In the immediate aftermath of last week’s mass shooting in Connecticut, in which 20 six- an seven-year-old kids were shot to death, a photo began circulating around the internet of what we were told was a school teacher in Israel, walking behind a group of children, with a rifle strapped across her back. There are several variations of the photo in circulation, but, in all of them, the implication is the same — if only the teachers of Sandy Hook Elementary had been armed, none of this would have transpired. If only American teachers were allowed to carry loaded weapons in the classroom, these 20 children would, at this very moment, be enjoying lives as carefree and happy as their contemporaries in Israel… The only problem is, it’s not quite true. According to Israel Today, while there are armed guards in Israeli schools, teachers are not armed. Here’s a clip:
There is a picture going around the Internet that I have seen about a dozen times today that claims that Israeli teachers are packing heat. Well, are they? The answer is “NO.” There may be some exceptions in dangerous areas like the West Bank (where five percent of Israelis live), but in general, Israeli teachers are not walking around like it’s the Wild Wild West, strapped with a six shooter. No, our teachers are not focused on shooting, but educating. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t protect young students.
In the picture, the students are on an outing. While it appears that the teacher is holding a rifle, I have never seen such a thing in ten years of living here. Rest assured however, they are under armed protection. In most cases it is an armed guard or a soldier that will accompany a class, not the teacher. And my guess is that the woman with the gun is a security guard, not a teacher.
Secondly, they are not armed in the classroom. Is that really the image you want to imprint on the minds of six-year-olds? (That would be Hamas) On the other hand. I have never seen a school in Israel that was not fenced in. You must go through a locked gate that is guarded by an armed shomer, a security guard. He or she, on the other hand, is not concerned with educating, but protecting. He or she will ask you why you are there? “What is your child’s name?” “Show me your I.D. card.” And he or she would not let you bring a weapon inside.
These types of massacres don’t seem to happen here for other reasons as well. Despite the stereotype of Israel being a violent nation, it is a million times (slight exaggeration) easier to get a weapon in the US than it is in Israel. Gun Control laws are very strict here….
The truth is, guns are very hard to come by in Israel. According to Janet Rosenbaum, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center School, gun ownership in the country is not only low, but decreasing. “(I)n Israel,” says Rosenbaum, “they’re very limited in who is able to own a gun. There are only a few tens of thousands of legal guns in Israel, and the only people allowed to own them legally live in the settlements, do business in the settlements, or are in professions at risk of violence.” She goes on to say that, unlike in the United States, “There isn’t this idea that you have a right to a gun. You need a reason. And then you need to go back to the permitting authority every six months or so to assure them the reason is still valid.” Furthermore, Israel rejects 40% of gun applications, and all the guns that are approved have to carry an Interior Ministry identifying mark, which ensures that fired bullets can be tracked back to individual guns and their owners.
Here in the United States, not only do we not deny anywhere near 40% of those seeking to buy guns, but, according to Senator Elizabeth Warren, a full “40% of gun sales are not subject to a federal background check because they are purchased privately at gun shows, online, or person-to-person.” Warren, in an email sent to supporters yesterday, said that she would vote to support both the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would close this gun show loophole, and the bill which Senator Diane Feinstein has promised, which would re-instate the ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004.
I know that there are people who would push for more, but I think that these two bills, if passed, and if accompanied by meaningful mental health access legislation, would be an adequate, and significant, step forward for our country. I can certainly understand, living as we do in a time of great uncertainty and fear, why some folks would like to have a weapon within reach that’s capable of wiping out a small army, like in a video game, but we exist as members of a society, and, as such, we have to collectively draw the line somewhere. As it is, that line seems to be drawn at the personal ownership of rocket-propelled grenades. I’d argue, in light of what we’re seeing transpire around us today, however, that this line should move a bit in the direction of sanity, with armor-piercing bullets, high-capacity ammunition clips, and military-style assault weapons being illegal for individuals to own, just as tanks and surface-to-air missiles are. I know that some of my friends would say that keeping these weapons out of the hands of the general public only makes it easier for our government to inflict its will on us, and maybe they have a point. I’d point out, however, that having an arsenal of automatic weapons didn’t really help the folks in Waco, and Ruby Ridge. The truth is, if the government wants you at this point in our nation’s history, there’s really not much you can do about it. And, it’s probably also worth pointing out that, in spite of the fact that we have easy access to inexpensive assault rifles right now, the federal government is still doing away with the 5th Amendment before our very eyes, and, here in Michigan, as we discussed yesterday, there’s a very real threat that women may effectively lose their reproductive freedom. So these arms aren’t stopping us from losing our rights. No, I’d argue, if we intend to fight back in a meaningful way, we’re going to have to be more creative than just relying on that Bushmaster under the bed. As much as our Libertarian friends would like to believe that we’re still playing by the rules of the founding fathers, we’re not. Our path to freedom, I’d argue, lies more with communications and organizing than it
And, as long as we’re on the subject of gun control, I thought that I’d share this clip from Adam Gopnik’s piece in The New Yorker on what other countries have chosen to do, and the success that they’ve experienced.
