Monday, May 30, 2022

We Have The Power If We Choose To Use It

Today, Memorial Day, is a day set aside to remember those who died in active military service. Whatever you think about war in general, the military, or any specific war, these are individuals, usually young, who have left sobbing loved ones behind, whose lives were cut tragically short, and who died in defense of others.

Our nation, the United States, is not currently at war, at least officially, although we do still have some 900 troops in Syria, engaged in what we have come to call the War on Terror. Since 2020, there have been four US military casualties Syria. 

To put that in perspective, a police officer in the US is shot and and killed once every five days. 

To put that in perspective, every day five children die in our country from gun violence.

None of these deaths is acceptable. We are currently reeling from the horrors of yet another school shooting, this time in Texas. The tragedy in Uvalde was the 77th time a gun was discharged on a school campus this year, and it's only May. Most of these don't make the news because they don't meet the official threshold for being labeled a "mass shooting," but it doesn't make them any less tragic. Worst of all, it seems that for many children, being in school might be the safest place because the vast majority of children who will die today, and every day, from guns are in their homes or backyards or at a local playground.

The US is the only nation on earth where this happens. We are the only nation on earth where teachers must train children how to respond, like in wartime, to a gun attack. We are the only nation where teachers regularly stand between a gunman and the children in their care, as happened in Uvalde where two of us were counted among the dead.

To put that in perspective, there have been 288 school shootings in the US between 2009 and  2018. The next highest national total is Mexico with 8. Most nations on earth experienced zero. Stepping back from school shootings specifically, over 40,000 of us will die from a gun this year and nearly 120,000 of us will be shot. No other nation on earth comes anywhere close. Indeed, the number of people in America who die each year from being shot far exceeds the death toll (fewer than 2500) from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars combined

But you already know all of this. We all know it. We've heard it, in various forms, over and over again. We don't need statistics or perspective to know that we are all living in a war zone that is far deadlier that most actual war zones around the world. 

But allow me to offer just one more bit of data in the name of perspective. Just last week, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made headlines when he said that 100 Ukrainians were dying every day in their war against Russia. Compare that to the 111 people who die from gun violence each day in our country.

By this measure, we are living in a war zone that is at least as deadly as Ukraine.

Once more, we are clutching our pearls over what to do about gun violence, and especially gun violence in schools. Too many of us want to blame anything but easy access to guns. Just in the last few days, people in high places have tried to blame the massacre in Uvalde on teachers, on doors, on parents, on too few guns in the school, on religion (or lack of it), and on mental illness. Perhaps these factors come into play at some peripheral level, but there can be no doubt that the leading cause of this mass shooting, and all of our mass shootings, is easy access to guns that are specifically designed to kill lots of people very quickly. 

We've been here before. We've all heard that other nations have solved the problem of mass shootings by dramatically limiting access to weapons of mass murder. We all know that when the Clinton administration banned assault-style weapons in 1994, mass shooting fatalities fell by 70 percent. When the ban was allowed to lapse in 2004, mass shooting fatalities spiked and have continued to increase. Most of us know that if you live in a state with stricter gun control measures, you are safer from gun violence than in states that have lax gun laws. Of course, we could do more for mental health in our country, but the common sense first step is clearly to make weapons of mass murder very difficult to acquire. 

I've cried every day since the Uvalde shooting, as have you. Surveys of Americans show that the vast majority of us are in favor of limiting access to these weapons, of making background checks mandatory, and of raising the age at which one can legally purchase them. Depending on how the questions are asked, as many as 90 percent of us are in favor of this, even people who value the 2nd Amendment. This should be a no-brainer.

We also all know why we will probably not make these common sense changes. So we, along with our children, will continue living in a war zone.

Today, I'm writing about this for two reasons. Firstly, I want to urge all of us to include these children and their teachers who have died on the frontlines in our Memorial Day mourning. If soldiers deserve it, certainly these children do as well.

Secondly, I want to ask why we, as educators, continue to put up with this? We too are on the front lines. We too would put our bodies between a mad gunman and the children. But, this shouldn't be how we are forced to live. Our schools, our downtowns, our shopping malls, and our churches should not be war zones. We have the power to force these common sense changes to happen. What if we all agreed to simply not return to school until Congress passes these common sense gun laws, the laws that have worked everywhere they have been tried? What if we give them the summer to hammer something out and if they fail, then we will fail to return to school in the fall? Even a one day walkout would send a powerful message.

We have this power if we choose to use it.

(I used many sources to prepare this post including, BBC News, Johns Hopkins, World Population Review)


"I recommend these books to everyone concerned with children and the future of humanity." ~Peter Gray, Ph.D. If you want to see what Dr. Gray is talking about you can find Teacher Tom's First Book and Teacher Tom's Second Book right here

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