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Thinking About Guns

I walked past a student who failed my Intro to Literature class last semester. He’s an intelligent student who reads and writes well, but he lacked the motivation to get himself up and to my class for much of the semester, therefore missing out on discussions and graded activities. When I walked past him and said, “Hi,” he avoided eye contact and didn’t respond.

A disturbing thought crossed my mind when this happened. This post isn’t about educational responsibility—how I didn’t fail him, but he failed himself. It isn’t a discourse on the necessity of attendance. It isn’t even a longing for his untapped potential to arise. The disturbing thought that crossed my mind was, “I hope he doesn’t have a gun.”

It’s a silly thought, I know. This young man was always cordial when I saw him on the sidewalks and in the halls last semester. In fact, I can’t think of any student of mine, past or present, who would be capable of shooting another person. It’s always hindsight that reveals relevance. Adam Lanza didn’t have a criminal record. Seung-Hui Cho bought his guns legally. Millions play violent video games, listen to “violent” music, and watch violent TV shows and movies but never act violently.

I remember having a similar fear when I was teaching after the Virginia Tech shootings. Would a failing student find me and shoot me? Things were a little different for me then because I was new to teaching, so anxiety about lessons replaced anxiety about safety, troubling as that may sound on paper.

Newtown, a movie theater, a shopping mall, a temple … and the list goes on. These have brought guns back to the front pages of our newspapers. If I honestly ask myself whether I would feel safer if guns were allowed in my classroom, I have mixed feelings. In devastating times of chaos, yes. If gunmen were on the prowl and the emergency sirens were blaring, I would probably feel safer if someone—maybe me—had a gun for self-defense. But those times are rare. In the everyday, I don’t think having more guns equals more safety; quite the opposite.

[Creative Commons-licensed photo by Flickr user Naval History & Heritage Command.]

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