Protecting educators and education

It happened again. On Thurs. Jan. 6, 2011, a high school vice-principal was shot and killed, and her principal-colleague was shot and seriously wounded. This time the shooting hit close to home—our home. In fact it was only about two miles away.

I find that there is a bizarre dichotomy at schools here in the US. On the one hand, the acceptance of minorities and different cultures is simply awe-inspiring. From a very early age children learn to naturally accept others who are different from them in any way. It really is a remarkable feat of which Americans should be very proud.

In addition, there are very strict regulations in place against any form of bullying (“no tolerance”)—whether it be physical, verbal or virtual. Although I must add that there have been worrying reports that online bullying is a growing problem that schools are having a hard time dealing with. However, if I compare the rapid action that I have witnessed principals deploy to deal with students who bully to the lack of action during my own childhood in a Canadian school, I am extremely happy that my own children are here now. And yet…

And yet—another case where schools have come under attack from loaded weapons has occurred. Here in the quiet midwestern city of Omaha, where the people are wonderful, and life is generally calm.

According to the newspapers, the 18-year old student was upset about being suspended for bad behavior, and took his policeman-father’s gun to carry out his murderous attacks and subsequent suicide. So in this particular case, my questioning the whole issue of ‘gun control’ isn’t really relevant. Or is it?

True, in this sad story, where the gun should have been either in his father’s custody or locked safely away, the gun came from a source that would have been available even had there been strict gun control laws. But this is an unusual case.

Frequently, horrible shootings are carried out by people who purchase and own their own guns. In many cases, it is hard to understand how people with a history of violence, mental illness or instability, or criminal records are able to obtain weapons so readily. Almost every time such a shooting rampage occurs, we are forced to ask, again and again, how do we let this occur? The Virgina Tech shooting was carried out by a loner who was definitely mentally unstable, and suffering from severe anxiety. Why was he able to obtain a gun so easily? The University of Alabama assistant professor who killed 3 colleagues and wounded three others in a faculty meeting had several violent incidents in her past—how did she obtain a weapon? And during the preparation of this commentary, another incident in Tucson, Arizona left 6 dead and thirteen wounded. This investigation is still in its early stages.

What else can I say? I understand the rationale of those who oppose gun control; I know that freedom to bear arms is considered a constitutional right—back from the days of the wild-west when citizens often had to rely on their own preparedness for protection against criminals. But is that not anachronistic?

Okay—so the argument is then that the criminals can obtain weapons illegally in the street—why prevent ordinary citizens from defending themselves?

Well the answer is here before us. The vast majority of these horrible shootings is carried out not by the “garden-variety criminal-in-the-street” element, but rather by people who probably would have had a difficult time obtaining a weapon. Yes, there are ways around these obstacles, and certainly some of the murderers would have succeeded nonetheless—but my reckoning is that university researchers and college students are unlikely to have ready underworld connections to purchase automatic weapons.

With regards to ordinary citizens defending themselves; well it may take a generation, but if weapons were to become largely unavailable, then eventually there would be little cause for ordinary citizens to defend themselves. It’s time to start. There are too many educators right now on the front lines, and it’s time to afford them the best protection possible: by not allowing easy access to dangerous weapons.

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 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. "Saving One" is my most recent novel set at the National Institutes of Health. Now IN PRESS: Today's Curiosity is Tomorrow's Cure: The Case for Basic Biomedical Research (CRC PRESS, 2021). All views expressed are my own, of course--after all, I hate advertising.
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11 Responses to Protecting educators and education

  1. KristiV says:

    I agree with you, Steve, but when incidents such as this one are highly publicized and become the stuff of legend (note that this homeowner is a Daughter of the Republic of Texas), it’s difficult for me to see how things will change any time soon.

    Oh, and “Hello!” by the way – I’m also a new recruit to Occam’s Typewriter.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      Hi Kristi, and a big WELCOME to you too! I thought I had replied from my Blackberry, but it didn’t go through.

      I agree very much that it is unlikely that there will be changes in policy. I am just very distressed at the unbearable ease at which it is possible to obtain automatic assault rifles (not hunting rifles) and even machine guns. I think Henry was far more eloquent in his post, but the main idea is the same.

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  3. cromercrox says:

    Yup. It’s the guns. It seems so obvious from so far away – when I mention it to some Americans they look at me as if I’m stoopid. But maybe some of us are the small boys who are brave or ignorant enough to notice that the Emperor is nude.

    • Steve Caplan says:

      You know–it’s even the simple things, like the TYPE of guns. It’s one thing to own a small handgun for protection locked in a bedroom safe ith a licence etc., but it’s another story to purchase automatic assualt rifles with clips for firing tens or hundreds of bullets, or rocket propelled grenades.

      One other point–it’s obvious that many countries may be similarly lax about guns, yet not have the number of shooting rampages that occur here in the US. I suspect that affluence and the absence of the “basic threat of survival” or difficulties in day-to-day life can lead to exacerbated instability and radical viewpoints in some. I find no other easy way to explain it.

      • Agreed, Steve. Semi-auto assault rifles? Hollow-point ammo?! The mind boggles.

        Having said which, if you read the commentaries on the US Supreme Court decisions I referred to in a comment on Henry’s post, I think the justices who voted pro-gun ownership were accepting the kind of NRA-style argument that, once you accept the “home defence” principle, then you can legally have whatever is seen as a “typical” weapon of the day. So the argument will go:

        “Well, if the felon coming into my house can get a Mac-10 or an AK-47, I need to be able to buy one to be able to defend myself like-for-like”.

        Which is a completely and utterly circular argument in terms of what weapons are available, of course. And therefore self-defeating, not to mention insane. But no-one seems to see that.

        • Steve Caplan says:

          Austin- you are very correct in analyzing the (perverse) logic behind these rules. Overall, I think this can be seen as another example of an individuals “rights” superceding what’s best for society. In other words, in order to protect individuals in a very limited number (but real) cases, as described by KristiVdescribed by KristiV society endangers itself in a much more severe (and random) manner. I find it interesting that other conflicts between the individual rights and those of society in general are not necessarily won by the individuals. point in case is the right of motorcyclists not to wear helmets. This practice has been abolished in most states, in part because it is the taxpayer who ends up footing the bill for the severe injuries later. But guns are so embedded in romantic culture, that change will be slow in coming.

  4. cromercrox says:

    Have you read ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver? This is an account (pretty harrowing) of a student in the US who corrals his classmates and teachers in a gym and shoots them … with a crossbow.

    Meanwhile I’m buying a tank.

  5. Steve Caplan says:

    There’s a sale on Mercava-2 tanks on the internet. Unfortunately, delivery is rather expensive…

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