“Teachers Are Not Soldiers”: Tenured Radical on Sandy Hook, Wesleyan Shooting

In the wake of the Newtown shooting, should teachers be armed?

One week after the Newtown shooting, the NRA has ended its social media blackout and the national gun policy debate is as bitter as it’s ever been. Thousands of Americans are demanding gun control now, and if you’re reading Wesleying, chances are you agree. But on the gun-owning side of the lobby—the sort of people who follow NRA’s Twitter account in the first place—conservatives demand the opposite: more guns, more concealed carry, more self-defense. (Don’t believe these people are real? Read a few NRA Facebook comments. Go ahead; I’ll wait.) In one heated exchange, Larry Pratt of the Gun Owners of America appeared on Piers Morgan and suggested that gun control advocates are responsible for the massacre. “Since we have concealed carry laws in all of our country now, people can get a concealed firearm,” Pratt argued. “And yet, we have laws that say not in schools.”

Should teachers be armed in the classroom? Could guns in school have saved the lives of 20 children and six teachers? Should America combat guns with—err, more guns?

Over at Tenured Radical, in a post titled “Teachers Are Not Soldiers,” Professor Claire Potter has a response for the pro-gun lobby. In a phrase: “Uh, no.”

Professor Potter describes learning about the Sandy Hook massacre after having just read Jeffrey Goldberg’s December Atlantic piece in favor of more guns. The bulk of her argument revolves around an experience at Wesleyan following the shooting of May, 2009, when a gunman remained on the loose after murdering Johanna Justin-Jinich ’10 in Red & Black Cafe. Wesleyan’s campus went into lockdown, and Potter waited for hours in the Center for the Americas:

We had very little information about what had happened, or what might happen next. My office was in a small building: we locked all the doors and gathered upstairs. I, at least, was well aware that if the gunman proceeded up the hill towards the main campus, ours would be the first building he got to.  As we waited, for hours, I turned different scenarios over in my mind. Most of them had to do with running away: how thick was the front door? If the gunman entered our building, could we all escape in good order through the back? And as Director of the building, would it not be my moral duty to help everyone else get out in front of me, be the last to leave, and assume the greatest risk?

Information about the suspect, who was not a Wesleyan student, had not yet been made public. Potter began to suspect it was one of her students, “Jack,” who seemed to be showing symptoms of a “full-blown psychosis.” Then the doorbell rang. It was Jack. The NRA would suggest Potter would have been safer had she been wielding a gun. Potter’s glad she wasn’t:

As it turned out Jack was in danger, knew nothing about the murder or the lockdown, and had come to turn in a late paper. The actual shooter had elaborate plans to make his way to campus and shoot everyone who he thought was Jewish, plans that were derailed by the first responders who had scrambled to the scene. My colleague and I invited Jack in, and when he declined, we urged him to return to his dormitory by the fastest possible route. Later in the semester, we were also able to help persuade him to enter a treatment program for his mental illness. [ . . . ]

In fact, the only way that being armed could have absolutely preserved our safety at that moment would have been to presume that Jack was a potential enemy combatant, and either kill or disable him from an upstairs window. This (as it turns out) would have been an unspeakable crime.

The takeaway? “Teachers are not soldiers, nor do the vast majority of us want to be soldiers.” Besides the disturbing practical realities of first-grade teaches keeping firearms in their classrooms, there are the inestimable ethical and moral responsibilities involved in using a fatal weapon. Who’s to say that teachers, professors, and administrators possess the training or life-and-death duty to take on this militaristic role? Who’s to say that we should accept places of learning as zones of violence and further escalation? Where do you keep the gun in your classroom anyway?

Read the full Tenured Radical post here. Unsurprisingly, Professor Potter isn’t the only Wesleyan-affiliated person thinking about Johanna Justin-Jinich in the aftermath of Newtown. In his latest HuffPost column, President Roth references the same tragic event and writes with urgency on the need for stricter gun laws:

We should demand that our representatives enact (at a minimum) restrictions on ammunition and on automatic firearms. And we need to act immediately.

If we falter, if we think the politics too difficult or too complicated, we should remember Johanna, and we should remember Dawn. Their care and courage should inspire us to move our country to a place where students don’t have to face wild-eyed gunmen, and where teachers don’t have to lay down their lives defending their schools.

Yet gun sales have surged since the massacre, as they always do. Still curious what the gun lobby has to say in the face of this carnage? Don’t believe they can muster any pro-gun rhetoric? Here’s Piers Morgan interviewing the executive director of Gun Owners of America and calling him an idiot on live TV:

[Chronicle of Higher Education]

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  • Lynn Laurie

    The more thought I give to the Newtown tragedy and the NRA the more I realize that the way to get effective gun control legislation passed is to make Americans realize that gun sales are big business in this country. Obviously, the gun manufacturers are doing what every other business does. They want an unregulated market in which to sell their product. The NRA has been very effective at preventing commonsense laws that protect people from gun violence. From a business point of view, in my mind, I can see similarities to the tobacco industry. We are in for a very long battle, but we really reached the tipping point years ago and need to keep the pressure on our legislators and educate everyone we know that there are alternatives to out of control gun possession.