On schools and guns

We’re not even out of February, and we have already witnessed, depending on which metric you use, between 11 and 18 school shootings. The most recent shooting, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida, may represent a tipping point of sorts. Students posted to social media during the attack, giving many of us a first-hand look at just how terrifying it is to be in an active shooter situation. Many of those same students have now used their platform to eloquently and passionately call for meaningful policy change. These students want to ensure than no other communities around the country have to endure the pain that they have felt.

We should listen.

These kids are not interested in thoughts and prayers. They are not interested in hearing about how the Second Amendment may or may not allow anybody to build up a huge arsenal of weapons without oversight. They want background checks and restrictions on the types of firearms you can buy.

More importantly, they want you to recognize that their lives are far more important than any gun could ever be.

It’s become all too common following a mass shooting for people to suggest not gun control, but stationing armed guards at all public schools, or more extreme yet, arming our nation’s teachers. As a teacher myself, this is a distressing idea.

  • Who is going to pay for these weapons? A recent study found that Michigan’s public schools are underfunded to the tune of roughly $1,300-$1,900 per pupil. Our schools are not flush with cash; what services would you recommend we cut in the name of weaponry? A Glock 23 3rd Gen can be found for about $425. To arm every teacher in my building with those would cost roughly $20,000. To outfit the entire district would cost well over $100,000.
  • The basic up front costs are considerable, but it gets worse. I currently have to renew my teaching certificate every five years. But my teaching certificate doesn’t have the power to wound or kill, so it would make sense to keep a firearms certification more frequently updated. Let’s say, every two years. You can take a basic pistol training course through an NRA-certified instructor for $150. For my building, that would be roughly an additional $7,000 every couple of years.
  • Of course, a basic skills maintenance course every two years might not be enough. What level of training would a teacher need to have before you can feel comfortable with them packing heat in the classroom? (There is no level at which I’d feel comfortable with that). There are kids involved, you wouldn’t want to half-ass this training, would you? It’s not safe to half-ass the training.
  • So let’s look at some statistics for some folks who are presumably pretty well-trained on their weapons, the NYPD.

New York City police statistics show that simply hitting a target, let alone hitting it in a specific spot, is a difficult challenge. In 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired a gun at a person, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent, according to the department’s Firearms Discharge Report. The police shot and killed 13 people last year.

In 2005, officers fired 472 times in the same circumstances, hitting their mark 82 times, for a 17.4 percent hit rate. They shot and killed nine people that year.

In all shootings — including those against people, animals and in suicides and other situations — New York City officers achieved a 34 percent accuracy rate (182 out of 540), and a 43 percent accuracy rate when the target ranged from zero to six feet away. Nearly half the shots they fired last year were within that distance.

  • Look at those numbers. Professional law enforcement officers who carry as part of their career can’t even come close to 50 percent accuracy. What the hell chance would a bunch of teachers have? Then there’s always the significant risk of hitting a bystander. Is this a risk we should be willing to take with our children? (If the answer to this isn’t a resounding ‘NO’, then I have to seriously question your judgement).
  • I know we all like to think we’d handle ourselves like Jack Bauer if we found ourselves in an active shooter situation. In reality, even well trained police in ideal conditions struggle to react quicker than a shooter.

The miniscule edge did go to the suspects, technically. Examined case by case, they shot faster than officers or precisely simultaneously in more than 60% of the encounters. “Even in situations where the officer was faster, there was less than a 0.2-second difference, suggesting that the suspect would still get a shot off in most of these encounters,” the researchers state.

“The process of perceiving the suspect’s movement, interpreting the action, deciding on a response, and executing the response for the officer generally took longer than it took the suspect to execute the action of shooting, even though the officer already had his gun aimed at the suspect.”

And this was in near-ideal conditions from the officers’ perspective. The volunteers were “highly experienced” and “knew they would be encountering suspects with guns.” The confrontations took place in “well-lit rooms,” with only a single offender, “with both parties remaining stationary,” with no distractions, with no attempts by the suspects to deceive the officers by feigning compliance before shooting, with officers not nearly as stressed as they would be “during an actual life-or-death situation,” and with none reporting “confusing sensory and perceptual distortions.”

