Another school shooting–will anything change?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep one’s nose to the grindstone and carry on in America of 2018 as though everything is okay. That’s because it isn’t.

I have to be optimistic—and despite Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman’s wariness of optimists in his great book, “Thinking Fast and Slow,” I remain optimistic on several accounts. Just as an aside, Kahneman noted in his book that he never met a scientist without an optimistic and over-inflated view of the significance of his/her project. Point taken.

Why and how can I be optimistic when 17 teens were just gunned down by a 19-year old who legally purchased a semi-automatic assault rifle? Yes, it’s hard. But I feel that change is coming. Slowly. Surely. And guess what? Guess what may be catalyzing the rate of change in this country? Still guessing? How about a narcissistic, ignorant and highly unqualified president, with below level intelligence, and the ethics of a 3rd-world country dictator. And did I mention small hands?

Yes. The same man who needs cue cards to try and fool people that he feels empathy for others. Empathy? Narcissists only empathize with themselves. The little cue cards, photographed in his little hands and blown up to show was written, show-cased his mental acuity, introspection and tremendous empathy:  “I hear you” and “What do you want me to know about your experience?” This probably reflects what we’re dealing with in the White House as much as anything else the public has seen in the last crazy year.

This less-than-stable and certainly a far cry below-average-intelligence-president, has proposed, in the wake of another horrible school shooting—as his solution—to arm teachers with guns. And the net result, I predict, will be a rallying cry for change that has not been possible for many years. In other words, in the aftermath of such a terrible president, we will be getting a regression to the mean…

Why is this such a terrible idea, the arming of teachers in schools? After all, in a raving, ranting speech in front of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), National Rifle Association (NRA) president Wayne LaPierre not only supported this idea, but also accused anyone other than himself of being a European socialist (that European jibe—really gets those nationalist juices flowing) and a traitor to (white) American ideals—if the 1950s were a good time for you. It’s worth listening to the speech just to see how out of whack he is with reality. But back to the idea of arming teachers.

First, it seems that the whole notion of arming teachers is an exercise in distraction—from the number one issue and most obvious problem that we have: the availability of assault-style guns for purchase. Let’s leave aside hunting rifles and personal hand-guns and focus on these assault rifles: what rationale is there for them to be sold? Such rifles are made for the military, not self protection or hunting. Their only purpose is to kill as many people as rapidly as possible. Why would any-law abiding citizen think such a weapon should be available outside the military? So why are they even sold in this country? They are illegal in every other western democracy.

I witnessed Senator Marco Rubio argue against banning them. Why? Because he maintains that a ban would not block the sale of 200 other types of very similar types of weapons with similar capabilities. At least Rubio addressed the problem—but what a silly argument! The father of slain high-schooler Jaimie Guttenberg, Fred Guttenberg, possessed immense personal courage and responsibility for the future of children in this country when he replied to Rubio in a town hall meeting after the Florida school massacre: “So ban them too!” Is it really that complicated? And can anyone deny the irrationality of selling such weapons? The so-called 2nd amendment aficionados know that “the right to self defense” does not include the purchase of a bazooka, a grenade launcher, mortars, tanks, or artillery pieces. Or for that matter, nerve gas or weaponized anthrax. Do we even have to spell out “common sense?!”

In addition to major changes in gun control, I agree that other issues should also be addressed. Obviously mental health comes to mind, data bases and background checks for any weapons, and so on. But guns for teachers? Let’s examine that more carefully.

In the little Trump brain, he envisions a heavily armed attacker coming into a school, firing indiscriminately with an assault rifle in every direction, and a teacher materializing out of a classroom to neutralize the gunman. Presto. Really? I think someone needs to wean him off television. Or better yet, lead him out of the Oval Office.

Such a scenario, of an armed teacher being able neutralize a gunman with an assault rifle in the midst of a horrific and chaotic attack is extremely unlikely Even a trained guard outside the Florida school failed to act and prevent or limit the tragedy in real time. Trump called him a “coward–” easy said, coming from Mr. Bone Spurs, who never served in the military. But the truth is that until tested in combat, it is difficult to know how even the very best-trained soldiers will react or perform. Don’t believe me? Just go back and read Kahneman’s book, on the section about the difficulties in predicting successful future army officers.

I served 3 years in the military. Only the most intense basic training, including how to react after significant sleep deprivation and having responses drilled into one’s very being, help prepare one for a combat-like situation. And this is on the battlefield—where one knows and identifies where the enemy is and where they are coming from. The training I received doesn’t even compare to that received by special-forces—which can number several years—and would be needed to reach the level required for successful action in such a complex scenario as a school attack. How could one possibly think that a teacher, even with some basic training (and shooting accuracy is only a small part of what training would need to be), could possibly move into a smoke-filled corridor, packed with screaming students and teachers, horrific noise, and identify and accurately neutralize a shooter? Wishful thinking, I’m sorry to say.

None of these issues take into consideration many of the other problems with this idea: the cost of arming teachers, the emotional and educational impact of having teachers with guns on the students and school atmosphere, the safety issues of having weapons circulating in a school (potential negligence/errors in teacher judgment), and so on. Because in any case, this is just a stupid idea.

So why do I remain optimistic? Because Trump, in his narcissistic stupidity and lack of empathy is generating a slow tidal wave—a tsunami perhaps—among the younger generation, and causing people the younger generation in particular to abandon inert and lethargic lives in favor of new found activism. The tide is turning, and beware to those who inhabit or pretend to dry swamps.

About Steve Caplan

I am a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska where I mentor a group of about 10 students, postdoctoral fellows and researchers working on endocytic protein trafficking. My first lablit novel, "Matter Over Mind," is about a biomedical researcher seeking tenure and struggling to overcome the consequences of growing up with a parent suffering from bipolar disorder. Lablit novel #2, "Welcome Home, Sir," published by Anaphora Literary Press, deals with a hypochondriac principal investigator whose service in the army and post-traumatic stress disorder actually prepare him well for academic, but not personal success. Novel #3, "A Degree of Betrayal," is an academic murder mystery that is now in press! All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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One Response to Another school shooting–will anything change?

  1. Vivien Dwyer says:

    About as effective as the gun placed under the counter in a box which my Aunt was supposed to defend herself with should somebody hold up the bank (she was a teller) As she put it, she’d have to ask the perpetrator to wait a minute while she got said gun out of storage and then found ammo for it and then loaded it and then tried to use it (she’d never done any of the above with a gun).

    They did away with the gun having finally decided that it was just not going to happen…..

    Viv in NZ