My Almost Moment: A Young, Angry Teacher's Take on Gun Control

February 19, 2018

 

I want to talk about an almost.

 

We hear about them all the time. Most are just conversational junk food----that time you almost spoke to the guy who you thought might be Brad Pitt----but some almosts can be unintentionally cruel. Like when your friend just got into a car accident and you bring up how once you were almost rear-ended by a semi. It might be true, but really you're just making the conversation all about you now, reminding your friend of how you escaped unscathed while they're dealing with hospital bills and a busted vehicle. Plus those almosts are generally reaching.

 

I start with this explanation because the damage that an almost can cause kept me from writing this post the last few days. Why talk about my almost when so many people have actually lived through it? Shouldn't we be listening to them? Well yes, we should. Obviously. But the responsibility of speaking out should not fall on a sixteen year-old's shoulders, so I'll give what little I can to help.

 

I'm here to talk about gun control.

 

My almost took place on November 28, 2016 halfway through an English 1110 class. In some ways it wasn't an almost at all considering that this was, in fact, an organized assault against the school. It was classified as a terrorist attack and thirteen people were injured. In that way there was no "almost" about it. However, for most of the event we were under the impression that there was an active shooter on campus, rather than just a man with a car and a knife. 

 

"Just." A car and a knife injured thirteen people. Imagine what a semi-automatic could do. But of course, we don't have to imagine at all.

 

In retrospect it occurs to me how vastly unprepared I was for that situation. Not that there's truly any way to be prepared for such a thing, but at the very least my institution might have provided more overt information about how our emergency broadcast system works. My students were in the middle of their presentations-----a time that was supposed to be a relaxing culmination of their work in rhetorical analysis----and when the giant WARNING message filled the projection screen we all honestly thought it was a virus. There was nothing to indicate a campus-wide problem and no one had told me or the students what this message meant. I quickly shut down the computer and made a mental note to contact tech support, thinking nothing more of it. 

 

Until a few minutes later when a student blurted that there was a shooter. They'd just gotten a text. 

 

Now lots of people claim that social media leads to panic and the spread of misinformation in circumstances like these, and while the second claim is indeed worth tackling, I was simply glad we had any information at all. Easy access online allowed my students to immediately assess the situation, inform me of what they'd found, and start taking action to protect themselves. It allowed them to be active in their own survival: barricading the door and turning out the lights. One student recommended that we close the blinds too. 

 

More importantly their cell phones allowed them to contact their families. I could tell you about the student who cried in the back of my classroom, trying not to let anyone else see. Or the one panicking because they couldn't get ahold of their friend on campus. I could tell you about the high school girl taking my class for advanced credit, who lowered her cell just long enough to say, "My dad wants to know if you're going to leave us." 

 

"Of course not," I told her, not bothering to point out that it would be just as foolish for me to leave the classroom alone. Or that I'm a 105 pound woman with no training or options for defending myself, let alone twenty-four others. She just wanted the reassurance that I would try, and it occurred to me then that this was a part of my job description not written into any contract: 

 

Teach the course. 
Grade papers and tests.
Hold office hours. 
Take a bullet for your students. 

 

Days later----long after we'd been moved to a windowless classroom upstairs, spent time trying to calm one another down with stupid cat videos, learned that it was now safe (really?) and left for home at a jog----I saw a showing of Arrival at my local theater. In the beginning linguist Louise Banks is teaching a lecture when an alarm sounds. For a moment she stands looking out over her students, anxious about what might be wrong. I missed the next ten minutes of the film because I was too lost in the parallels. 

 

A few days after that my advisor and I sat down to lunch and he asked me how everything was going. I was only a little bit sarcastic when I told him I had a new bullet-point to put on my CV: Has survived a potential shooter. 


Because that's what this country is asking for, students willing to die for their education and teachers willing to die for their job. I'm not a firefighter though. I'm not a soldier or an astronaut or a stunt woman... I didn't choose a career despite the fact that it has inherent dangers. I chose teaching, and the difference is that the dangers I face are entirely preventable. 

 

There's a lot more that I could include in this post, like the staggering number of deaths resulting from shootings in the U.S., or all the countries with gun control who, astoundingly, don't have this problem anymore. But honestly I'd be wasting my time----or likely just preaching to the choir. Because our government has heard it all before and they just don't care. Sixteen years ago they watched as twenty kindergarteners were slaughtered and decided that guns were more important than those kids. The ability to enact more violence is more important. Pride and toxic masculinity is more important. Some white boy's  need to murder his peers to feel validated is more important than all his victims combined. 

 

There's no coming back from that. 

 

So no, I'm not going to quote statistics that you'll hand-wave away as "fake news." I'm certainly not going to get into another debate about whether gun control will really make a difference. I'm just going to support my kids, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School's kids, and all those in between. I'm going to support them contacting their representatives, marching in D.C., walking out of their schools on April 20th, and if they really decide not to come back, I'll support them in that too.

 

I'll make this post.

 

Because being a student and a teacher is horrendously dangerous in this country. No, there wasn't a shooter on my campus, but it was an almost. 

 

So to everyone claiming, "It's my right to bear arms," all I hear is, 

 

"My right to feel powerful supersedes your life." 

 

"The gun in my drawer is more precious to me than my children." 

 

"Honestly? I don't really give a damn if you die." 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image Credit: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/activists-call-tighter-gun-control-laws-rally-fort-lauderdale-gallery-1.3827069

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