I sit here on the eve of yet another school walkout event to petition government leaders to do something – anything – to end the scourge of violence that seems to all-too-frequently plague our gun-wary society.
The brains behind this week’s walkout is Lane Murdock, a lucid and erudite 16-year-old from Connecticut who, in her own words, is tired of seeing students die. I applaud Ms. Murdock and her keen sense of activism (and timing, given that April 20th is the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shootings). Young people need to be encouraged to take the world by the reins and chart their course in life.
But… and you knew there would be a but…
We are all tired of seeing children die. Where people like Ms. Murdock and I experience the greatest divergence is in our proposed solutions to the problem of school violence and, most poignantly, mass shootings.
Ms. Murdock’s school walkout is a mass protest event in which students across the nation will leave their classrooms at precisely 10:00 AM and stand outside in remembrance of those young people who have lost their lives to mass shooters. Unlike the March 14th walkouts, students will not simply return to class after a 17-minute period of remembrance and reflection. Instead, they are encouraged to leave school to demonstrate outside of legislative buildings, spam social media with messages of gun-control advocacy, make phone calls to legislators, and generally demand that the government save them by curtailing the rights that the founders fought so hard to provide and protect.
For the first time in my own history, I am watching young people demand that government strip them of their rights to self protection. These student activists are demanding that government ban and/or severely restrict the availability of the very tools that criminals and tyrants would use to subjugate them.
These are dangerous times.
What is most troubling about these protests is that they are born of fear and ignorance, two of the most destructive characteristics in modern political activism.
Fear is a rational response to school shooting events. However, using that fear to justify punishing more than 100 million gun owners for the behaviors of one lunatic is one of the very reasons we have a Bill of Rights in the first place. The Constitution prevents us from engaging in knee-jerk reactions to events that would severely negatively impact the inherent rights of an otherwise free people.
Fear is also a legitimate feeling to have in the classroom, given that it is all but impossible to determine which student has the potential to turn into the next mass murderer who takes out his frustrations or anger on his classmates. I remember in the early days of my professional teaching career when our entire school was in constant fear of a rampage shooter. The impetus for that fear? The Columbine shooting. It was the third in a rash of high-profile shootings (Jonesboro, AR and Paducah, KY were the others) that had occurred, and it was by far the worst. At my school, teachers and students alike were eyeballing each other, trying in vain to identify which of us would be the most likely person to kill his classmates.
I understand the fear; I have experienced it myself on more than one occasion. It is important, however, to recognize the source of that fear, and it’s not the availability of guns.
This fear is bred from ignorance, and the ignorance is borne out of media saturation that becomes the easy method of research conducted by gun-control proponents. Media and political ideologues have proliferated the idea that AR- and AK-style rifles are the issue and should be banned from public use. Those same entities have also perpetuated the narrative that there is no legitimate reason for private citizens to own ‘weapons of war’ (which is how they characterize AR/AK-style weapons). Finally, gun-control advocates have promoted the belief that a gun ban will have the desired effect of ending school violence.
All of these proposals are demonstrably and provably false. They are lies, but they are very convincing lies.
Lie #1 – AR-15s are the Problem
The AR-15 has been available to the general public since the 1960s. In the ensuing 50 years, they have only come under scrutiny since the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School where a disturbed individual used a Bushmaster XM-15 (an AR-variant) to kill 26 innocent people. The Sandy Hook event closely followed the Colorado theater massacre in which the shooter used a similar rifle, thus bringing the ‘assault rifle’ into the national media narrative on gun violence.
For the 50 or so years leading up to those events, however, the AR-15 enjoyed relative obscurity as a hobbyists weapon of choice. It’s only recently that it has earned the label as a mass killing machine.
Further, approximately 10 million AR-style weapons are already in the hands of private citizens, yet they are rarely used to perpetuate mass killings (though they are growing in popularity for that purpose, partially as a result of aggressive media coverage of shooters and their weapons). If AR-platform weapons were indeed a primary tool of violence, there would be stacks of bodies resulting from their use.
There are no stacks of bodies because 99.9% of AR-platform weapons are never used to kill other people.
Lie # 2 – There is No Reason for Civilians to Own AR-15s
The second point of contention – the idea that no legitimate uses for the AR exist outside of killing masses of people – is equally ignorant. Here is a short list of possible uses for such a weapon:
- target shooting
- varmint/predator control
- competition shooting
- tactical training
- teaching weapon safety to youth
- personal defense against multiple assailants (social unrest)
Given that most AR-platform rifles are used for the purposes listed above, banning them from civilian use due to their incredibly rare use as a rampage weapon is the epitome of overreach.
Lie #3 – Banning Assault Rifles Will Stop Mass Shootings/Killings
The lie that probably is the most counter-intuitive is the belief that banning a weapon (or engaging in the passage of additional gun-control measures) will stop violent rampages. For proof of the errancy of this belief, we need only look to history and those places where such bans have been applied.
Here in the United States, we have tried banning morally offensive yet socially popular products for nearly a century. In 1919, the United States passed the 18th Amendment, effectively banning the production, sale, and transport of alcohol in the country. The result of this legislation was predictable – black markets for alcohol were prolific, organized crime skyrocketed, and more people took to drinking than had been doing so before prohibition.
Due to the immense failure of prohibition, the 18th Amendment was repealed in 1933.
In similar fashion, the United States has waged a very expensive and terribly pointless War on Drugs for nearly five decades. In 1971, Nixon declared that drug abuse was, “Public enemy number one.” In the 1980s, Nancy Reagan exhorted kids to, “Just say no!”
Now, almost 50 years later, drugs are just as available as they were in the 70s, turf wars still happen as a result of gangs protecting their drug territories, and heroin use is at epidemic proportions. People cook meth in their kitchens and grow weed in their closets. Drug abuse in prison – one of the most highly restrictive environments in the country – is an impossible problem to overcome.
The drug ban is an abject failure.
So will be any American ban on guns. As a point of comparison, England banned the majority of handguns (shotguns and sporting rifles notwithstanding) in 1996. As a result, gun violence declined. So it was a success, right?
Not exactly. Now Englanders are busy slashing and stabbing each other to death. They are getting blown up or mowed down by vehicles. And, contrary to popular belief, they are still shooting each other.
In similar fashion, banning weapons in the United States (which is the ultimate goal, as stated by numerous gun-control advocates on various levels) will result in the obvious: proliferation of a black market for banned weapons and higher rates of victimization of a now-disarmed general public.
So What Do We Do?
Both fear and ignorance are curable conditions. Anyone who has read this far has already taken steps toward defeating ignorance of gun restrictions. Additional information can be gathered from those who have a working knowledge of firearms and their use.
Fear is cured by knowledge. Once Ms. Murdock takes a moment to stop planning how to surrender her rights, she can start to learn what she can do within the walls of her own school to keep herself safe. She can learn to improve her situational awareness. She can learn steps her school can take to keep people safe, including lockdown measures, effective barricading, and effective resistance. She can recommend to the local school board that her teachers have relevant training in active shooter response.
Knowledge is power, but more important, applied knowledge supplants fear with action. When she and her teachers are no longer bound by fear, they can stop expecting the government to run to their rescue. In fact, with a bit of training, she can realize her own power to save herself and her classmates from the (unlikely) possibility of facing an active threat.
“No child should have to learn how to hide from a shooter,” Murdock states. I couldn’t agree more, and I wish we didn’t have to learn such things. However, failing to learn effective self-protection skills only perpetuates the fear that is fueling these walkouts. It serves only to further endanger young people.