Monday, January 7, 2013

More Guns in Schools Would Teach Wrong Lesson

In the Sunday, Jan 6 issue of the Austin American-Statesman, Tami and I had this commentary piece published:

More Guns in Schools Would Teach Wrong Lesson

by Susan Van Haitsma and Tamela Minnich

Looking for answers to the terrible mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., National Rifle Association lobbyist Wayne LaPierre said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Real solutions must go deeper than this, addressing the reasons why a smart, shy young man would put on combat gear, arm himself with assault weapons and kill women, children and then himself.

The investigation continues, but some things are known. Mental illness and easy access to military-style guns are primary factors that are receiving deserved public scrutiny. An obsession with violent video games such as “Call of Duty” also appears to figure significantly in shooter Adam Lanza’s behavior. Underlying both the crime and responses to the crime are societal messages about power and security that must also be part of the discussion.

Law enforcers and law breakers alike arm themselves for protection and intimidation. Guns make the gun wielder appear more powerful and more fearsome. It is not surprising that a painfully withdrawn young man like Adam Lanza would be attracted to something that might make him feel stronger. His mother, likewise, may have thought that owning guns helped protect her and her home. Instead, she was killed by her son with her own weapon.

The idea of putting armed guards in schools to deter armed assailants contains the same risk of tragically adverse consequences. Bringing more weapons into schools would give children exactly the same message that led to the killings in the first place: If you want to be more powerful and more protected, get a gun.

This is a false message that has made our schools, our country and our world more dangerous rather than more secure. The United States is, by far, the world’s biggest arms dealer and has, by far, the largest military force. At the same time, among peer nations, the U.S. suffers the highest rates of gun violence at home. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has the highest rate of youth homicide and suicide among the 26 wealthiest nations. The sad irony is that using weapons to keep us safe is killing us.

Real security and power result from providing what children need most: supportive, healthy, diverse environments in which to grow and become their best selves. What is being shown right now in Newtown, for example, by the outpouring of concern for the families of the victims, is that the power of love is stronger than the power of death and fear. Human beings have a greater natural inclination to take care of each other than to hurt each other. This is true, even when a terrible crime makes us doubt it. Children need adults to model that faith rather than to give in to fear by making their world into an armed fortress.

Schools are the best places to teach and learn empathy, nonviolent conflict resolution, team building and cultural understanding. Schools are our laboratories for invention, and openness is a crucial aspect of a healthy learning atmosphere.

Adam Lanza did great harm, but he was only one man. Responding to his crime by eroding the values of our education system would give him more power than he really had.

Instead, building on what schools do best would help prevent future crimes by showing children that the powers of knowledge, creativity and compassion are far greater than the power of a gun.

Minnich and Van Haitsma are co-coordinators of Sustainable Options for Youth in Austin

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