Moreover, “the suspects extended their arms to bring the gun in line with their eyes before shooting in almost every exchange,” rather than “simply rotating the gun and firing.” Thus their assault was slower than a spontaneous street encounter might be.

The researchers concede that “many of the elements that occur in real-life shootings” would doubtless add significant time to the average officer’s reaction time.

  • But wait there’s more! Want your district to get insurance after allowing teachers to carry? Good luck! In the few districts that have made this decision around the country, insurers have either flat-out denied coverage, or increased rates astronomically.
  • Where are guns going to be kept in the classroom that are 1) safely out of the reach of children and 2) close enough at hand for the teacher to actually use it in an active shooter situation?
  • Who is going to be liable when a teacher screws up and shoots an innocent bystander?
  • Teachers have mental health problems too. It’s a high-stress job, and many in the profession struggle with chronic mental health issues as well. How do we make sure that these teachers are okay to carry? Some sort of screening process, perhaps? Who pays for this?
  • In the case of an active shooter situation, how will the first responders quickly differentiate between a good guy with a gun and a bad guy with a gun? Every second matters here.

Basically, arming teachers is about a serious suggestion as having us all spend our PD time watching the Charles Bronson classic ‘Death Wish’.

Keep your damn guns out of my school.

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On Gun Violence

Stuff happens.

That completely tone-deaf remark by Jeb Bush in the aftermath of yet another school shooting is just a symptom of the overall indifference we as a nation seem to have when it comes to these tragedies. It was a disgusting moment that stood out during the aftermath of the most recent tragedy, but it’s hardly fair to blame Bush entirely. He is far from the only leader who has failed miserably when it comes to protecting our children.

It’s amazing to me just how much the attitude toward gun violence has shifted over the past several years. I remember coming home as an 8th grader in April of 1999, and seeing my mom glued to the TV. She was watching the tragic events at Columbine High School unfold, and I remember thinking this isn’t supposed to happen at a school. It was shocking and horrifying.

Now? School shootings remain horrifying and tragic, but they are no longer surprising. The cycle of events is depressingly predictable. A gunman shoots up a school. Politicians everywhere claim to feel for the victims and families. There are renewed cries for gun control, followed by shouts from gun lovers that more regulations would infringe on their freedoms. And nothing is ever changed.

To defend his asinine statement, Jeb Bush said (emphasis mine) “…you just read the papers, and you see a child dies in a pool and drowns. And parents want to pass a law to do something, and you got to be careful that you want to solve the problem. If there’s a problem, a defect in the law, fine, then we did that all the time, but sometimes you’re imposing solutions to problems that doesn’t fix the problem and takes away people’s liberties and rights…”

There are a couple of egregious errors with Bush’s statement. First, we are well past the point where these shootings are isolated incidents that only affect a few people. He wants us to believe that cries for more gun control are just an emotional overreaction by grieving families. Bullshit. It’s a reaction from people all across the country who are sick of seeing lives needlessly ended.

Even worse than that though, is his claim that proposed solutions to these mass shootings would take away people’s liberties and rights. We have elected leaders who have decided that the right to own guns is equally as important as our children’s right to safety and life. Again, I call bullshit. Nobody’s right to own a weapon is anywhere near as important as the lives of our young people. If that’s really where our priorities are as a nation, then we have failed as a society.

Schools are supposed to be a refuge for our students. I want my classroom to be a safe place for my students, regardless of any struggles they may be dealing with outside of school. Every child is entitled to a space where they are protected and valued. By refusing to take any meaningful action against school shootings, our elected officials are telling us that they don’t value our students, that protecting them is too great a burden.

Think about how drastically our lives changed after the terrorist attacks of September 11th. One tragic event changed everybody’s lives forever. We’re rapidly approaching 150 school shootings in the past three years and nothing has changed. We haven’t even seen a token effort to curb the violence.

It’s well past time for one of our leaders to stand up to the ridiculous pro-gun talking points that get recycled every time there’s another school shooting. It’s past time for us as a nation to re-asses our priorities and figure out what we really value. Our leaders need to do something. Even something that just barely lowers the frequency of these shootings is a step in the right direction, and it would be a hell of a lot more than anything that’s been done in the past decade. Stop the violence, we need our young ones to be safe.