The following op-ed piece was originally published in the Los Angeles Times. It is reprinted here with the permission of the author.
Hey, Kids, Don’t Forget Your Guns
What’s missing from the typical kindergartner’s backpack? A pistol.
By Daniel Akst
Here we go again. After the tragic school killings in Newtown, Conn., the leader of the National Rifle Assn. offers a perfectly sensible proposal to put cops with guns in every school — and people jump all over him.
“A paranoid, dystopian vision,” said New York’s anti-gun mayor, Michael Bloomberg. “The most revolting, tone-deaf statement I’ve ever seen,” said Sen.-elect Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat.
But the only problem I can see with the NRA’s proposal is that it doesn’t go far enough. For some reason nobody in this country is willing to admit the obvious, which is that the poor helpless kids in that school could have helped themselves, if only we’d let them.
The time has come to get over our squeamishness and arm the children. If those kids in Connecticut had been allowed to bring firearms to school, it’s doubtful anyone would ever have attempted the kind of assault that so tragically victimized them. If anyone did, the combined firepower of 20 or more armed elementary school pupils in a single classroom would put a stop to it, and far more effectively than a single dozing constable summoned from the opposite end of campus.
Of course, you can’t just give a bunch of kindergartners firearms. They will need training, and the Newtown killings make plain just how deficient our schools are on this score. In most of America you can’t graduate without meeting certain requirements in math, physical education or even a foreign language. But every year, our schools turn loose literally millions of kids lacking the faintest clue about how to engage in armed self-defense. Without these skills, so fundamental to the sustenance of democracy, our young people are defective citizens.
We make vaccinations mandatory for most children; why not firearm training? To be admitted to kindergarten, a child would have to demonstrate basic proficiency with a pistol. After that, no child should be able to advance a grade without meeting certain weapons milestones. And any parent who sends a child to school unarmed should have to explain that action to the child welfare authorities. When I was a boy, our teachers checked to see that we’d brought a handkerchief to class. Why not check for handguns? Think of the possibilities for show and tell!
A few selfish families — pacifists and their ilk — will no doubt be exempted. They won’t mind that their children thus become free riders, sheltering under the protection provided by other kids who pack heat every day in their lunch boxes.
Not to worry; I’m convinced that enough red-blooded Americans will show up armed every day to stop any future madmen dead in their tracks. Arming the children would pay a special dividend too: an end to bullying, since even the smallest, most socially awkward child can put a bullet between the eyes of his or her tormentor if properly armed.
And then, of course, there are the teachers. It’s simply unconscionable that these government-salaried educrats should ever enter a school building unarmed. As one writer observed in the online forum Washington Times Communities, “How different this could have been if, instead of discouraging guns on school property, we welcomed them heartily, accompanied, of course, by strict and proper licensing. How different if the report of the gunman on campus had stirred several teachers or staff members to whip out their own weapons and fire before the masked killer had his way with them.”
Arming teachers could have pedagogical benefits as well, working wonders for school discipline.
Surely even the most demented advocates of gun control must see that, with nearly 300 million privately owned firearms already in circulation, no anti-gun legislation can protect the nation’s schoolchildren from them. Just as the answer to offensive speech is more speech, the answer to a firearm is another firearm — or a couple dozen, which is about how many should be in the average classroom.
As an American, I’m not troubled by the ban on school prayer nearly as much as I am by our refusal to give our children a prayer of defending themselves. Many states already allow concealed firearms on college campuses. Let’s act swiftly to give our precious babies the same chance at life that armed collegians enjoy. If we fail to do so, the blood of future unarmed victims will be on our hands.
Whenever a satiric piece written wholly in the voice of an opponent is published, comparisons are immediately made to Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” Swift actually employed that rhetorical strategy in many of his works, and it was much more commonplace among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century writers than it is today. But, today, so much is taken out of context, so many people in public life are absolutely tone deaf, and so many truly lunatic ideas are discussed as if they have the same legitimacy and deserve the same consideration as much more rational ideas that the strategy that Akst employs is, indeed, very risky.
If you have been following the responses to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, you are probably aware that the lunatic-fringe suggestions of alternatives to restrictions on assault weapons and large ammunition magazines have included the suggestion by one GOP congressman that children be taught to rush and gang-tackle a gunman. In such a context, the satiric perspective that Daniel Akst assumes in this piece seems, ironically, all too modestly exaggerated.
A former columnist for the Los Angeles Times and Newsday and currently a blogger for the Wall Street Journal, Akst lives in New York’s Hudson Valley. His published work includes the novels St. Burl’s Obituary (1996) and The Webster Chronicles (2001), as well as the nonfiction book Wonder Boy: Barry Minkow: The Kid Who Swindled Wall Street (1990).
Very recently published is another nonfiction book, We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess. It has been positively reviewed in such diverse publications as the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, the Washington Post, and Mother Jones, as well as Booklist and Library Journal. The following is an excerpt from a very positive review that appeared in The Boston Globe: “A clever blend of scientifically informed polemic and morally minded jeremiad, We Have Met the Enemy’s guiding assumption is that in our age of affluence the ‘ideology of temptation’’ has changed. A constellation of powerful forces, from the accessibility of fast food and casual sexual encounters to the weakening of community ties and capitalism’s exhortation to consume, have outpaced common sense. Since forgiveness comes more naturally to us than condemnation, we pathologize excess. We’re all not guilty by reason of disease. As Akst writes, ‘That it’s now possible to be addicted to cocaine, shopping, or sex is evidence of how far we’ve moved beyond the constraints of budget, custom, and embarrassment.’’ A goal of Akst’s in writing this book ‘is to reinflate the narrowed arena of the elective, reclaiming most excessive behaviors from the realm of disease.’’’