For Real Teachers In Our Toughest Schools
Saturday February 17th 2018



A Teacher’s Thoughts on Connecticut

I’ve given myself some time to sit and let it all sink in. This is hard to do when every channel, every person, every waking moment seems to be inundated with close-up coverage of the Connecticut tragedy. They want every angle, they want every interview, and they can’t help taking pictures of the poor families in moments of intimate suffering.

I think our problem today is that no one sits and thinks anymore. The heads arguing on television must have snap comebacks for everything, talking points galore; therefore, when someone brings up an interesting point, there is no one who takes a moment, says, “Hmmmm,” and thinks about it. There has to be an immediate response from their specific ideological perspective that will not allow dissent, because it only has to seem like you are losing an argument for you to lose an argument—so no points can be conceded and no opposing viewpoints entertained.

I’ve been thinking about Connecticut. I’ve been thinking about the families. I’ve been thinking about the victims. And I can’t help but think about the shooter, and hate him.

What can a teacher say about the events that unfolded last Friday? It is true we are more likely to be in danger because, just like in malls and theaters, shooters choose schools because it is a place where people aren’t allowed to have guns—and therefore full of victims who cannot fire back. I can tell you teachers do talk about these things. A colleague of mine always keeps her door locked, and anyone entering has to knock. She doesn’t do this to cut down on tardies or keep the cold out. She does this because if there is an active shooter on campus, she hopes if he is near her door, he finds it locked and moves on. These are things we think about and plan for.

My own plan is to lock the door and pile desks in front of it. I’ve had that plan for almost ten years. If I am lucky enough to get the door locked in time, there won’t be any way a human can get in my room, even if they bust down the door, because thirty desks will be stacked in the doorway.

There has been discussion around the fact the shooter may have been autistic or had Asperger’s syndrome. This is an interesting fact for educators because every day we have students with these issues. But what can we do really—set up a system for keeping guns away from students we think are dangerous when they turn 18? We’d fill out dozens of those in one semester, but most of the students on that list would NOT have a diagnosed mental disorder. We cannot equate these conditions with someone being a murderer, but we can get better at dealing with issues of mental health and getting them help. This is something our urban public schools are not doing enough of; that is a certainty. A study by Mother Jones found that of the last 61 mass shooters, 38 of them had a history of mental health issues. If we get better at dealing with this, we potentially cut the number of shootings in half.

The conversation around gun control has now hit the fever pitch, and while it may appear things are going to change, don’t be too hopeful, because the NRA owns all of our politicians and many of our voters. They won’t even pass things that NRA members themselves overwhelmingly support, like blocking those on the terror watch list from obtaining firearms. If we can’t get that looked at, how are we going to have a real conversation about Newtown? All anyone seems to be talking about changing today is reinstating the ban on assault weapons, but remember, that only prohibits the selling of new guns. Everyone who has an assault rifle will still have one.

The biggest rebuttal to the call for gun control from conservatives seems to be that even with stricter gun laws this tragedy still would have happened. I haven’t been able to hear the argument against this view on these shows because they don’t seem to take callers who don’t feel the same way as the show’s hosts.

The answer to this to me seems obvious. As a society we do not take responsibility for our guns. We are forced to re-register cars every year, but things designed specifically to kill humans can be bought by anyone at gun shows everywhere. Through our laws and legislation we place importance on certain things, and as a society, we do not put importance on gun safety or responsibility. We tell our students you have to pass a test to drive a car; to own a gun you just have to turn 18. We have a driver’s ed class. There is no class for owning a gun. What are we teaching our citizens about guns and responsibility? I’m not saying a majority of gun owners aren’t responsible, I’m just saying we can’t leave it up to each individual. At some point we have to demand accountability. We are asking for it from teachers, can’t we do the same for guns?

Changing gun laws doesn’t mean these tragedies will come to an end. Nothing will end them for good, even a complete ban. Our problem, as always, is changing our culture. Why is it that a middle-aged woman with an unstable young man living in her house felt the need to own two easily accessible handguns and an assault rifle? Is it fear? Is it some cultural part of American I don’t understand because I am not a hunter? While changing gun laws won’t completely prevent this from happening again, a greater emphasis on gun safety and responsibility, re-registration, banning assault weapons, might ensure three of these shootings don’t happen in the course of a week.

Isn’t that the mantra of the right wing—Personal Responsibility? Where is our responsibility when it comes to guns?

A few years ago, there was a midnight trespasser on my father’s farm. Earlier in the day the guy had hidden on the property while evading police. He was a wanted criminal. He returned at midnight for his wallet and keys, which he had left under a tree. I encountered him in the dark, ran into the house to call police and told my father to get his gun.

My father said no.

