A principal should not be required to be Wyatt Earp. But in the United States, the idea has some currency. A Republican Congressman from Texas, Louie Gohmert, says the elementary school principal in Newtown, Conn., should have had a high-powered rifle to take the shooter’s “head off.” Texas Governor Rick Perry says teachers and administrators should be able to carry concealed weapons. And the state of Michigan, just one day before the Newtown school massacre of 26 children and adults, passed a bill to allow the carrying of concealed weapons in schools, daycare centres and places of worship. (The bill still needs the Republican Governor’s signature.)
It’s a good time to face up to the frontier myth that has made the gun seem like the solution instead of the problem.
To introduce guns into a school would be an act of criminal recklessness and stupidity. Every day would be cause to hold one’s breath.
The symbolism is especially destructive. Explaining to schoolchildren that the principal or a teacher has a gun to protect them is far from comforting; it tells the children their everyday world is full of life-threatening peril. Worse, it tells them that arming themselves with a lethal weapon is the answer chosen by the people they look up to. Could there be any more dangerous message for American youth?
But bullets hurt more than symbols do. Any troubled or angry child or outsider who wishes to lash out could try to disarm an armed school employee. The only answer to a “gun grab” is shoot to kill. And to how many uses would these guns be put? Would they be reserved for mass killers, or might they be brought out when someone wields a knife, or threatens a teacher, or when a behavioural student throws chairs around, or when a gang member shows up from another school, or when a fight breaks out at a basketball game? Welcome to Dodge City.
Handling a gun in emotionally fraught situations is exceptionally risky. The high-powered M-4 rifle mentioned by Mr. Gohmert would create a huge risk of accidents. In the United States, 570 people are shot dead this way in a typical year, which is roughly equivalent to the number of all homicide victims in Canada.
Police have highly trained SWAT teams for such high-risk situations; the idea that a principal or teacher could, like some combination of Gary Cooper, Glenn Ford and Clint Eastwood, shoot down a rampaging killer is the dangerous fantasy that got America into the gun mess it’s in.