Clearly, I do not. First of all, the shootings at Parkland were horrific, and I applaud the activism that they have spawned. But, since that horrible day, hundreds of Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. I fear that the conversation in some quarters has narrowed to school shootings, and that we are in danger of losing focus on the bigger issue of gun violence nationwide.
But let’s look at the school safety suggestion that Trump has championed. If we are going to give teachers “a little bit of a bonus”, a gun, and a training course, we are going to make a massive, nationwide investment that does absolutely nothing to further the education of our kids. One estimate suggested that if we selected just 10% of teachers to train and arm we would be talking about 1.4 million educators. How can we justify the money that it would take to fund such an effort when states, even in a booming economy are not funding schools adequately?
His other proposal is to “harden” school sites making them more inaccessible to active shooters. Apparently he used the word “harden” over twenty times in one statement although there were no particular details on what that would mean. Students absolutely need to feel safe, but they also crave a warm, caring environment, not one that feels like a prison.
Here’s the other thing that I can say with some certainty as a former high school teacher. You can give me a gun and give me some training, but as much as I love and would want to protect my students, I sincerely question my ability to draw down on someone, probably a young person, and execute them. Clearly in the Parkland shooting, trained deputies had the same problem. Well-trained and adept soldiers sometimes never recover completely from killing another human being. I can’t imagine that teachers would be very good at it.
The focus on school shootings, long overdue no doubt, ignores that mass shootings are happening in the streets, in our churches, in movie theaters, in night clubs and at concert venues. How are we going to “harden” our churches to make them more safe? Are we going to arm and train pastors, the kid who sells you popcorn at the movies, bartenders, and concert security guards? Do we really want pistol packing preachers? Do you want to go to the movies knowing the teenaged usher may be carrying a Glock under his jacket? We have to think about the problem more globally.
I’m not sure why I would bother to end this by making suggestions of what should be done. We all know exactly what Congress will do about this issue: absolutely nothing. So rather than reiterate the same proposals that come up after every new outrage (banning assault weapons, limiting the size of ammo magazines, or creating a truly efficient method of background checks) let me suggest just one thing.
Make owning a weapon more expensive. Slap a 25% surcharge on every gun and every bullet sold in America. Say to people that no matter what the NRA tells you, no one is coming for your guns. However, if you really want it, you’ve got to pay more. The government could collect this surcharge and put it to any number of uses. We could create a fund for the victims of gun violence. We should absolutely fund research into gun violence as a national health problem as soon as Congress removes the ridiculous law that bans such funding. We could provide free gun locks to any gun owner who wants one. Hell, let’s give every gun collector a free gun safe. Then maybe we could prevent a few first graders from accidentally shooting their playmates on the playground of their “hardened” school campus.
There is plenty of precedence for this approach. We do the same thing with tobacco. If your product creates a burden on society, you have to pay more to help offset that burden. Tobacco taxes are used to help fund anti-smoking campaigns and study the effects of the way in which tobacco is marketed. No one is ever going to take away smokes from those who want to use them, but when your pleasure becomes a burden on society, you need to contribute to easing that burden.
Let’s at least try this before we become Fortress America and turn every school into a Green Zone.