He came with me back outside to make sure the man was leaving. I asked him why he wasn’t bringing the gun to confront a known criminal, and he said, “Having a gun is a good way to get shot.”

As a nation, why is it we don’t understand this basic premise? Here is my dad with an actual criminal on his property, well within his rights to shoot the man if threatened, and he refuses to unlock his gun. People buy handguns because they are scared someone might come on their property—when someone is on my father’s property, he puts the gun away—that is what is called responsible. But even as you read this many of you snort in derision and call my father naïve, unable to grasp the different lens in which he views the world.

My son will never shoot up a school using my gun, and the reason is very simple: I don’t own any guns. I’ve never shot a gun and probably never will, and I live in Oakland, California. People get shot in Oakland almost every day. One of my students was shot in Oakland last month.

Owning a gun is a good way to get shot, or to have someone in your house get shot. Look at statistics around little kids shooting themselves with their parents’ guns. Do you know how many kids kill themselves with their parents’ guns if their parents are not gun owners? Zero percent. Do you know how many of those kids were raised in a culture of guns? Zero percent. And do you know the chances of a kid using their parents’ gun to shoot up a school if their parents are not gun owners? It’s still zero percent.

Why can’t we apply that logic to the nation as a whole? I’m not calling for a ban, I’m just wondering why so many people in their own lives mess with such a solid number as zero percent. It is inarguable.

The teachers and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary School showed tremendous bravery and heart, and many of them lost their lives because two handguns and an assault rifle were part of how a boy was raised. The twenty first-graders…I don’t have words to describe what has happened to them. We either use this as a lesson, or we do what even now so many are calling for—nothing.

As always, I continue to believe we must move forward with some sort of change. As always, for me, the status quo is not an option.

Reader Feedback

3 Responses to “A Teacher’s Thoughts on Connecticut”

  1. Pete Hokom says:

    Thanks for the article, Matt. I grew up with guns and with hunting. We used the guns to kill rattlesnakes and to put injured animals out of their suffering and to protect our sheep from coyotes and our chickens from civet cats. Once I left the farm I felt no need and had no desire to own a gun. Neither of my children own guns. I found your article thoughtful and agree with what you said.

  2. Janel says:

    As a counselor, I think I have processed the awful tragedy that is all over the news and the 20 children and the 6 educators. I can’t wrap my brain around it fully and certainly not my heart but what I absolutely can not stop thinking about is the living victims. All of the other children in that school whose lives and mental health are forever damaged. How can any human, let alone a little elementary-aged child, possibly recover from witnessing such depravity? I’ll be thinking about that for a long time, I fear.

  3. Paul says:

    I shot competitive Rifle in High School and in College for both school teams. I am a retired U S Army Infantry Officer. If I can defend my country, I will not relinquish my ability to defend myself, my family, my home and even my neighbor. The argument about driver training for cars in interesting. BUT the truth is, the Second Amendment says the right to defend ones self “Shall not be infringed”, that includes magazines and ammo restrictions. IF you can have a pistol, why not have a pistol grip on a rifle? Duh!
    What rights are you willing to surrender to my opinions? Religion, Speech, or the right to assemble? The right to fourth amendment privacy?
    Why do we not regulate the speed that a car can achieve? Don’t we have some very bad car accidents that are the result of exceeding the speed limits. If we are to save one person { read sarcasm } then all cars should have speed governors installed, and perhaps sensitive to Highway use and Urban use. Cars are not protected from regulation.
    That being said, I have considered the amount of blood and carnage that was witnessed inside of that school with 20 children and six adults, whose bodies were horribly mutilated, using HANDGUNS. Apparently there are denials that the murderer did not have the rifle.
    I ask, how calloused and insensitized was the killer to see the bloodshed and hear the screams of terror and continue on his way?
    This is not a gun or weapons question. IT is an insanity question. Who can do such an act. What does it take to continue and not be affected.
    My answer is, it takes practice. And such practice is done through simulation. That simulation is provided through movies, videos and game simulations of killing people.
    The problem is not the Second Amendment or the NRA. IT is with people. We need to teach our children and adults that violence is not normal, and if there are those who think that violence is ok, they need to be taught that it is horribly wrong. We need better awareness through our mental health agencies, parents and teachers to catch and counsel and correct this behavior before it becomes another real expression of another sick person.
    America is safe, when you consider the government versus citizen revolts in Egypt, Libya, Syria, Africa, and other ‘war’ torn areas. In the USA, for now, the government has been prevented from violating our rights. SO, before you continue your cries to change the Constitution, and allow this president to create his own rules through executive orders that circumvent our extablished rule of laws, and not rules of selected men, please read the Constitution. Also read the Declaration of Independence, and understand that the 13 colonies revolted “Because the rule of a KING was no longer to be tolerated”. Thanks.

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