Editorial Statement by Nettie & Paul Becker
AS FORMER HIGH-SCHOOL TEACHERS, as people who now work with and write about young children, and as American citizens, we want to add our voice to the rising chorus of people who are calling for action to ban the sale and possession of assault firearms in our country.
These weapons of war clearly are not designed for civilian use. No one goes deer hunting or duck hunting with an AR-15. Their only purpose is to quickly and efficiently extinguish as many human lives as possible.
We deplore the efforts of the gun lobby and its mouthpiece, the National Rifle Association, to muddy the waters by screaming that those trying to ban these weapons want to deprive Americans of their freedom. What freedom? The freedom to shoot down kindergarten and first-grade children in their classrooms as in Connecticut five years ago? The freedom to mow down scores of young people attending a concert as in Las Vegas last September? The freedom to snuff out the lives of high school students in Florida just weeks ago ? What freedom are they talking about?
We are aware of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, often cited by the gun lobby. One of us was a Social Studies teacher who taught the Constitution to high school students and we are dismayed that the amendment, designed to protect a citizen’s right to bear arms in connection with his participation in a well-regulated militia has been distorted to give cover to the unrestricted sale and use of high-velocity weapons of mass murder.
We are also dismayed by the attempts to divert the discussion away from the central issue here, an issue that is clearly supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans – the necessity to stop the sale and possession of these weapons by people who have no business to use them. These diversionary attempts include:
- Concentrating on “mental health issues.” It is not people with mental health problems who kill people but people with mental health problems with guns who kill people.
- Raising the age of permissible gun purchase from 18 to 21. This is nothing more than an attempt to make it look like politicians are doing something when they are doing virtually nothing. The gunman who killed over 50 people at the Las Vegas concert was over 50 years of age. The shooter at the Connecticut elementary school that killed 20 little children and six teachers was under 21 but he got his weapons from his mother, an avid gun enthusiast, also shooting her to death in the process.
- Then there is also the idea that the death penalty be applied, as if that will deter future perpetrators of mass killings. Most of the shooters go into it knowing that that they, too, will be killed by police who arrive at the scene. For many, their last shots will be on themselves, committing suicide after they have completed their carnage. Claiming that the death penalty is a deterrent to people who already have a death wish is beyond ridiculous.
- Probably the most idiotic proposal of all has come in the form of the one that calls for arming teachers. This one, which could turn classrooms into scenes resembling shootouts at the OK Corral, has earned near universal condemnation from teachers, parents, students and most others. Can anyone picture a teacher armed with a handgun up against a shooter blasting away with an AR-15? Not only would the teacher be a certain fatality but a lot of students would be caught in the crossfire. A teacher’s mission is to teach and to help young people. We entered the profession because we love kids and because they are our hope for the future. We did not go into it so we could get to shoot it out with the bad guys.
Finally, we strongly condemn the efforts of some on the extreme right to slander the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, who have demonstrated, visited their legislators, the Florida governor, and the President demanding action to ban the weapons that killed their fellow classmates. We applaud them and other students around the country who have taken similar action. The effort by some people, picked up by others in the right-wing media to claim that these students are not really students but actors who have been imported to stage demonstrations is not only false, it is disgusting.
As teachers, we are proud of them. These students are teaching all of us a lesson in Civics. They are using their First Amendment Constitutional right to demonstrate peacefully for “a redress of grievances.” And they are reminding us, by their demonstrations and their pressure on legislators, Congress, governors, and the President of our responsibility to them, to be able to complete their education and live out their lives without fear of being gunned down.
And they are also reminding us that we have the most powerful weapon of all – more powerful than any assault firearm – our vote. If we use that power, that vote, to get rid of the cowards in Congress and the State Legislatures who refuse to take on the big money of the National Rifle Association, we may, once and for all, end this insanity that has been plaguing our nation for far too long.