Spare me the simple answers, simple minds.

The root of this is more than gun control. It lies within our society and like all societal problems its causes will be complex and subtle. The problem then is that it will need politicians capable of complex and subtle thought to find ways to solve it and I’m not sure how optimistic I am about that.

When I first moved to the US and became a principal I was astounded to discover that we were required to have regular lock down drills to prepare for just this kind of situation. I had never come across this. All we had in Australia were bush fire drills because the schools I worked in were all in forested areas and south eastern australia is one of the most wildfire prone areas in the world. We feared fire. We didn’t think we needed to fear automatic weapons.

In Australia we had an appalling massacre in 1996. No nation is immune.The government’s response was fast and firm. A massive buy back of automatic weapons was funded by a small tax levy on everyone but low income earners. This was followed immediately by the implementation of very strict gun laws. In spite of claims to the contrary by the NRA, gun violence declined rapidly after those moves.

Additionally there was a community, and to a very large extent, a media decision to never mention the name of the perpetrator. Efforts were made to ensure there was no spotlight on him, only on the victims.

About three weeks after I took up my first role in the US as an assistant principal I was faced with the 9/11 repercussions for my school in a highly militarized part of Virginia. I was given the tasks of working with teachers and parents, helping them to understand how best to talk with their children. I did my best, but there is nothing can prepare an administrator or a teacher for something like this. We all rely on our gut instincts as much as our professional preparation. I ,just did my best.

This tragedy has left me lost for words – not a frequent occurrence. I heard someone today advocating that teachers and principals should all have guns. That if the principal at Sandy Hook had been able to lay her hand on a fire arms she could have stopped the gunman. Really? The gunman’s mother had five weapons. She is now dead, shot with her own gun.

In China, on the same day, a man ran amok in a school with a knife and injured 22 children. That is a tragedy too. But he didn’t have a gun and for that we should be thankful, because if he had, those children would now be dead. Don’t tell me it isn’t the gun that kills.

I was sitting in a diner in a quiet, residential area of Virginia about three weeks ago. It was crowded with office workers and locals buying some barbecue and taking a break from the day’s work. The hairs stood up on the back of my neck when I watched a group of three young men walk in and take their seats. They were all in their very early twenties. What horrified me was the sight of a handgun on the hip of one of these young men. Now I know that the frontal cortex of young men, the area of executive function that controls impulsive behavior and judgment, isn’t fully developed as a rule until the mid twenties. And here he was in a crowded diner with a firearm. Why did he think he needed it?

How many times in my life have I heard someone say in a moment of rage, “If I had a gun I’d shoot the b#*^%£d”? Thank god they are so hard to come by where I now live.

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2 Comments

Filed under Thinking

2 responses to “Spare me the simple answers, simple minds.

  1. Bonnie Griffith

    I continue to say that no one needs an automatic weapon. It’s absurd and quite frightening and we desperately need gun reform. I feel certain our founding fathers did not foresee the proliferation of guns and how they would be used against our own citizens. Additionally I think that we need mental health reforms. At present a parent can know that their adult child is mentally ill, but they are not empowered to get them meaningful help. At Virgina Tech several teachers were aware that Cho was seriously mentally ill, but no one was able to act in a preventive capacity.

    • Thanks for your comment Bonnie. I agree. We Americans shoot each other with a frequency unknown in other comparable nation on earth. We also seem to be not too bad at identifying who might need help, but very poor at providing that help.

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