I argue on Facebook a lot. I’m that guy. You got an opinion on something? Let’s start arguing, see where it takes us.
I have principles and values that I attempt to defend, but I don’t get angry if someone attacks them. After all, if they can’t stand up to an attack, then maybe they’re not worth defending.
One of my principles is that guns create deadly violence. They are not the only weapons to do so, but they are — in fact and deed — manufactured to create deadly violence. It may not be violence to a human being, but it is violence to a target, whatever that target may be.
The absence of guns, however, does not mean the absence of violence. Violence is a by-product of nature, and nature is everywhere and for all time, therefore, the potential for violence can never reach absolute zero.
I accept this.
What I do not accept is the idea that adding a weapon to any situation will actually reduce the potential for deadly violence. The presence of a weapon threatens violence, regardless of whether the weapon is used. It increases, in every instance, the potential for deadly violence.
This is not an opinion. I understand it as a statement of fact, one hardly worth defending, since it seems so rock steady and impervious.
I do, however, note potential cracks, areas where, while suffering a direct attack, my pillar of an argument may — in fact and deed — require my direct support.
The constructing of an argument is the concentration of diverse forces upon a central point, and just as in the construction of a bridge, where the best way to channel forces is through a series of triangles, the best way to construct an argument is to triangulate a central point. That means one side of the argument must address the forces marshaled in favor of a counterargument.
The central point of my argument is that guns create deadly violence, but the counterargument I addressed defends the thesis that guns do not create the potential for violence.
I have committed the fallacy of a straw-man argument. Not even the biggest gun proponent would defend the position that guns do not create the potential for violence; instead, and more reasonably, they argue that guns are the best answer to actual violence.
And in that, we differ.
There will be another school shooting and dozens of children and teachers will die. We live in a violent world, and school shootings are one manifestation of that violence. I accept that.
But gun proponents do not think I ought to accept that. They believe that they truly cherish every innocent life, and they want to defend that innocent life with everything they’ve got. I respect that.
But I do not think it is possible to defend every innocent life.
We live in nature, and nature is a violent place that we can never escape. It creates in us the potential for violence in the same way that it creates in us the oxygen that keeps our bodies alive. The potential for violence is a condition of our being, the ground state of our existence.
That is why I argue about reducing the potential for violence; because we can never get actual violence to zero. Gun proponents, to their credit, argue about reducing actual violence, and they refuse to accept their failure.
I would like to respect and support both positions, but I cannot accept a reality in which there is never any failure.
I do not believe in utopia. I do not believe in perfection. This is a byproduct of my not believing in God. Because I do not believe in God, I am not required to defend any one position as perfect.
Christians believe in a triangular God because they believe that talking about the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit best allows them to concentrate the weight of their wisdom on one central and holy principle: a single, perfect God. They believe that God’s righteous anger, as well as His infinite mercy, reveals the way we ought to live in moments small and large, and that this revelation is experienced through the grace of His Holy Spirit.
I don’t very much disagree with them; but in the end, I only accept their argument as wisdom, and not as fact.
Because I do not accept the existence of a single, perfect God, I do not have to accept any idea of perfection as a possible fact. I do not believe in nor feel I ought not to strive for the creation of perfection.
Instead, I believe in and feel I ought to strive for the best way to improve the potential for love and/or reduce the potential for violence.
That means, in this instance, I strive to reduce, while knowing we can never eliminate, the threat of violence to our school children.
Any positive argument I make from this position is therefore unacceptable to gun proponents, and perhaps it ought to be. With them, I am not willing to accept actual violence befalling my own child, or the children I teach each day, or my own wife, or the children she teaches each day. With them, I want our schools to be free from actual violence, and with them, I don’t deny that guns are perhaps the best way to confront actual violence.
But we can never free every child from the potential for violence, and so that’s where I choose to put my effort — to reduce the potential rather than to stop the actual (which, in all instances, we will never be able to do).
I do not believe that putting guns in our schools will actually reduce the potential for violence.
