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LOCAL COLUMNIST: Update - Well, maybe we’re talking now (about gun safety)

Ben Amis, guest columnist

Ben Amis, guest columnist

When I wrote my column last month on gun violence, I expected the backlash, and I got that. There were internet comments and letters to the editor. It isn’t the first time, not even in this paper, and I doubt it will be the last. I welcome critique and debate. I wouldn’t be writing if I did not. I do wish there was discussion on policy and solutions rather than just blame and hate, but at least I know people are reading and maybe someone is reading and thinking about these issues, whether or not they agree with me, and that is a job well done to me.

What I did not expect, what no one expected, is what has occurred since that column was published. No one wanted what happened in Florida to happen, and no one foresaw immediately after that it could be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I cheer for and applaud the high schoolers in Parkland who have said “Enough!” and bravely stood up to the gun lobby and their bankrolled lawmakers and media spinsters, even as the same seeks to ignore, discredit and belittle their efforts. Conspiracy theories already abound to do exactly that. I won’t repeat them here and give their asininity any further reach except to say that such nonsense is no longer confined to the fringes of society, but is being repeated by prominent Republicans such as Trump Jr. and CNN commentator Jack Kingston, a former Georgia congressman who at one time was a decent human being. These children saw their friends and teachers gunned down in front of them, and half of the country immediately jumps up to criticize them as tools of some political machine because they dared to stand up and speak about their trauma and address the very real problems we have in this country with gun safety. We would rather our children be periodically gunned down than to talk about how we, as a nation, should take steps to prevent a problem that exists nowhere else in the world.

Of course, the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School simply refuse to let that happen. In the time since the shooting, they have garnered national media attention, taken their cause to the Florida Legislature and the White House, participated in a nationally televised town hall and have planned a march on Washington, with companion marches springing up across the country. So, those public figures on the payroll of gun manufacturers (or those too steeped in their divisive rhetoric to think critically) have naturally responded with their own “solutions.” They want to 1) blame mental health and 2) get more guns into the mix by arming our teachers. Let’s break this down.

First, mental health. Yes, it’s a huge problem in America. We don’t take mental health seriously, and it’s been evidenced from the Parkland shooting that there was ample warning of the shooter’s mental instability for years, but the mechanisms aren’t in place to get such a situation under control. We do, in fact, need those tools in place to address mental health, including the ability to psychologically evaluate potential gun owners to prevent such people obtaining weapons in the first place, including universal background checks to ensure a clean psychological and criminal history.

Second, arming teachers. This is probably the most ridiculous notion to be floated in quite some time. And it’s really popular among those who don’t know better, having been repeated by many conservatives all across the country. Our own Floyd County even got some attention from Channel 2 when Floyd County School Board member Jay Shell floated the idea in a Facebook post. The president even said it, suggesting we train these teachers and pay them bonuses. So, we can’t pay teachers a decent wage or provide them with an adequate budget for their classroom, but we can afford to buy them pistols and pay them extra just in case they have to shoot one of their students? While all of that sounds ridiculous, and it is, that’s not the most unfortunate fact surrounding this notion. That belongs to what we know about police training and accuracy in a firefight. After Columbine, school districts and local police around the country hired thousands of patrolmen or security guards to prevent another, and so far the evidence is lacking that such a move has prevented even one school shooting. There was even an armed policeman at MSD in Parkland, and it came to light that — for whatever reason — he never entered the school and did nothing to stop the active shooter, whether through panic or confusion in the midst of the event.

But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Even trained police in the midst of such a situation aren’t always able, with all of their training, to be effective. In fact, studies have shown that police officers from the NYPD are only about 18 percent accurate in a firefight. This is a fault of our biology. Such a situation is severely stress-inducing and disorienting. They are immensely difficult to process. How much less would a school teacher be prepared to take out an active shooter than a trained policeman? How much more likely would friendly fire become from misidentification of a shooter, either by a teacher or by responding officers? Study after study has shown us that “good guys with guns” simply do not reduce the lethality of an active shooting situation.

There is, however, hope here for a reasonable solution to this problem. It’s the one that nations the world over have taken: sensible gun safety protections that keep lethal weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them. The argument is that those who wish to be violent will find another way, so let’s make them figure out something else. They should have to get smart and creative, because right now we’re just letting them get away with it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the average American citizen having weapons for personal defense and recreation, but there’s also a moral obligation to keep our schools and communities safe, and that starts with keeping lethal weapons out of the hands of unstable and dangerous people who steal the future away from our children.

Ben Amis lives in Rome and volunteers as a local Democratic activist. He studied theology at Asbury University and accounting at GNTC.