Educators Must Lead the Gun Control Debate

Dec 21, 2012

In the wake of the Newtown massacre, where are the school groups lobbying for new gun control laws? At best, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association are defensively protecting schools, as if they are forts, from the encroachment of gun lobbyists and activists who want more guns in schools. Educators know that firearm-free zones, while not perfect, create the best learning environments. Schools and colleges can teach gun advocates that taking a stand doesn’t require a gun.

Sadly, Louisiana helped lead the charge for the right to bear arms in educational institutions. Seemingly each legislative hunting season, former State Representative and former Sheriff Earnest Wooton sponsored a house bill, which if enacted would have allowed handgun permit holders to carry concealed weapons on college campuses. Luckily, good thinking and politics shut down Wooten’s legislation. Still, Wooton represented gun advocates that have been trying to extend the freedoms of gun possession that we find in the broader society.

Elected officials like Wooten aim their rationale at the past atrocities on the campuses of Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois and the Baton Rouge campus of Louisiana Technical College, as well as Columbine and now Newtown. Gun advocates argue that future lunatics will be dissuaded from the knowledge that potential victims can protect themselves with firearms. That may make rational sense if perpetrators acted rationally.

The sanest actions should be to get weapons out of the hands of the irrational. Since we all have the capacity to become irrational, reducing risks by limiting access to weapons, particularly weapons of war, is the most logical and moral action to take.

Ask people who live in the hood if adding more weapons to a community makes that community safer. The perspective of guns as innocent bystanders within a violent culture seems to come from the same people who say humans just stand by as the earth gets hotter. Guns contribute to a culture of violence. A standard of non-violence must manifest itself in the most sacred spaces in society. We shouldn’t live in a country that assumes “eye for an eye” justice makes schools safer. Let’s believe in good schooling.

It's not ironic that some of the safest places in America are college campuses with firearm free zones. When forced to choose between books and guns, Hemingway, Gaines and Einstein prevail. Still, we can do more to curb the rise of mass shootings.

In his speech at the interfaith service at Newtown High School, President Barack Obama said, “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” Educators must understand the impact of public policy on individual behavior. Educators know that schools aren’t safe enough. But if society wants real change, we cannot retread the same policy tires. We must pay the debt owed to the Newtown victims by forging into policy arenas that were assumed to be beyond reproach. Gun regulation is that arena.

As unreasonable gun advocates call school personnel to arms, teachers and school leaders must not acquiesce with inaction. Schools must bolster their firearm-free zones. However, that requires the true heroes in the classrooms to give policy lessons on Capitol Hill.

Andre Perry, Ph.D. (twitter: @andreperrynola) is Associate Director for Educational Initiatives for Loyola University New Orleans and author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City.