Martin: Freedom From Fear

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As a teacher, Commentator Mike Martin has experienced first-hand the
safety protocols schools have put in place since the Columbine shooting.
Now, in the wake of Sandy Hook Elementary, he’s been wondering if more
safety drills are really the answer.

(Martin) In Japan,
schoolchildren sometimes hide under their desks to practice what to do
in case of earthquakes. In Israel, they do the same for possible missile
attacks. In U.S. schools today, students and teachers practice what to
do in case of school shootings.

School fire drills used to be
fun, a surprise escape from class to go outside for a few minutes with
your friends. But now, for some drills, we don’t go outside at all
anymore. As a teacher, I lock the door to my classroom, turn off the
lights, and huddle in a corner with my students in silence. As we crouch
in the dark, there are usually a few nervous giggles, but inside we all
know that this is no fire drill. This is something more sinister. And
as we sit awkwardly, waiting for the all-clear, our thoughts naturally
drift to just what it is we’re practicing for… And that’s usually when
I catch myself feeling a little unnerved, and even a little angry, that
when we go to school nowadays, we have to rehearse contingency plans
for mass murder.

We used to think that Columbine was a watershed
moment. But aside from a lot of new emergency policies and protocols,
it didn’t change much. After Virginia Tech, Aurora, and now Sandy Hook
Elementary, it’s as if mass shootings have somehow become inevitable in
the U.S. And yet, since both violent crime and gun ownership are at
historic lows in our country, we could reasonably expect to feel safer.
Instead, we live in fear of the next attack to come. So we try to
reassure ourselves by improving campus security and running safety
drills. Even though, statistically speaking, school is the safest place
our kids can be, we have our students practice lockdowns and rehearse
for horror.

Of course, we’re told that the problem is complex,
that we need to take a better look at violent video games, maladjusted
young men, or perhaps even arming teachers at school. But to my mind,
from a public policy perspective, the solution is extremely simple: we
need to restore the assault weapons ban that expired in 2004.

the eleven deadliest mass shootings in the U.S., five have taken place
since 2007-after the assault weapons ban expired. And while Vermont has a
high rate of gun ownership, it has a low rate of gun violence. As
Armando Vilaseca, the new Vermont Secretary of Education has observed,
you can’t easily commit mass murder with a hunting rifle. So maybe mass
shootings aren’t even really about the Second Amendment, but rather
about simply keeping military assault weapons with the military. At
present, we seem to be protecting the extreme tastes of a small number
of hardcore gun enthusiasts at the price of having our kids live in fear
of the next Sandy Hook. While the right to bear arms is important, so
is freedom from fear. For a great country should never have to ask its
children to cower in darkened classrooms, practicing for the next attack
from one of its own.

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