In dark moments — after the Newtown massacre, especially — we imagined no horror could be great enough to get this country to do something to cut down on gun violence.
If we weren’t going to talk about preventing mass shootings — and do something, too — after the murder of 20 little children and six adults in a school, then it seemed we never would.
But now, after the Parkland massacre, it appears that we will, finally, do something; and in communities across the country, we are already talking about what, exactly, that will be.
We have heard from the monsters who feed on these tragedies — the conspiracy theorists who denied that Sandy Hook ever happened and have also pushed false narratives about Parkland.
But the survivors — teenagers mostly, but also parents and teachers — have held the stage as they speak out with courage and conviction.
The most encouraging thing about the aftermath of Parkland has been the way, instead of holding their hands over their ears, people are listening to each other. Politicians are listening. People who disagree are listening.
And even though the disagreements have not gone away, people on both sides are trying to get something done.
Here are a few examples:
In Vermont, the state Senate on Wednesday approved a bill that would allow a family court judge to order the seizure of firearms and explosives for up to 60 days from a person determined by the judge to be at extreme risk of harming others or killing himself. Vermont gun rights groups backed the bill and the Senate voted for it 30-0.
In New York, Republicans in the state Senate blocked an attempt by Democrats to force a vote on gun-control bills, but said they are pushing for more money for school security, including armed guards. But the defeat was procedural, as Democrats were trying to use a rarely successful tactic to amend a bill already on the floor, and New York already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country.
In Florida, new gun control laws are moving quickly through the Legislature. Gov. Rick Scott, who has been a darling of the NRA, has proposed lifting the legal age for buyers of rifles and shotguns to 21. Nikolas Cruz, charged in the Parkland shooting, legally bought an AR-15 rifle at age 18.
Scott has also come out against arming teachers, while Republican legislators in Florida are pushing for a program that would train and arm teachers on a voluntary basis.
Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger will no longer sell guns to anyone younger than 21. The chains are also restricting the types of guns, such as assault-style rifles, that they will sell. Numerous corporations are cutting ties with the NRA.
Locally, too, we have seen that people want to work on this terrible problem together. We aren’t all going to agree on everything, but we can get things accomplished. We can make schools safer.
In Whitehall, several steps have already been taken. Film has been put on windows to make them smash-proof. A technology teacher has made plywood coverings to go over the windows in classroom doors.
During the school day, the high school uses a single point of entry that can be observed from the main office. Guests have to be buzzed in and have to sign in. A greeter has been hired for the elementary school. The buildings have cameras, and panic alarms are being installed, in which one button can lock all the exterior doors.
Schools can take common-sense precautions that are not prohibitively expensive.
Districts can also debate whether they want to spend the money to hire an armed guard — someone in uniform who has police experience and is trained in the use of firearms and response to active shooter situations.
It’s emotionally appealing to think that arming teachers would be a good way to address this problem. Teachers are children’s natural protectors at school.
But arming teachers is impractical. The teacher would have to carry the gun, and it would have to be loaded, because these shootings unfold swiftly. It’s awkward, if not off-putting, for a teacher to be working with students while carrying a loaded weapon.
But more importantly, armed combat is not an activity for amateurs.
Matt Martin is a decorated Army infantryman and sergeant who served in Afghanistan, took part in firefights and was shot. He wrote an essay for a Charlotte publication that has been viewed more than 1.8 million times, arguing that arming teachers is a terrible idea.
Here is a small part of it:
“Few people actually run towards gunfire. Most search for cover. Some can’t function. Fight or flight. Adrenaline floods your body. Time doesn’t exist. Your heart beats outside of your chest. Fine motor skills stop working. People urinate and defecate themselves. Good luck holding steady aim at a moving target. Even the simplest of tasks, such as reloading, can become difficult. Your hands shake for hours afterward. It’s chaotic on a level that is beyond comprehension until you experience it.”
Professionals like police officers and soldiers train over and over for live fire situations, and sometimes even they freeze, Martin says.
The risks are great that an armed amateur will shoot the wrong person or get shot themselves or discharge their weapon accidentally, he says.
If we are going to put armed guards in schools, they should be police professionals.
What is outstanding about Matt Martin’s essay, which we encourage everyone to find on the internet and read, is its respectful tone. He discredits the idea of arming teachers, but not by ridiculing it. He uses his own experience and expertise to make an extremely strong case.
This is the sort of debate that leads to informed decisions and constructive actions. This is the sort of debate we have heard much more of since Parkland than before it.
We’re not sure exactly why the public discussion has taken a more productive turn this time. Maybe, as a country, we finally have no more tolerance for these horrific events.
Maybe, the surprising poise and understandable passion of the surviving Parkland students has made us more willing to listen and to compromise.
Whatever the reason, for the first time in many years, we have hope progress can be made. Now that we have that hope, we will not easily let it go.