This Is Neither Who We Are Nor Who We Want To Be

by Nicole Plyler Fisk

People handle grief in different ways. I’ve been handling my individual share of anger, confusion and grief since last Friday, Hermione-Granger style. Reading. Asking questions. And, then, reading some more. Part of this is because it is, quite simply, the way I work: I lose myself in grief by taking in information, processing it, and then exploding, if you will, with an outpouring of words rather than tears. But, part of this is also due to a promise I made to my 8-year old daughter when I told her about Sandy Hook. Her reaction, calm in her belief that her Dad and I were “on it” and would “make it right,” shook me nearly as much as my realization of what we’ve become: a nation plagued by domestic terrorism. I’m shaken, I suppose, because I don’t share her confidence that her Dad and I can fix this — although I know I’ll keep my promise to do everything within my power to “make it right” regardless of the outcome.

And I’m sensible enough to know that there isn’t one easy answer, that there are a number of reasonable solutions that could affect positive change. As Dr. David P. Gushee, professor of Christian Ethics at Mercer University, argues: “Only a comprehensive solution will do. Every aspect of this problem needs to be considered with the best and most creative thinking available.” He offers and invites conversation about everything from more accessible mental healthcare to stricter gun control, from fostering a sense of community to fortifying public spaces. (I have one friend, an engineer, who is particularly interested in this last solution, since he says that we have the technology to produce and install bulletproof glass and doors, panic buttons, etc.).

These seem to be reasonable solutions that give me hope.

And, then, today I saw a photo of an armed teacher circulating on Facebook, among my more conservative Christian friends, with the caption (below):

“This is an elementary class in Israel. Teachers are trained, locked, loaded, and ready to protect the children in their care. In America, the most protection many students receive is a condom in sex ed. What are your thoughts? Would we be better served to continue in our current direction or should we train and arm our educators as they do in Israel?”

The first thing you should know is that Ron Cantor in Israel Today calls the photo seriously misleading (and even doubts that the woman is a teacher at all): “Israel’s successful gun ownership laws both serve to make sure upstanding, brave and mentally sound citizens have access to guns, and that those who present even a minor threat are prevented from possessing one. It would be a mistake to use Israel as the poster child for more weapons in the US, as our success here is much more connected to limiting weapons and enabling strategies such as gates, fences and armed guards (not armed teachers), to protect our children. Sorry to disappoint, but the truth is important.”

I’ll engage with the caption, though, and tell you my thoughts about the issue: No. We do not want to train and arm our educators. Teachers are not soldiers. This is neither who we are nor who we want to be.

In the aftermath of Sandy Hook, we can — and we should — and we must do better. To replace mass shootings with gun fights between a shooter and teachers is unacceptable. Children should not have to experience a mass shooting, in which they’re hurt, or a mass shooting, in which they’re not. I don’t want my children to experience a mass shooting. Period. Children who live in fear of a mass shooting when in public, regardless of whether their teacher is armed or not, are not free.

Dr. Firmin Debrabande, an associate professor of philosophy, explains the myth of a “free” armed society:

“Guns undermine . . . community. Their pervasive, open presence would sow apprehension, suspicion, mistrust and fear, all emotions that are corrosive of community and civic cooperation. To that extent, then, guns give license to autocratic government.

Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite. And as the Occupy movement makes clear, also the demonstrators that precipitated regime change in Egypt and Myanmar last year, assembled masses don’t require guns to exercise and secure their freedom, and wield world-changing political force . . . [P]ower does not lie in armed individuals, but in assembly — and everything conducive to that.”

We should not arm ourselves as though we’re James Holmes and Adam Lanza, because that is neither who we are nor who we want to be.

We want to be better than that, to be an example of nonviolence to our children, and — yes — to make them feel safer but in ways that prevent rather than engage with violence: again, click on the link to Gushee’s article, above. We want to be more like Australia, or Britain, or Japan.

To do otherwise would make us comparable to the small-town Maine community in Stephen King’s 1996 television mini-series “Storm of the Century.” Although it’s been years since I’ve seen the film, I remember the deal that the supernatural villain, André Linoge, struck with the community, paralyzed by fear. He offered to spare the town, which he would otherwise destroy, if they would give him one child to raise as his evil protegee. Despite the hero’s protestations — “we do not give our children to thugs” is the phrase I remember — the town concedes, under the false hope that they had prevented a greater evil, that they had saved more lives.

But, they had failed to be brave. They had lost themselves to fear, becoming complicit to what they would otherwise spurn as inconceivable. I’ve seen, in countless Facebook comments, that what was “inconceivable” decades ago — to arm teachers — is “necessary” now. No, it’s not. There are other options. Let’s not forget who we are.