A Point of View © 1996
When pointing and shooting is not the easy answer.
By Paul V. Montesino, Ph.D., MBA.
I spent many years in classrooms learning and building up credits to obtain degrees. I also spent several years teaching and giving others the opportunity to build up credits and obtain degrees by themselves. I suppose that experience gave me the student label first, and the teacher rank second. What I didn’t do in those years, amounting to several decades, is carry a gun to class. As far as that practice was concerned, I didn’t get degrees or gave any.
Recently, after the unfortunate tragedy that happened in the Parkland, FL, school, those who never stop to give guns another chance, including our president, insist that the solution to that ever-present danger from ever happening again is to arm teachers and school staff to prepare for a response against the aggressors, whoever they are. I have problems visualizing an aged teacher who has arthritic fingers unable to write clearly on a blackboard becoming an expert shooter of a weapon under duress and deciding to use that weapon after having finished lunch.
We don’t know, of course, if those aggressors will be distraught students who suffer the trauma of a psychological problem and have built a small arsenal under the distracted eyes of busy parents, or psychopathic adults who, in addition to the same problems, have been trained by society to carry a weapon and know how to use it well.
On September 11, 2001, four hijacked airliners crashed against the twin towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and the Somerset fields in Pennsylvania. None of the victims in New York or Washington, many of whom were armed military or security personnel, were able to use those weapons to protect themselves against the bombing of the planes. The only ones who could abort one of the hijackings were the passengers of United Airlines Flight 93 in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, who rose unarmed against their hijackers and caused the plane to crash and kill everyone inside. The masterminds of those heinous events were not planning to survive and were impervious to the threats of their victims. I propose that most school shootings are carried out by similarly deranged individuals who are basically committing what is generally described as “suicide by cop.” Nothing can stop them. Their victims fall in a fatal circle of violence that befalls them by chance.
But I’ll go beyond that event. Several days after the attacks of 9/11, our university president asked the faculty to bring up the subject of the terrorist attacks in our classes to assuage the fears and concerns of the students. We had a large international student population, and the distant parents were as worried as their children and anxious to dispel the collective fears that spread that day. We knew what day zero looked like, but we ignored or feared about days one and two.
I had a religious and ethnic mix in my classes that reflected the conflicting ideologies of the moment: Muslims, Jews and Christians, each expressing an angry point of view about the recent events. I had to physically separate each group from attacking the others and, of course, from the “authoritarian” teacher that I was as well. To every group I was a representative of the enemy. I couldn’t have seen myself standing in the middle of that raucous disorder with a gun in my hand. I couldn’t have conceived myself avoiding the loss of that gun because one of the angry students could’ve been tempted to get it and use it. For months after that impetuous day, many of my students emailed or wrote to me thanking me for keeping them sane at a difficult moment of our lives.
The problem with that elephant in the room we are asked to keep under control is not the animal itself, It’s the message that we send by creating a new possibility. What we are daring these aggressors to do is to prepare better for the next time and be ready to attack and probably die and kill at the same time.
I don’t know how we can stop the next criminal any more than we could stop the most recent. The fact that the only armed security guards at Parkland did not intervene proves that their availability and access to a gun was no guarantee that they would react. I am not ready to judge those guards or accuse them of cowardice. I leave that for those who paid their salaries. I wasn’t in their shoes, and I cannot visualize what appeared before them and how it looked like. Still, I cannot see how a tired and busy aged teacher with arthritic fingers incapable of drawing on a blackboard can decide suddenly to shoot a malefactor and do it well. Classrooms are not Hollywood Western movies or are not meant to be.
And that is my point of view today.