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Maybe It's Time to Arm the Children
In a world of unthinkable violence against kids, has the time come for an unthinkable solution?
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Did you know that gun lovers and the National Rifle Association have been arming children for years? Given the number of recent mass shootings, it’s only a matter of time before the practice makes its way to our schools. And since everyone’s been talking about Tennessee lately, that’s as good a place to start as any.
The Tennessee Three
Despite a national spotlight, the Tennessee Three have not managed to prevent another school shooting in Nashville or anywhere else. They have succeeded in exposing racist undertones in the expulsion process. But did they get a red-flag law passed or a ban on assault weapons? Nope. And they won’t either.
That’s because Democrats, who want these things, have only 23 seats in the Tennessee General Assembly. Republicans hold a super majority and are opposed to both measures.
While most of the country was focused on the expulsion and reinstatement of the two Black legislators—Justin Pearce & Justin Jones—another important drama was underway in the Tennessee state court system.
The other drama
On March 27th, the same day a shooter killed six people at The Covenant School in Nashville—three 9-year-olds and three adults—a judicial panel decided to let a gerrymandering lawsuit proceed to trial on Monday, April 17th.
The court case is not likely to attract much attention at first, but it’s important. Because it’s at the heart of why the Tennessee Three led a protest on the state-house floor in the first place.
As currently drawn by the Republican-controlled legislature, the new districts cross over 30 county lines, in violation of state law, merging potentially opposing voices into GOP strongholds where they are effectively silenced. For example, the new map destroyed Nashville’s Democratic majority by separating it into three districts of mainly Republican voters.
Gerrymandering is undemocratic
whether Democrats or Republicans do it. In a state like Tennessee what that means is that the actual will of the people may not be fairly represented. Polling in 2019, 2021, and in 2023 (three weeks before the Nashville shooting) showed that most Tennessee voters would like tighter gun controls. But in recent years, gun laws there have become less strict. The Tennessee legislature has eliminated most requirements for background checks and gun permits.
A handful of other bills allowing greater access to guns were tabled after the Nashville shooting. But tabling just means you put those bills on the back burner until the fuss dies down. Then, when nobody’s paying attention, you get back to making sure as many people as possible have access to all the guns they want.
After the Uvalde school shooting, I wrote that partisan redistricting is killing our kids, and I still feel that way. But even if the Tennessee gerrymandering case leads to newly drawn district maps, one wonders if a new map would produce anything stronger than the toothless compromise Congress enacted in 2022.
A few nights ago, I came across a video in which a 10-year-old 5th grader in Houston, Texas, described his school’s active-shooter training for his mother. When she was a girl, her school had fire drills. Now she was listening to her son describe preparedness measures in case someone opened fire in his school.
The story becomes all the more heartbreaking when the boy tells his mother that if a shooter broke into his classroom, he would take the bullet so his friends could get away.
Last year, after mass shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo, NPR reported that sales of body armor, including armored backpacks for children have increased 150% since 2019.
During the 2022 gubernatorial race in Texas, a Political Action Committee called Mothers Against Greg Abbott ran a commercial showing a child dressed in body armor, helmet, and military gear for the first day of school. The spot resonated with voters all around the country, but Texas voters handed gun-rights advocate Greg Abbott a decisive 11% victory over Democratic challenger Beto O’Rourke.
A radical solution
Not long ago, I was at the home of a close family member who took his seven-year-old son to a firing range to teach him how to use a handgun. The little kid had already been exposed to a lot of violence on TV and was glad to participate in the shooting practice. His father told me he wants the boy to be able to defend himself in case—God forbid—he’s ever in danger.
At the time, I thought this was crazy. But as I watch the failure of our politicians to protect children I began to wonder. According to Education Week, since 2018 there have been 158 school shootings that resulted in injuries and death. In 2018 and 2019, there were 24 each year. Although that number declined to 10 school shootings in 2020, the tragic numbers have risen steadily—35 in 2021, 51 in 2022, with 14 so far in 2023, and this is only April.
Politicians will do nothing. And nothing will change.
It’s well documented that states with relaxed gun laws have higher rates of mass shootings. Seven mass shootings have occurred in Tennessee since 2008. On average, about 1143 people die of gun violence there each year. Tennessee has the 12th highest rate of gun deaths in the United States. It also has some of the country’s weakest gun laws.
So far, no state has responded to the thousands of students who staged a nationwide school walkout after the Nashville shooting. No surprise there since similar inaction followed the nationwide student walkout after Parkland five years ago.
So maybe it’s time to stop the debate and just accept that mass shootings will become part of our lives from now on. Maybe we should accept that current gun-death rates are acceptable—the way some people believed a million Covid deaths were acceptable.
Everything becomes much easier with acceptance. If we acknowledge that the National Rifle Association has succeeded in reversing decades of legal precedent, convincing everyday Americans and the courts that the Second Amendment means everyone gets a gun no matter what—then why not follow the example of the Louisville Congressman who sent this Christmas card in 2021? Or the Nashville Congressman who sent this one?
As ABC News reported on Nightline back in 2014, the NRA invests tens of millions into childhood shooting programs every year in order to ensure a gun market for the future.
So why wait for another untrained six-year-old to shoot his teacher in Virginia? Let’s arm the children as part of the active-shooter training they already receive.
Forget about hiding under your desk and pushing furniture against the door. A classroom full of K-thru-12th graders, properly trained in the correct handling of a firearm will make any emotionally disturbed shooter think twice before entering another school. There’s no need for a 5th grader to think about taking a bullet when he could just as easily give one instead.
Recent history shows that a shooter could get past an adult security officer and kill 17 kids in Parkland. A shooter could even paralyze a bunch of cowardly cops wearing bulletproof vests while he snuffed out the lives of 19 children and two adults in Uvalde, Texas.
But just let him try to get past 20 to 30 nine-year-olds with loaded AR-15s. That’ll show him. Yeah, that’ll show him.
And that’ll show the rest of us too that maybe we should have done more while we still had the chance to protect the innocents left with no choice but to protect themselves.
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