…There are complex, hand-wringing-worthy problems in our social life: deficits and debts and climate change. Gun violence, and the work of eliminating gun massacres in schools and movie houses and the like, is not one of them. Gun control works on gun violence as surely as antibiotics do on bacterial infections. In Scotland, after Dunblane, in Australia, after Tasmania, in Canada, after the Montreal massacre—in each case the necessary laws were passed to make gun-owning hard, and in each case… well, you will note the absence of massacre-condolence speeches made by the Prime Ministers of Canada and Australia, in comparison with our own President.
The laws differ from place to place. In some jurisdictions, like Scotland, it is essentially impossible to own a gun; in others, like Canada, it is merely very, very difficult. The precise legislation that makes gun-owning hard in a certain sense doesn’t really matter—and that should give hope to all of those who feel that, with several hundred million guns in private hands, there’s no point in trying to make America a gun-sane country.
As I wrote last January, the central insight of the modern study of criminal violence is that all crime—even the horrific violent crimes of assault and rape—is at some level opportunistic. Building a low annoying wall against them is almost as effective as building a high impenetrable one. This is the key concept of Franklin Zimring’s amazing work on crime in New York; everyone said that, given the social pressures, the slum pathologies, the profits to be made in drug dealing, the ascending levels of despair, that there was no hope of changing the ever-growing cycle of violence. The right wing insisted that this generation of predators would give way to a new generation of super-predators.
What the New York Police Department found out, through empirical experience and better organization, was that making crime even a little bit harder made it much, much rarer. This is undeniably true of property crime, and common sense and evidence tells you that this is also true even of crimes committed by crazy people (to use the plain English the subject deserves). Those who hold themselves together enough to be capable of killing anyone are subject to the same rules of opportunity as sane people. Even madmen need opportunities to display their madness, and behave in different ways depending on the possibilities at hand. Demand an extraordinary degree of determination and organization from someone intent on committing a violent act, and the odds that the violent act will take place are radically reduced, in many cases to zero.
Look at the Harvard social scientist David Hemenway’s work on gun violence to see how simple it is; the phrase “more guns = more homicide” tolls through it like a grim bell. The more guns there are in a country, the more gun murders and massacres of children there will be. Even within this gun-crazy country, states with strong gun laws have fewer gun murders (and suicides and accidental killings) than states without them. (Hemenway is also the scientist who has shown that the inflated figure of guns used in self-defense every year, running even to a million or two million, is a pure fantasy, even though it’s still cited by pro-gun enthusiasts. Those hundreds of thousands intruders shot by gun owners left no records in emergency wards or morgues; indeed, left no evidentiary trace behind. This is because they did not exist.) Hemenway has discovered, as he explained in this interview with Harvard Magazine, that what is usually presented as a case of self-defense with guns is, in the real world, almost invariably a story about an escalating quarrel. “How often might you appropriately use a gun in self-defense?” Hemenway asks rhetorically. “Answer: zero to once in a lifetime. How about inappropriately—because you were tired, afraid, or drunk in a confrontational situation? There are lots and lots of chances.”
So don’t listen to those who, seeing twenty dead six- and seven-year-olds in ten minutes, their bodies riddled with bullets designed to rip apart bone and organ, say that this is impossibly hard, or even particularly complex, problem. It’s a very easy one. Summoning the political will to make it happen may be hard. But there’s no doubt or ambiguity about what needs to be done, nor that, if it is done, it will work. One would have to believe that Americans are somehow uniquely evil or depraved to think that the same forces that work on the rest of the planet won’t work here. It’s always hard to summon up political will for change, no matter how beneficial the change may obviously be. Summoning the political will to make automobiles safe was difficult; so was summoning the political will to limit and then effectively ban cigarettes from public places…
Clearly it won’t be easy to shift the line, and redefine what we a society find acceptable. This is a huge, profitable industry. In the first nine months of this year alone, the Freedom Group, the corporate entity that owns the Remington and Bushmaster brands, among others, reported $677.3 million in sales. Business is good, and you can be damned sure that they don’t want the good times to end. And, as I mentioned earlier, people are fearful, and they’re convinced that owning their own personal arsenals will help them to protect their families against what Glenn Beck tells them is on the horizon. These are enormous obstacles, but there now seems to be the political will to do something significant, and that’s encouraging. There’s much more to be said on this, but, as I’m falling asleep, I think that will have to suffice for now.
Oh… one last thing on the prospect of arming teachers… It occurs to me that Republicans should be careful what they wish for… Arming teachers, I suspect, may have unintended consequences that they’re not really prepared for.