I can imagine, because we see it happen every day, armed authority figures killing actually innocent men and boys. It will be a single story on the news, perhaps lasting a month at most (depending on the circumstances), and then the authority figure(s) will be suspended, fired, and perhaps even convicted, and the story will go away.
And then, maybe a month or two later, an armed authority figure will kill a single armed shooter, preventing the body count in one attack from rising any higher (though almost definitely not reducing it to zero). The story will be incredible for its real and actual heroism, and the number of proponents for removing the guns from our schools will reduce.
And then another actually innocent man or boy will be killed, and the authority figure will be suspended, fire, or convicted. And then another, and then another, and then perhaps another school shooter will be stopped by an official’s gun.
And that will just become our reality.
The number of school shootings by armed and angry boys will eventually reduce, but never equal zero, and yet still, unencumbered, the number of dead actually innocent kids gunned down by armed authority figures will go on and on, and because the school shooters keep coming, even if in drastically reduced numbers, no positive argument will be heard that suggests removing the armed authority figures from the school will actually make every school shooter stop.
And actually innocent children will continue to die.
That cannot be helped. I don’t care how many guns you throw at the problem.
Gun proponents envision a future where every child accepts the presence of guns in both their personal and their public lives, but in that instance, the child becomes conditioned to a reality where there exists a drastically high potential for violence — violence in self-defense, perhaps, but still, and always, violence.
But I’m trying to envision a future where every child and every adult thinks of schools as sacrosanct. Shooters won’t stay away because they are afraid. They will stay away because of respect.
I teach in a school for students who have been diagnosed with emotional or behavioral disorders. Many of them have been expelled from other schools because their presence increased the potential for violence. The state does not know what to do with these kids, and so they send them to us.
Our entire school is based on the concept of respect. We respect the students, and in return, we expect them to respect us. They often don’t. But our response never changes. In this one place, they are not required to earn or maintain our respect. We simply give it to them. Every day. All day. Regardless of what they do. And through that experience, the students witness, every day, all day, what it means for one person to respect another, and we hope, through that experience, they learn to respect the place that we’ve built, and maybe, if we’re lucky, the people who continue to build it.
I don’t worry about any of my students coming to my school to shoot us up, and mine are the students virtually every other school is worried about.
I don’t worry about them because I trust they know I respect them.
Most gun proponents I have spoken with make a big deal out of respect, and rightfully so. But one does not earn respect by threatening someone with violence; a threat can only earn their fear.
The worst thing that could happen at my school is for an armed authority figure to show up. The state has sent these kids, over the course of their short lifetimes, to residential facilities that, in the minds of these kids, are little better than jails. They’ve been thrown to the ground and forcibly restrained by adults. Many of them have been handcuffed and taken to an actual jail.
To these kids, authority figures are, for very valid reasons, just triggers to a post-traumatic episode — sources of anxiety, anger, and fear.
We work to socialize our students to authority figures, but we also respect the experiences that they’ve gone through, not seeing in them any reason for blame or judgement, just respecting them for who they are and what they’re experiencing now.
We are able to do this because the discussions we have in our professional-development workshops value therapy above academic achievement. While it is true that we are a school, we believe that teaching them about respect, acceptance, anger, and coping will do them more good than teaching them to do their sums. We strive to provide them with skills for communications, empirical reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and social reasoning, but the primary focus is on the development of their personal qualities.
The students we traditionally receive have been so disobedient that they’ve, in almost all cases, been literally beat down by their families and society. Many of them have never known, since the moment they were born, a moment free from anxiety, fear, and pain.
They do not need to be further conditioned to a reality with a high potential for violence. They do not need to worry more that their disobedience may result in their death. That is already the only existence they’ve ever known.
I beg you, as a man who spends virtually every waking hour thinking about how to help the broken children in our communities, do not put armed authority figures in our schools.
Help me teach these children that, before anything else, and just because they are alive, they deserve our respect.
Because that is the only thing that will ever bring us closer to actually reducing the violence.
(Which, I accept, we can never reduce to zero.)