Speaker Ryan, we want real action

Politicians should put safety of students ahead of their blind loyalty to the NRA

Megan Binkley, Opinions Editor

It’s 7 a.m., and I’m pulling out of my parent’s driveway to head across town to campus, still thinking about the recent shooting in Parkland. My dad waves from our kitchen window. As I drive away, part of me wonders if I just said goodbye to my parents for the last time.

During lecture, I have a hard time focusing. In the back of my mind, I find myself drafting, revising, envisioning in my head- a letter, frantically typed on a phone, as I huddle in a locked room and a killer stands outside. To my parents, my partner, my nineteen-year-old brother. How many sentences would I have time for? How do you convey two decades of love and meaning, in twenty or thirty words?

From conversations both in the classroom and the newsroom, I know my classmates are all on similar trains of thought.

Mr. Ryan, how have we gotten to this point?

No one should ever have to feel this way. As options are being explored to improve school safety across the nation- please pause, and thoroughly consider the fear that students have daily in their classrooms.

Our schools are becoming places of danger and paranoia due to increasingly routine acts of gun violence on our campuses. We, the students, are caught between the callous disregard of powerful private interest groups, the politicians who cater to these parties for personal gain (or fail to resist them, through sheer spinelessness- take your pick, the result is the same) and the increasing number of emboldened, unstable, disenfranchised killers with easy access to firearms.

We the students are paying the price for this culture of cowardice and negligence. Our schools should be a place where we gather to further our futures- our careers, our aspirations, the contributions we want to make to society. Instead, our schools are becoming emblematic of futures wiped clean, torn away by the finger of a killer on the trigger of an AR-15.

Now, let’s consider the solutions that have been suggested so far as remedies to the growing trend in school shootings.

Let’s start with the idea of putting metal detectors at school entrances.

This is about as helpful as handing a Band-Aid to a person with a broken leg. Unless you put metal detectors at every single entrance, in every single school building across all fifty states (both unnecessarily costly and time-consuming to the point of being almost self-defeating), this measure really doesn’t help. Besides, even if you were able to eventually secure every school building in the nation, shooters will simply continue to turn to other venues for their attacks. How will you secure an open-air playground with metal detectors? School bus pick-up and drop-off zones? Public libraries, where students gather after school?

Now, let’s talk about the idea of arming teachers.

Since 2010, six of the documented gun-related incidents at schools have been enacted by teachers or school employees.

For example, in 2010, University of Alabama biology professor Amy Bishop opened fire with a handgun during a biology department meeting. Later that year, Ohio State University custodian Nathaniel Brown shot and killed a co-worker before committing suicide.

In 2012, Shane Schumerth, a Spanish teacher at the Episcopal School in Jacksonville, smuggled a rifle into school and killed the Head of the institution before fatally shooting himself.

In 2015, a Delta State University geography professor killed his co-worker, a history professor, with a rifle before being apprehended by police.

Now, if you still want to proceed with the idea of providing teachers with guns, let’s establish the kind of individual you’ll need to find to even make this idea possible.

Not only will you need to find a person who is comfortable with the idea of taking a human life, you’ll need to find someone who can be trusted to use their weapon only when the situation truly calls for it- someone who won’t add to the list above. On top of that, this person needs to have the physical strength to responsibly wield a firearm, the eyesight and accuracy to pick out their target (in a hoard of panicked, stampeding students who will likely all be roughly the same age and size as the shooter). You’ll need to find someone with the aim to take out one individual from a riotous crowd of dozens or even hundreds.

Even a professional sniper might have to take some time on that one. And you’re asking a teacher to do it?

Not to mention the prodigious cost of training teachers, and the inevitable lawsuits that will follow if and when innocent bystanders are injured or killed by a half-trained high school instructor who was handed a pistol and told to take out a murderer with a semi-automatic rifle.

The proposed solutions share a theme: they’re school-building specific, reactive measures that further the pattern of aggression, paranoia, and violence. The second solution will actually increase the number of firearms present on school premises, which can hardly be conducive to lowering rates of gun-related injuries and deaths, and neither solution goes to the heart of the issue.

The real problem is that it is far too easy for killers to gain access to firearms.

There will always be individuals in society who are sick enough, disenfranchised enough, and hateful enough to wish harm those around them. This cannot be avoided. Near-universal access to firearms, however, can be prevented. This is one of the oldest proposed solutions in the nation, yet it remains the most sound.

Individuals who fail to meet certain standards of mental wellbeing should not be given access to firearms. These standards can be established by rigorous tests, administered before the purchasing of a firearm, by trusted mental health professionals.

We are not proposing to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens. If you pass the aforementioned series of mental health tests, and you are content to own firearms that aren’t military grade, you can continue to own as many guns as you want. On top of that, you can sleep easier, knowing that your children and your loved ones are in significantly less danger of being gunned down by a school shooter.

In response to the claim that shooters will simply turn to the black market to obtain the firearms they need: yes, some of them inevitably will. But stricter gun control laws will make this a significantly harder process. It will be far more time-consuming for the perpetrator, with far more opportunities for peers or law-enforcement professionals to become aware of the plan, and stop the murderer before catastrophe occurs.

It is the inherent purpose of the law to obstruct, at every possible point, individuals who wish to injure or kill those around them. Allowing the continuation of flawed legal structures simply because illegal equivalents exist is lazy, irresponsible, and unforgivable lawmaking.

There will always be back-alley routes for bad intentions. Your job as a politician and public servant, Mr. Ryan, is to continuously combat that, through every responsible, legal path available to you.