By Joey Kennedy
Alabama Political Reporter
The email from the dean of UAB’s College of Arts and Sciences arrived in my in-box while I was drinking coffee and reading my Kindle between my two composition classes this past Wednesday morning.
In a way, some part of me was expecting it. Dreading it. Accepting it.
The college has scheduled two sessions for “Active Shooter Response Training” for faculty and staff. I’ll be attending one of those sessions in early March.
I love teaching. I love my students.
And now I’m going to be trained on how to respond to an active shooter on campus.
Of course, I hope that never happens. But I want to know how to respond, even if it’s only to body block a classroom door that probably can’t be locked from the inside.
One way I will not respond, a repeated suggestion from some Alabama lawmakers and even Donald Trump himself: Arm myself with a gun, in my classroom, while I’m teaching 18- and 19- year-olds how to write a college composition or while I’m explaining Robert Frost poems or a Zora Neale Hurston novel to my second-year students in American literature.
When I expressed this reluctance to a friend, he said I would be my students’ first line of defense. I agreed, and I said I would be that first line of defense, unarmed.
So I’m going to “Active Shooter Response Training” at UAB early next month.
Arming teachers, in public elementary, middle, and high schools is a terrible idea. Arming college teachers at our universities, the same.
We are teachers. We teach. And I don’t want that gun to be a distraction or, worse but very possible, for that gun to get out of my control.
A SWAT team member said recently over social media that when his team responds to a mass shooting, the goal is to take out the shooter. What will happen to a teacher or administrator who, surrounded by frightened students, carrying a gun in a confused active-shooting situation, is located by first-responders? Yeah. That.
And how will a teacher, armed with a handgun, be able to adequately defend a classroom from a deranged person firing an AR-15? I’ve been to the shooting range. I’m not a horrible shot, but I’m not a marksman. I’ve certainly never fired a gun in such a panicked, frenzied setting as we see in those student videos from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. It would have taken a lucky shot for anybody there to hit the gunman, and more likely, “friendly” fire would have injured or killed more students.
I love teaching, and I love my students. I will defend them in an “active-shooter situation” as best I can. But I will not carry a gun.
I’ll say this, though. The way to go at this violent gun culture we have in this country, with frequent mass shootings using military-style, semi-automatic weapons (sometimes altered to become automatic) is not to arm teachers. It’s to get rid of these types of weapons.
We need to eliminate the public’s ability to obtain them. We need to prohibit large-capacity magazines. We need to do away with bump stocks and other devices that make a semi-automatic weapon almost automatic. We need to expand background checks and mental health screening.
This, we need to do now.
Then we need to allow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to study our violent gun culture, and to declare gun violence a national health emergency. Because it is. That can’t happen today because the NRA-owned politicians in Congress won’t allow it.
Nobody wants to do away with the Second Amendment, but we do want the Second Amendment – a “well regulated militia” – to reflect its “well regulated” phrase in today’s society, in real time, even as new killing technologies are developed.
We need politicians who reject the National Rifle Association’s millions of campaign dollars and do what’s best for their constituents, who, by the way, also include school children and teachers.
We need to listen to these young people from Douglas High School and many others across the nation who have started the #NeverAgain revolution. I don’t think the discussion is going to disappear anytime soon. Not until something other than token action is taken.
Fewer guns means fewer deaths.
As one of those Parkland survivors, Ashley Paseltiner, explained: “If a kid throws a rock at another kid in a sandbox, you don’t give every other kid a rock.”
Until that day when we understand we don’t need so many rocks to protect our “sacred” Second Amendment, I’ll go to the “Active Shooter Response Training” next month, as my college’s dean suggested.
I will be as prepared as I believe a teacher can be prepared — but without the gun.
Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize winner, writes a column every week for Alabama Political Reporter. Email: [email protected]