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Op-Ed · February 01, 2013


My friend Lisa once taught at a school in Chicago where she quickly learned never to turn her back on the class.


If memory serves, she was hit by a book. And, of course, nobody was going to confess or give up their friend. Or rat on a gang member. It could have been worse — something sharp.

Stories like this are part of why schools became gun-free zones.

West Branch Community Schools does not allow guns. It’s probably not a good idea for a teacher to carry a gun, either, being surrounded by children all day.

But the Sandy Hook shootings and the debate over gun control and mental illness that followed got me thinking about my own sons sitting in the classroom:

• The Second Amendment states that the right to bear arms “shall not be infringed.” But today they are. We take them away from felons, which sounds pretty good, but also keep them out of the hands of law-abiding citizens in schools, airplanes, certain government buildings, etc.

• We have become so accustomed to law enforcement roaming our streets that many of us never, or no longer, keep firearms. That feeling of security is wonderful. But as Mike Kessler, responding to an online West Branch Times question on gun control, commented: “Why shouldn’t we have that right to protect our families from intruders? Remember my gun is seconds away when the police are minutes away.” It is hard to argue against that.

• Isn’t it interesting, though, that in response to 9/11 — where no guns were used — we have, among other things, allowed pilots to carry guns? The idea is that the pilot would have the advantage. We don’t seem too worried about the pilot having a mental breakdown.

• The percent of citizens with a favorable view of Congress is abysmally low, and members of Congress are the ones who will decide tomorrow’s gun laws.

• One of the reasons for gun ownership is to protect us against tyranny. The proposed weapons bans would make sure the government would hold greater firepower, even though citizens outnumber them. For anyone willing to trust government with more guns than its citizens: Would you also be OK with members of Congress — or the local city council or school board — casting secret votes, or passing legislation without your knowledge? We have Sunshine Laws so we can empower ourselves, metaphorically, with information. Should we not also empower ourselves against the potential for tyranny?

• If you trust government to never turn on you, then you have a great reason to not buy a gun for yourself. It is not a great reason for all citizens to be unarmed, though.

• Mental health has proven value. Plenty of people have, through counseling, left behind destructive lifestyles, some of those laden with crime. We should always look for ways to improve the science, education and accessibility of mental health care.

• Inner-city schools fearful of crime have police patrolling the halls, not mental-health professionals. We can no more “talk down” an active shooter than we can talk down a toddler who runs into traffic. We must act.

• How many mass shootings in schools would there be if each classroom had a gun, locked in a safe, which only staff could access if they wished? A teacher who fires out of self preservation may save every child hiding behind them.

• Tasers in the classroom were proposed. Some teachers might prefer this because they may be more willing to fire, but you’ve got one shot and have to be less than 15 feet away.

• Universal background checks only work in a 100-percent-controlled environment. That simply is not reality. How about the woman whose controlling ex-boyfriend has been harassing her? She has no hard evidence he will do anything wrong, but still feels the need to arm and defend herself. Background checks may take more time than she’s got. The same goes for pizza delivery drivers, third-shift store clerks, taxicab drivers, etc.

We can cover a lot of ground protecting citizens from shooters by giving law-abiding citizens freedom to bear arms. The same is true for more mental health care. But there will always be room between the two. They will never meet.

Free will is a great thing, but someone will always abuse it. We may not like the fact that it means people will still flip out and murder men, women and children, but we have to learn to accept we cannot protect everyone. The amount of laws necessary to make that happen would not keep us safe, they would make us slaves.

Author Robert Heinlein, in his book, “Beyond This Horizon,” writes “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” The idea is that someone wanting to shoot up a school may think twice knowing he will likely face armed resistance.

The bottom line is this: I want my kids safe in school, and I want leaders who will consider every reasonable way to do that.

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