With the exception of the 1996 Dumblane shooting in Scotland, when sixteen primary school children and a teacher were massacred, teachers in the UK have never had to endure the carnage that is so regular in the USA. Around 150, 000 school students have witnessed a school shooting since 1999.
The murders at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week were unbelievably the eighth school shooting in the USA resulting in death or injury this year — yes just eight weeks into 2018.
Focusing on school shootings is perhaps the wrong way to view the crisis in the USA. Consider these statistics; in 2015 33, 215 Americans were the victims of gun crime; that is 91 people a day, of whom around 7 each day were children or teenagers.
In his book Another Day in the Death of America, Gary Young takes one day in 2013 and aims to interview all those impacted by the death of the 10 children or teens that lost their lives to bullets in a 24-hour timespan. He discovers that his investigations are the only ones that have taken place other than a perfunctory mention in the local media. America has become so inured to gun crime that even the heart-wrenching murder of children does not merit a headline.
When Barack Obama cried and sang Amazing Grace for Reverend Clementa Pinckney, the pastor of the Mother Emanuel African-American church who was shot dead in his own sanctuary along with eight of his flock in 2015, and on many other occasions expressed his frustration at not being able to stem gun violence — it was clear that the President was in office but not in power on this issue.
The gun culture crisis in the USA has now got more acute, as President Trump was elected on a promise to support the powerful National Rifle Association and oppose any changes to limit the right of Americans to own guns.
It would be great to be optimistic that last week’s shooting marked a turning point, as school students themselves are taking the initiative and demanding a halt to the madness. Thousands have already walked out of their classrooms and marched on the state capital in Florida — and further national protests are planned. As one of their number said last week, they are determined to be the generation that the textbooks in the future celebrate as those that made change possible.
Such optimism has to be tempered by the solution coming out of the White House that a million teachers should be trained and armed with concealed guns. This echoes the comments of the head of the National Rifle Association:
‘The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’.
There is so much wrong with this statement – not least that there was a good guy with a gun at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus last week; an armed security guard, who was unable to stop the madness.
What teachers everywhere need to be armed with are; the time and resources and specialist services, especially in terms of mental health and counselling provision, to help our students. So we can identify and help troubled youths.