April 3, 2013

“Good Guns” or “Bad Guns”: What’s the Difference?

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Yesterday, the National Rifle Association released a 225-page report that called for armed police officers, security guards or staff members in every school, and urged states to loosen gun restrictions to allow trained teachers and administrators to carry weapons. The study claims that “the presence of armed security personnel adds a layer of security and diminishes response time” in a shooting. Asa Hutchinson, a former Republican congressman from Arkansas, cited a 1997 Mississippi case where an assistant principal ran to his truck to retrieve his gun and “took out” a gunman who had already killed two students.

Firstly, I think it is important to note that allowing teachers and administrators to carry weapons on school grounds doesn’t begin to solve the gun control dilemma — if you can even call that a solution. Representative Mike Thompson, chairman of a House task force on gun violence, said, “Arming the teacher is merely a response to the last tragedy. The one before that was in a shopping mall in Oregon, and the one before that was in a movie theater in Colorado. I don’t think the proper response is to arm all the projectionists in the movie theaters or all the vendors in the mall.”

I happen to agree. Further, what happens when you allow teachers to carry weapons? Do they lock their gun in their desk? What happens if some student breaks into the locked drawer? What happens if a gunman does enter the school — the teacher would then have to find her keys and open the desk drawer all the while praying that he or she is able to do this quickly enough that the gunman doesn’t reach his or her classroom. So fine, the drawer isn’t the best option: you have the gun in a glass case in the room. Alas, the same issue arises with not knowing if the instructor will be able to get to the gun quickly enough to actually be able to protect his or her students.

So now you’re thinking, fine, clearly the gun should not be locked up – let the teacher carry his or her gun. But is that really an option? Imagine yourself in kindergarten and it’s time for “circle time” when you all sit on the floor and the teacher reads to you — and then you spot the gun. Or let’s say you’re older, in middle school perhaps, and your teacher is reaching to write something on the board and you catch a glimpse of your teacher’s gun. That doesn’t seem to be the best way for teachers and students to form relationships; there is a clear intimidation factor when a weapon is being introduced to a place of learning, even if the intended use of the weapon is to protect students.

I can speak from experience about the intimidation factor. My senior year my high school had armed guards. In previous years, the guards were utilized by the administration to make sure we all went to class, made sure we didn’t “disturb the peace” when we walked in the halls and to sometimes just be friendly if someone seemed down. When I came back after summer vacation and saw the guns, the entire tone changed. I no longer felt comfortable having a casual conversation with any of the guards during the day, and the presence of the guns never made me feel safer. In fact, I often felt worried when I saw a man with a rifle saunter past me in the hallway. These guards weren’t my teachers, but guns changed the way I related to them. Had my teachers been donning weapons, I can assure you that I would not have felt as comfortable forming the relationships with my instructors that are so valuable and necessary. And from a not emotional standpoint, if someone was carrying the weapons Adam Lanza was when he entered the Newtown school, there was no way the armed guards at my school could have overpowered him. Not a chance.

The NRA can talk about how “good guns beat bad guns” all they want, but a gun is a gun. And when people like James Holmes and Adam Lanza enter movie theaters or schools with the military-grade weaponry that they have acquired, how can we even suggest that the solution is to arm more people instead of restrict some of the types of weapons available to the public?

The United States has 4.5% of the world population and accounts for about 40% of civilian firearms throughout the world. According to the Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Geneva, the estimated total number of guns held by US civilians is 270 million — 88.9 firearms per 100 people. The country with the second-most guns is India, with an estimated 46 million guns — 4 firearms per 100 people. That drop isn’t only because India has the second largest population in the world – the United States has more than 200 million more guns than India in private hands.

Guns may not cause violence, but they certainly do change the outcomes. Adjusting for population, the U.S. death rate by firearms was 10.2 per 100,000 people in 2009, according to the Coalition for Gun Control. The closest developed nation was Finland with less than half that of the U.S. rate with a firearms death rate of 4.47 per 100,000. In Canada, the rate was 2.5 per 100,000, and in the United Kingdom, the death rate was 0.25 per 100,000.

At the present time it isn’t feasible to drastically change our gun regulations. I think it is necessary, but it just is not possible. What we need are stricter background checks — a measure with overwhelming support from the general population, including gun owners. What we do not need, however, is to increase the amount of people who own guns with the intent of “protecting” the population, because “good guys” with guns will not always be able to overpower “bad guys” with guns.

Original Author: Jaime Freilich