By Ty Joplin
After the Parkland High School shooting that left 17 students dead, the U.S. resumed its ongoing debate on gun control, with each side re-rehearsing their stated positions and entrenching themselves further in their own echo chambers.
Gun control activists are cheering at supposed progress being made with each corporation boycotting the NRA, the U.S.’ eminent pro-gun lobby group, while pro-gun activists are applauding moves by schools around the country to begin arming teachers and to allow concealed carry weapons on campuses.
In Kentucky, after their own experience with a recent school shooting, both the governor and state legislature are poised to pass a bill allowing teachers to carry guns to school.
“It increases that kid’s chances of surviving. And if there is someone there with a weapon, they will be able to take down the assailant, or at least calm the situation,” State Senator Steve West told reporters.
The basic disagreement between both groups revolves around the idea of control: do you restrict the supply of weapons to stem violence, or do you arm others to counter violence since restricting weapons goes against the Second Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
The idea of a ‘Good Guy with a Gun’ is one that persists despite its controversy as an ideal. From it comes a fantasy that, the more guns you pile into the hands of Good People, the more able society is to stop Bad People from wreaking havoc.
Neither side appears to seriously want to engage the others’ idea of what it means to be a Good or Bad Guy, and how weapons can tilt the scale for or against safety, especially in schools.
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Rather, both sides appear to be reacting quickly to each others’ provocations, more dedicated to suring their base of support than engaging in a national dialogue that listens to the other side in good faith.
So for just a moment, let us imagine the thought experiment of arming more Good Guys in schools and evaluate the type of society it results in.
The Thought Experiment
The logical conclusion that follows from the Good Guy thesis is that every Good Guy should be armed against any potential Bad Guy. This means, in practice, that every teacher should be armed and trained in the use of their respective firearms.
Additionally, it means school administrators should be armed, and any other relevant school employees. Beefing up school security with more guards and security checks in all entrances and exits is also logical, since it could stop a shooting before it happens or create a point for which a standoff could be prepared.
This could likely only be legislated for public schools, though private schools, also adopting this philosophy, would follow suit.
On top of this, all university campuses ought to allow concealed carry so that licensed gun owners, Good Guys, can always be ready in case a crazed shooter, Bad Guy, threatens them or their peers.
In practical terms, this means in kindergartens, middle schools and high schools, every adult is armed and ready for a firefight. In colleges, an untold mass of students are anonymously and discreetly carrying firearms.
Who is Made Safe?
What does this world seem like? How would moving through it feel? If the overwhelming consensus is that it feels safe, that feeling requires more interrogation.
Students would likely fear teachers and vice versa, or view teachers’ firearms as opportunities for pranking and rebellious behavior if they can get their hands on them. Arguments that get heated then have an implicit ‘boiling point’ from which deadly violence may be expected if it gets out of hand.
Freedom of expression may be suppressed from fear that unpopular opinions could be coerced at gunpoint.
When people feel in danger versus when they are actually in danger may dissolve as meaningful distinctions thanks to the potential for any sensitive situation to involve deadly weapons that could be pulled out and brandished from threatened parties.
The potential for de-escalation falls by the wayside as the much easier option of intimidation by force becomes standard procedure.
In the case of an actual shooter arriving, the chaos from a saturation of weapons and a mixing of vigilante (Good Guy) and assailant (Bad Guy) is unimaginable. Unarmed students would likely see one armed person and be unable to discern Good from Bad. Good Guys may see other Good Guys and think they are indeed Bad, and fire upon them. This could create a chain reaction.
Police arriving onto the scene may similarly be unable to discern Good from Bad amidst the chaos and be unable to act to neutralize any situation. The potential for further violence would look likely rather than a quickfire, neat exchange between Good and Bad that ends with the Bad guy dead or in prison and no harm to civilians.
(Mis) Understanding Good and Bad
The thought experiment also assumes a tight binary of Good People from Bad People, and even if there are indeed these binary distinctions within the myriad personalities on this world, what if a Good Person has a Bad Day? Such a Bad Day that they, for a moment, turn Bad? What happens then given that they were trusted with a weapon to be on the side of Good?
In this thinking too, lies a deep mistrust of other Americans, one that would subconsciously permeate the psyche of a student. The constant niggling thought, ‘which one of my peers are Bad?’ Such thinking brews simplistic categorizations that could vilify people before they act violently.
The thinking goes that people, as a rule, are already Good or Bad, and only reveal themselves to be so at key moments. They were Good or Bad all along, which means people must be anticipated before this happens.
In other words, students and teachers must, as a matter of their own safety, pre-judge their pupils and peers to be Good or Bad to be on the constant lookout for the Bad ons.
What does this do to students’ learning environments?
Rather than foster a space where students can learn and express themselves freely, they could be chained to their own paranoid mistrust of others, unable to see past shortsighted judgements of their own safety.
Learning could fall to the wayside.
What is Sacrificed to the Altar of Guns
The thought experiment is hypothetical and will likely never happen, but it demonstrates several dangers in the idea that more guns equals more safety in schools. And moreover, shades of it are already appearing across the U.S.
Apart from Kentucky, Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Pennsylvania and South Dakota and South Carolina are all considering arming teachers. The Giffords Law Center has found that 12 states have rules barring the prohibition of concealed carry from college campuses.
The dream of a learning environment saturated with guns and vigilantes is not far away for millions of students.
In the desire to balance protections for the Second Amendment and the safety of students, Americans may be foregoing core values of liberty and freedom from one another.