By Annalise Kempen
Imagine sending your children to a school where the teachers are armed with pistols? How outrageous and potentially lethal is such a thought? Shockingly that’s apparently not what the US President thought when he commented that “if he (a coach) had a firearm ... he would have shot and that would have ended”. This comment was made at the White House in Washington DC after yet another school shooting happened in Florida in the USA where 17 people were killed in February 2018. The US President was listening to and commenting on pleas from students and parents affected by mass shootings, who had met him to actually plea for meaningful action to curb gun violence.
Shocking school shootings statistics
South Africans are accustomed to being exposed to violence. One only has to look at the SAPS’s official crime statistics for the 2016/2017 report year which showed that more than 600 000 different contact crimes were reported for that period, which included 19 016 murders! But when violence seems to be targeted at a specific community or group, it makes one stop and ask why.
The shootings at schools in the United States are not something about which we have only recently heard. In fact, although the first shootings at American schools took place in the 1800s, it was the Columbine shooting on 20 April 1999, which saw two shooters kill 13 others and injuring more than 20, which made society take note of the violence being perpetrated on school grounds. The documentary Bowling for Columbine, produced and directed by Michael Moore, explored the circumstances that led to this tragedy. It also looked at the proliferation of guns, the lack of gun control and had many people sit up straight in their chairs about how easy it was to buy a firearm. And yet, more than 15 years after this documentary’s release, it does not seem that it contributed to American authorities rethinking gun control in an effort to curb school shootings. In fact, the Washington Post reported that 187 000 children attending 193 primary and secondary American schools have experienced a shooting on school grounds during school hours, since the Columbine tragedy in 1999 (Chiu; Horton and Jenkins, 2018).
In the first 12 weeks of 2018 alone, there have already been 17 school/university shootings where someone was hurt or killed! The one on Valentine’s Day at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida counts as one of the worst when 17 students and staff members were killed. The shooter, Nikolas Cruz, had apparently been expelled from the high school due to disciplinary problems. In another incident, a few weeks earlier on 23 January, a 15-year-old student shot 16 people, killing two other 15-year-olds at Marshall County High School. This young student faces two murder charges, among others (Ahmed and Walker, 2018).
Will carrying guns solve the problem?
The utterance by the US President regarding arming teachers following the Florida school shooting incident, had many people questioning whether such a step would actually do any good. The Florida shooting was the deadliest school shooting since 2012 when 26 people were killed in Sandy Hook, Connecticut (Gunter, 2018). The BBC reported that hours after two schoolchildren had died and 14 more were injured after a classmate opened fire outside a Kentucky school, a Republican State Senator rushed to file a bill that would allow Kentucky schools to have armed marshals patrol the site. This bill came alongside a similar one which sought to loosen gun restrictions around college campuses. Ironically, one would assume that there would be the political will to reduce the guns and enforce stricter gun control, but alas! Gunter (2018) writes that reforms that aim to increase, rather than decrease, the number of firearms in schools and other public buildings, and arm teachers and school staff as a means of defence have been set in motion. “And the senator's proposal is testimony to that - he even got support from his political opponent who said that ‘we need armed officers in every school in Kentucky. That is a small price to pay if it saves one’s child’s life’.”