It is 11:00 p.m. and the world has not ended. I was not holding my breath. I did not buy any extra water, batteries, or canned goods. I did buy a bottle of Diet Pepsi, a pack of C batteries, and a plastic container of tomato bisque soup. I drank the soda earlier today. I needed the C batteries for my robotic floor cleaner. I plan to have the soup tomorrow for lunch. Sometimes, even when the stakes are at their highest, the chances of a tragic outcome are too remote for me to react.
According to the news I heard today lots of other people were buying assault weapons today. They fear that it may soon be illegal to buy such weaponry. If they are going to fight oppressive government, they want to do it with automatic weaponry. I also heard someone say today that school teachers should carry concealed weapons in case they have to fend off homicidal killers in classrooms. The sad truth about fear is that it seldom leads to wise action.
I have been afraid before and have faced some threats without recourse to violence. A student once was enraged during my critique of a speech. He threw a podium in my direction. I ran and urged the class to run with me. I once faced an irate student alone in a classroom. He was furious because he was failing my class. I asked him to tell me what he was feeling. I listened carefully and offered no explanations or excuses for my grades. He started to tear at his own hair. I started packing up my books and papers, all the while nodding and making empathetic sounds. Then I urged him to follow me out into the hallway. By the time we made it to the elevators, he was much less agitated. When he got into the elevator going down, I told him that I was going up. He never touched me.
I once faced a student who told me that she had started cutting herself after hearing my feedback to her writing. Another student sent me bizarre emails about personal issues that had no relationship with my class. That student ended up having a breakdown in court and was sent to jail for more than a month. Most upset students have stopped well short of violence. I still remember a young man who told me that he had not turned in several assignments because he was smarter than his classmates. They needed to do the work to learn the lessons, but he did not. When I insisted that the work be done, the student said to me, “Work with me. Work with me.” I told him that I thought I was doing exactly that.
I have known teachers who make it a practice to insist that students cool down for twenty-four hours before expressing reactions to grades. I invite my students to tell me what they are feeling as soon as they can articulate it. So far, the angriest students have done so without first going home to get a gun. I think it ended up mattering more that they got to speak their minds and that I helped them put their feelings into words than whether they were able to hurt me.
I do not imagine that the teachers who have faced armed killers in classrooms in this country had the time to talk much with their killers. Automatic weaponry makes it easier to shoot than to speak. Speaking about your pain appears to be much more difficult than shooting everyone in the vicinity. Nevertheless, I will not be buying weapons or carrying them to school no matter how dangerous it becomes to teach others. The stakes are high when you face a person bent on violence, but the chances of facing someone intent on murder remain small. Talking my way out of a bad situation is not foolproof; but the odds that it will work improve if it takes longer to reload a weapon.
No matter how dangerous it is to live in a free society, I will sacrifice my right to bear arms because there are risks that I would rather bear than act to reduce. It does not matter as much to me that a bullet can still my voice as it matters that my voice can still a killer. I prefer to take my chances with people using my voice and wits than with weaponry.
I think it is courageous to face life without weapons. I respect people whose commitment to nonviolent expression of their beliefs has put them in jeopardy. It is my view that the order of the amendments to the Constitution is not accidental. Freedom of speech, religious belief, and association is what is fundamental–not the right to bear arms.
A growing number of Americans favor some limits on the right to bear arms. One should have to apply for the right to buy a gun–even at a gun show. A background check should be performed. One who buys a gun should have to report to authorities its theft, loss, transfer, or sale. Certain weapons with the capacity to kill many swiftly should be illegal to acquire–like automatic weapons, high volume ammunition clips, and explosives. People who object to these limits should be permitted to vent their objections until they tire of it. The rest of us should listen to what they have to say but stand firm. If we do so, then there may be other crises averted.